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Georgia gem

ATHENS, Ga. -- Every superhero has an origin story. Superman's home planet exploded. Bruce Wayne lost his parents to a violent crime and turned vigilante. Bruce Banner got blasted with gamma radiation, which made him turn green when angry.

In the Peach State, any self-respecting football fan knows the origin story of Georgia's greatest football superhero. Disgusted that his son watched so much television, a Wrightsville, Ga., man told the kid that if he wanted to keep watching, he would have to do push-ups and sit-ups during the commercial breaks. Several million push-ups and sit-ups later, Herschel Walker led Georgia to the 1980 national title and won the 1982 Heisman Trophy.

Georgia's next superhero may be the one Bulldogs fans call "Special K." Mild-mannered -- and able-footed -- college student during the week, he turns into a relentless ground-gaining machine on fall Saturdays. His not-so-secret identity? Knowshon Moreno.

And this might be his origin story.

Al Bigos, who taught Moreno at Bayshore and later at Middletown High South, said that even if he gets Alzheimer's, he'll remember the moment. After construction rendered the school's gym useless, Bigos and his fellow phys ed teachers had to bring their students out to a large patio about the size of two tennis courts. Bigos noticed Moreno, then an eighth-grader, tossing a football to himself. Then, Bigos said, Moreno walked to one end of the patio and yelled to get the other students' attention.

"He waved his hand," Bigos said, "like, 'Now come get me.' "

So they tried. For 45 seconds, the patio turned into a Three Stooges film as 25-30 eighth graders slammed into poles and one another trying to grab Moreno. Even when they seemed sure they had him, they came up clutching air.

"He made every kid miss," Bigos said. "He was running around poles. He was dodging, spinning and moving. He went from end to the other, and nobody came close to getting to him. It was like two-hand touch, and nobody got a hand on him."

Bigos immediately called Steve Antonucci, the head coach at Middletown South. He had yet another story about "the Moreno kid."

Bigos, the defensive coordinator at Middletown South, has a few hundred more Moreno stories. He said some of the best runs came at practice, because never once in four years did Moreno slack on a play. But the patio run at Bayshore will always stay fresh in his mind, even if Moreno himself doesn't recall the exact details.

"(My coaches) always tell that story," Moreno said. "I slightly remember it. I don't talk about it, really."

Like all good superheroes, Moreno is reluctant to discuss the talent that helped him become Georgia's most successful freshman back since Walker gained 1,616 yards in 1980. As a potential Heisman Trophy candidate and the primary offensive weapon on a loaded team that should begin the 2008 season ranked in the top three, Moreno will receive plenty of attention. But he would rather give credit to anyone else.

Too many people have the wrong idea about him anyway. They may have seen Moreno get dragged down by four Florida defenders, pop up and slap five with unwitting Gators safety Tony Joiner and thought he was a showboat. But that isn't the case. He's just that competitive. Bigos, who saw similar scenes in high school, said Moreno probably was congratulating Joiner on the tackle as a way to stoke his own fire. "He's a true competitor," Bigos said. "It doesn't matter what he does. You could be flipping a quarter, and he'd say he's going to flip heads more times than you."

Even Moreno's own teammates didn't know what to think of him at first. While Moreno redshirted in 2006, he played on the scout team, running opponents' plays against the Bulldogs' first-team defense. Some of the defenders thought the youngster wanted to show them up in order to kiss up to the coaching staff. Not true, Ball said.

"That's him working on his game," Georgia running backs coach Tony Ball said. "They got upset because he was going harder than they wanted to go at that period of time. They didn't look at it as him making them better. For him, he was thinking, 'I'm going to be down here making myself better.' "

Finally, a peace of sorts was brokered. If you don't like it, coaches told the defensive players, then tackle him.

That, as SEC defenders learned last season, is easier said than done. "He can make you miss. He can outrun you. He can run you over," Bigos said. "It all depends on what kind of mood he's in on each play."

If Moreno has a superpower, it's that his legs never stop moving. On the play that resulted in the low five with Florida's Joiner, at least one Gator had Moreno cornered behind the line of scrimmage. Moreno spun, then somehow came out of the spin moving faster than he was before. He surged forward before two Gators grabbed him. In their grasp, he spun again and gained three more yards before two more finally latched on and took him down after a 9-yard gain.

Before his tacklers could rise, Moreno was up. Bigos said he noticed Moreno trying to pop up before defenders during Moreno's senior season in high school. Last year, Georgia offensive guard Chris Davis noticed the move during a game. "He got hit pretty hard," said Davis, who has since moved to center. "All of a sudden I see him just pop up. That brought a fire to me to play a little harder."

Now, Georgia players assume Moreno will remain on his feet after the first, second and third hits. And they know that after the play, Moreno will beat the defender to his feet. "I've started to never expect him to be down," Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I really got hassled a lot for not carrying out my fakes because I was always watching."

Following a freshman season in which he rumbled for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns, everyone will be watching Moreno in 2008. Moreno knows this, and he thinks he knows how to keep from letting the attention go to his head. Just as Batman leans on Alfred the butler, Special K leans on Ball for sage advice in times of strife. "[I need to] just work on the little things that Coach Ball emphasizes," Moreno said. "Don't take anything for granted. ... Little things get you beat. That's what [Ball] says."

Clearly, Moreno has taken his coach's words to heart. A few minutes later, Ball shared similar sentiments when asked how he intends to keep Moreno grounded and focused.

"He likes to work, but he's like any other 20-year-old young man," Ball said. "If, as a coach, you don't keep challenging him while keeping him focused on the little things, he gets careless. He gets sloppy. It goes back to us as coaches. We can't create the wrong environment for him, and we can't overlook the little things."

Ball coached Moreno and Georgia's other backs on those little things in a drill last week. While keeping a ball lodged in the crook of their left arms, they had to hop 10 yards using only their right hands and right feet. The other backs, elite athletes all, traveled those 10 yards in herky-jerky hops. Moreno covered his 10 yards in a few fluid bounces, then exploded back to his feet. Ball shook his head and laughed. For a moment, it seemed Superman wasn't the only one who survived the explosion of Krypton.

Moreno already seems poised to join the Justice League of former Georgia ballcarriers that includes Garrison Hearst, Tim Worley and Terrell Davis, but does he have the superhero chops to earn his way into Walker's one-man pantheon? In December, Herschel and Special K filmed a segment that ran on Fox minutes before the kickoff of Georgia's Sugar Bowl rout of Hawaii. They walked between the hedges at Sanford Stadium and chatted. Walker showed Moreno different push-up styles. Moreno challenged Walker to a 40-yard dash. At one point, Walker turned to Moreno and spoke.

"The only thing that separates us now," Walker said, "is the Heisman and the national championship."

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