When he was younger, Quentin Moses ate, slept and breathed basketball, playing year-round and dreaming of NBA stardom. A rangy 6'5" power forward for Cedar Shoals High in his hometown of Athens, Ga., he earned all-state honors as a senior in 2001-02 and expected to have a load of scholarship offers from Division I basketball programs. Big-time schools, however, had little interest in an undersized post player who lacked range on his jumper. Instead, overtures trickled in from only a handful of mid-major programs, including UAB and Tennessee Tech.
Luckily for Moses--a gifted athlete who went out for track only as a senior and wound up placing third in the discus at the state championship meet--his size and speed also made him an excellent football player. He played two years at defensive end for Cedar Shoals and led the team in sacks as a senior, even though football wasn't his favorite sport. "I just played because I liked to compete," he says.
Though Moses was casual about his talent, SEC football coaches weren't. The same height that was a liability on the basketball court was an asset on the football field, and by January 2002 Moses had offers from several SEC schools. He chose Georgia because he had a promise from basketball coach Jim Harrick that he could walk on to the hoops team. "I didn't want to regret not having tried both," says Moses.
After redshirting in '02 to build up his 217-pound frame, Moses did briefly play basketball, seeing limited action in three games in February '03. But when Harrick resigned that March, following allegations of academic fraud, "I took that as a sign," says Moses; shortly afterward he decided to concentrate exclusively on football. Now a junior, he has blossomed into one of the best defensive ends in the SEC, leading the conference with 12.5 tackles for loss and ranking second with seven sacks for the No. 4--ranked Bulldogs, who are 7-0 after defeating Arkansas 23-20 last Saturday.
Moses's play has been especially key for the Bulldogs, who were expected to struggle after losing three stars--defensive end David Pollack, linebacker Odell Thurman and safety Thomas Davis--to the NFL, along with defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who joined the staff of the Jacksonville Jaguars. But so far the Dawgs' unheralded D is holding opponents to 13.9 points a game, 2.8 fewer than a year ago, and 292.86 yards a game, which is just 3.94 more than in '04.
Having to replace Pollack, a three-time All-America who was a first-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals last spring, left Moses undaunted. "Q's so quick side-to-side," says offensive tackle Daniel Inman, who regularly blocks Moses in practice. "You don't know where he's coming from, and it's hard to stay in front of him. That comes directly from basketball."
Moses and his defensive mates will have to shoulder a bigger load this week against No. 16 Florida. The Bulldogs, already without defensive tackles Gerald Anderson and Kedric Golston and middle linebacker Tony Taylor, lost quarterback D.J. Shockley early in the Arkansas game with a sprained left MCL. On Saturday, Georgia will turn to junior Joe Tereshinski, who completed five of nine passes in almost three quarters of work against the Razorbacks.
Moses is likely to pass the test. He only began to shine on the football field last fall, at the end of his sophomore season, when he had four sacks in Georgia's final two games, but since then his star has been on the rise. "He's a really analytical kid," says defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. "When the light came on, everyone could see it."
Against Vanderbilt two weeks ago Moses, who now checks in at about 250 pounds, sprinted all the way across the field for one of his two sacks on the day, diving to bring down quarterback Jay Cutler by the tops of his shoes. The hustle play fired up both teammates and coaches. "It was," says graduate assistant Rex Bradberry, "just like David Pollack."
Indeed, Moses is halfway to Pollack's school record for sacks in a season (14). He's also starting to hear comparisons to another defensive end who dabbled in college basketball: Carolina Panthers All-Pro Julius Peppers. Moses won't indulge such talk or even speculate about an early jump to the NFL, but others see a bright future for him. "Q's the best playmaker I've got," says defensive ends coach Jon Fabris. "There's no ceiling for him."
What's with the SEC? Traditionally known for its high-powered offenses, the conference is being dominated by stingy defenses in 2005. Seven teams are ranked in the nation's top 25 in total defense, while Auburn, at 31, is the league's highest-ranked offense.
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Moses makes life easier for Martinez (above), his new defensive coordinator.