QUENTIN MOSES was6'5" in eighth grade, and his future seemed as clear as a plexiglassbackboard: He would keep growing, continue to hone his basketball skills andthen have his pick of scholarship offers from major universities eager for himto don their colors and play the sport he loved. ¬∂ Offers did, indeed, pour in:from as far away as Stanford and as close as Georgia, whose campus was 10 milesfrom his home. North Carolina wanted him, as did South Carolina and almostevery other school in the Southeastern Conference. The problem, for Moses, wasthat the men doing the offering all coached the wrong sport. They wanted him toplay football, and Moses saw himself as a hoops god. ¬∂ Even as he tore it up onthe gridiron during his senior season at Cedar Shoals High in Athens, Moseskept football suitors at arm's length, waiting for what he called the BigOffer--a full ride from one of the basketball meccas. But his interest in thoseprograms went unrequited. The best roundball offers Moses fielded were frommid-majors Rhode Island and Western Kentucky. Still, he held out hope."Basketball was my love," he says. "It was closest to myheart."
As he says this heholds his left hand over his heart, which beats beneath a shelflike pectoralthat is the product of hours spent pumping iron in the weight room atButts-Mehre Heritage Hall. That gleaming, 85,000-square-foot facility is thehome of the Georgia football program, whose best player is Moses, a seniordefensive end who weighs 257 pounds and stands, to this day, 6'5". Whilehis growth may have stalled in eighth grade, his football development did not.After a tentative start in the college game--tackle Jon Stinchcomb body-slammedhim in his first practice, "and we weren't even in full pads," Mosesrecalls--he has emerged as the SEC's preeminent sack artist, a projected top 10pick in the '07 NFL draft who came late to the realization that his future liesin nailing quarterbacks, not midrange jumpers.
It could haveeasily gone the other way. Late in his sophomore year at Cedar Shoals, Moseshad a scheduling conflict. His AAU hoops team was playing a tournament inRaleigh, the same weekend as Cedar Shoals's spring football game. "Thecoaches told me if I didn't play [in the spring game], I couldn't play in thefall," recalls Moses. "So I said, 'O.K., that's a decision I don't haveto make, 'cause y'all are makin' it for me.'"
August 20, 2006
"Quentin wasthe sweetest baby I ever had," says his mother, Claudette. "But he wasstubborn. I guess he got that from me."
Thus did footballdisappear from his home page ... until the following August, when those samecoaches told Moses that if he came back, he would only have to serve a two-gamesuspension and all would be forgiven.
He went back, allright. In the first series of his second game as a senior Moses ran down areceiver on a reverse on first down. He tackled the running back for a loss onsecond down and sacked the quarterback on third down. A short time later thebig-program football recruiters were trying to run him down. Scott Wilkins, thefootball coach at Cedar Shoals, told them, "Basketball is his first love.But if you could work it out so maybe he could play both, he'll think aboutit."
Jim Harrick,Georgia's basketball coach at the time, had courted Moses during his sophomoreand junior years at Cedar Shoals. By the time Moses was a senior, Harrick'sardor had cooled, but when one of his recruits failed to qualify academically,the coach suddenly had renewed interest. "Q, I didn't know you were such agood football player!" Moses recalls Harrick saying. "If you playfootball here, you've got a spot on the basketball team."
Minutes after theyhung up, Moses got another call--this one from Bulldogs football coach MarkRicht, who said, "You got something you want to tell me?"
A SIDE FROM theopportunity to play both sports, there was another compelling reason for Mosesto stay home. Claudette believes he stayed in Athens to remain close to her.Theirs is a stout bond: Claudette raised him by herself after she and Quentin'sfather separated when Quentin was "six or seven," she says. While shehas always punched a clock--she works the graveyard shift at a power plant--shehas guided her son with a firm hand. Ever since elementary school, she has paidhim $5 for every A he has earned and $3 for each B. With the carrot came astick: "She saw my love of sports and made it real simple," he says."Bring home a C, sit out the rest of that season."
In 2002 Mosesreported to his first collegiate training camp at a rather twiggy 210 poundsand discovered that he had no idea how to play the run. In high school, teamshad run away from him, so taking on pulling guards was a new experience. Hismind-set, Moses says, was, "I'm a basketball player, I'm not here to runinto some 300-pound guy."
Meanwhile,Stinchcomb had taken a personal interest in the freshman. "He was all overme every day," Moses recalls, wincing at the memory. "I was so gladwhen he left."
The senior admiredthe small man's pluck, even as he took pleasure in pile-driving him on a dailybasis. "He hated to lose," says Stinchcomb, a second-round draft pickof the New Orleans Saints in 2003. "A lot of guys in that situation wouldjust back down, and that's to his credit."
Moses redshirtedduring his freshman year, then played his sole season of college hoops, gettinga total of six minutes in three games. When Harrick resigned at the end of thatseason amid an NCAA investigation into academic fraud, Moses took it as a signthat he should concentrate on a single sport.
He got a handfulof snaps as a redshirt freshmen--mostly on passing downs: The coaches stilldidn't trust him against the run. He began the next season as a reserve andended it as the starter in the Outback Bowl. It was during this time, accordingto defensive line coach Jon Fabris, that Moses evolved "from a pass rusherinto a defensive end."
It all starts withspeed, says Fabris. "And Quentin has great speed--great get-off." Oncea tackle fears a pass rusher's speed, the coach explains, "he'll startdoing things that aren't sound. He'll open his hips too soon. His weight willbe too far back." When a hog is "bailing," backpedaling at thesnap, "that's when you go from speed to power." That's when Moses knowsto go with a bull rush. Some of best pass rushers haven't been the strongestguys, says Fabris, "but they've understood leverage."
Moses understandsleverage, just as he grasped that it would be smart to emulate the work ethicof David Pollack, who was a year ahead of him at Georgia and is now with theCincinnati Bengals. What he lacked in height, the 6'2" Pollack made up forin intensity--an intensity that rubbed off on Moses, who says, "All theyears I played with him, game or practice, I never saw him lose two battles ina row."
When Pollack leftafter the 2004 season, there was no real expectation at Georgia that he couldbe replaced. But Moses stunned the SEC with 11 1/2 sacks and 20 1/2 tackles forloss in '05. He thought hard about entering the NFL draft, but four factorsmade the decision easier: 1) The '06 draft was rich in big-name defensive ends;2) the NFL's draft advisory board projected him as a third-round pick (he nowsits at No. 4 on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's list of top 25 seniors); 3) heknew he needed another season of polishing: "I missed [making] so manyplays," he says. "I could be stronger, faster, quicker"; and 4)Claudette wanted him to stay and get his degree (in recreation and leisurestudies).
So Moses came backfor another season of tutoring from Fabris ("Complacency is the foundationof failure!"); for another year of Claudette phoning him on Sundays toensure he will attend services at the New Grove Baptist Church; for anotheryear, Bulldogs fans hope, of finishing atop the SEC.
He still lovesbasketball, but he doesn't play much these days. It bothers him to see how hisskills have eroded, but he's too busy preparing for a career in the sport hehas grown to love; too caught up in the latest phase of a journey that bringsto mind the Rolling Stones lyric:
You can't alwaysget what you want
But if you trysometimes, well, you
You get what youneed.
Read more college football insiders from Austin Murphyat SI.com/collegefootball.
Moses quickly went from afterthought to All-SEC in 2005, when he had ateam-high 111/2 sacks.