Moreno's motor might not stop until Downtown Athletic Club Dennis Dodd April 3, 2008 CBSSports.com Senior Writer
ATHENS, Ga. -- All the great ones have stories.
Knowshon Moreno's start: Bayshore Middle School in New Jersey. There were 25, 30 kids in a P.E. class that day. Little Knowshon lined them up and told them to come get a piece.
"Weaved through the whole class without getting touched," Steve Antonucci said. "I don't think anybody came even close to him."
The tale came to Antonucci, Moreno's high school coach, second hand, but has been repeated enough times to become urban legend. Fortunately, there are now cameras around each Saturday to document reasonable facsimiles of what Moreno did in P.E. class.
Welcome to the Heisman class of 2008. We're not saying Moreno, Georgia's redshirt sophomore tailback, is going to win the award but why not? We heard all the stories about Tim Tebow coming out of high school. He surpassed the hype to become the first sophomore to win the statue. Moreno is at least the next big thing in the SEC, maybe the country.
If we're way early with this list, we're only trying to get ahead of the 5-foot-11, 207-pound hybrid energy mix of Cadillac Williams, Walter Payton and humility. "The amazing thing to me about Knowshon is he already knows what is happening before it happens," Antonucci said. "He makes decisions in milliseconds."
Not the decision that brought him to Georgia. New Jersey talent doesn't regularly find its way to the SEC, much less Georgia. But Mark Richt already had landed defensive tackle Kade Weston from Red Bank, N.J., when Moreno was completing his career as New Jersey's No. 1 career rusher (now No. 2) at Middletown South High School.
A couple of 15-hour train rides to and from Athens for a camp and Moreno was hooked.
"There's a train that runs from here to New Jersey?" quarterback Matthew Stafford asked.
"I really believe that when Knowshon came to a camp here, he thought it was a Nike camp where coaches from all the schools were coming to watch," Richt said. "I think maybe he was a little bit bummed."
If he was bummed, Moreno didn't show it. During that camp, coaches decided to pair Moreno with Norcross, Ga. prospect Caleb King.
"Sweltering heat, sand, rubber in your face," Richt said. "We were grinding them. Then we started doing competitive stuff. They were our top two war daddies. We didn't know who Knowshon was. We didn't know what was inside of him."
Now it's going to be Moreno this season, backed up by King. War daddies together in the backfield in a program that has been picked by some -- CBSSports.com included -- as the preseason No. 1.
Knowshon Moreno is the 12th Bulldog to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. (Getty Images) Knowshon Moreno is the 12th Bulldog to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. (Getty Images) "It's a long season," Moreno warned. "You never know, you could get injured in the first game."
Don't say that out loud in Athens. You'll get your mouth washed out from UGA's water dish.
After a redshirt season in 2006, Moreno became the first Georgia freshman running back since Herschel Walker to be named all-SEC. Only Walker (1,616) had more yards as a freshman at Georgia than Moreno (1,334). Considering what Walker accomplished, let's just say there is reason for the usually rabid Hairy Dawgs to practically jump out of their skin this season.
Georgia's second-half push to a Sugar Bowl berth coincided with Moreno's first career start. Midway through the season, the Bulldogs were mentally adrift after a loss at Tennessee. Boom. One-hundred fifty-seven yards on 28 carries against Vanderbilt. Georgia won seven in a row. A string of five consecutive 100-yard games began and spurred the Athens T-shirt industry to ask: Do you Knowshon?
Expect to see a few of them in the stands Saturday, when the Dawgs play their spring game.
When the complaining died down in December regarding missing out on a) a national championship berth and b) a Rose Bowl shot at USC, Georgia started to realize it had something special.
Another title shot in '08 and another great tailback from a school that has produced a few. And we do mean a few. Georgia's history of stockpiling tailbacks and then sharing carries gives Moreno's 2007 accomplishment more weight. He is only the 12th Bulldog ever to rush for 1,000 yards. That's one more than produced by quarterback-factory Arizona State, which will host the Bulldogs on Sept. 20.
Sometimes it's hard to break out in Athens. At one point in the 1980s, Georgia had four Parade All-Americans on the roster.
"The thing that separates him a little bit is because of his incredible energy," coaching legend Vince Dooley said of Moreno. "As soon as he gets hit, he rolls on the ground, he's jumping up. He's back in the huddle."
High school players in Georgia now imitate Moreno's signature move -- popping up as if poked by a cattle prod after a tackle. Half of it shows the opponent that he isn't fazed by a hit. The other half is Moreno being continually wired to a car battery.
"He wants to be great," said Rodney Garner, Georgia's superstar recruiting coordinator who landed Moreno. "I don't think he wants to be good. He's going 100 mph. He's hyper. It's not an act of showboating."
Teammate Jeff Owens remembers the term, "Repeeeaatt it." That's what coaches would say to the defense in '06 during Moreno's redshirt year. The rookie was on the scout team but wasn't content just to give the defense a "look."
"Oh man, he was a killer," said Owens, a defensive tackle. "He is to this day. He did more than give us a look. We had to run millions of plays because of him. He'd hit the hole so fast."
"I guess I was just excited," Moreno said. "At the same time I wanted to get someone mad on the defense. I was always getting in a little scuffle."
Competitive? Moreno makes a habit of hurdling defenders if he gets them in the right position.
"That's illegal when you do that," Garner said.
Home visits de-evolved into monster spades tournaments. Moreno against Garner and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
Garner, always looking for angle, used that competitiveness to his advantage.
"It drove him nuts that he could not beat us in spades," he said. "On his official visit we said, 'If you win, you're going to commit.'"
Grifters that they were, Garner and Bobo tanked at cards and got their commitment.
If Garner wasn't working Moreno, he was working the kid's grandmother. Knowshon came to live with Mildred McQueen in Middletown, N.J., full time when he was 11. His parents Knowledge and Varashon -- combine them and you get his first name -- are separated.
"Miss Mildred" is originally from Georgia but still wasn't prepared for the growing interest in her grandson.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I think my grandson would do this," she said. "I'm not comfortable with (the attention). I guess he's playing so well, this is what happens. I'm a private person. I don't like my name out there in the papers and everything. I'm sure he doesn't either."
Miss Mildred can do something about that. Knowshon? He is a man of the people, or at least Bulldog Nation.
Georgia's 11-2 season might have crumbled had not Moreno developed so quickly. After that redshirt season, he entered the lineup when tailbacks Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown went down with injuries.
What followed was a side-by-side rise. Bulldogs and Moreno. The coaching staff was tempted to take the redshirt off King to provide depth before the Florida game. They agonized over it before deciding to go with Moreno and his one career start, backed up by true freshman Kalvin Daniels.
Thirty-three carries later, Moreno had 188 yards and Georgia had only its third victory over Florida in the past 18 meetings. A star was born, his moves were put to music and Verne Lundquist gushed.
"Maybe like Cadillac Williams," Richt finally said when nailed down for a comparison. Williams is a former Auburn star who could deliver a blow or break ankles, sometimes in the same carry.
"That's the only guy I can say he's really similar too."
That's why Moreno really is a hybrid of sorts. Part Cadillac, part Toyota Prius is the best way to put it. Powerful and economical.
"He's not like Herschel," Garner said. "He's got some Sweetness (Payton) in him. Some Barry (Sanders), some LaDainian Tomlinson."
All those great ones have their stories. Knowshon's is still being told.
I don't think he's the best RB in the nation (I'd take Beanie Wells over him) but he is definitely going to have to have a big year for Georgia with National Title aspirations in Athens.
Which leads me to... what's everybody's top 5 RB's in the nation this year? (as far as NCAA productivity, not NFL potential)
1. Beanie Wells, OSU 2. Knoshown Moreno, UGA 3. James Davis, CLEM 4. Michael Smith, Ark 5. Noel Devine, WVU
Check out how east coast biased I am. The problem is I have no idea who is going to emerge in LA as the starting running back and beyond that, I know nobody out on the west coast. Enlighten me west coast posters, who should I be watching this fall at the RB position in the PAC-10/Big-12?
ShoelessJoe wrote:Enlighten me west coast posters, who should I be watching this fall at the RB position in the PAC-10/Big-12?
OREGON In the 6 games Jeremiah Johnson(5'10" 205) spelled Jonathon Stewart last year before Johnson got hurt he rushed 54 times for 360 yards and 5 TD's, averaging 6.4 yards a rush. He also had 100 yards receiving and another score, not stellar but promising. Andre Crenshaw(5'11" 195) also looked good, they'll probably both be battling for the starting job with LaGarrette Blount, a 4 star 6'2" 235 pound JC transfer from East Mississippi.
Yeah not really much to talk about yet in the northwest but thats all I got.
Georgia Gem Hard-working tailback Moreno boasts freakish skill set Posted: Tuesday April 8, 2008 2:40PM; Updated: Tuesday April 8, 2008 2:49PM
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia running backs coach Tony Ball told his players to spread out across the practice field one day last week. In the crook of each Bulldog's left arm was a football. Only the backs' right feet and right hands touched the ground; their left legs stuck out horizontally, like rudders. Ball approached the back on the far left and tried to pry the football from his grip. The ball remained lodged, so Ball ordered the players to move.
Every back traversed 10 yards in herky-jerky hops, except the one on the left. The one on the left traveled an equal distance, and even though he participated in the same drill, he didn't appear to belong to the same species as the others. He bounded his 10 yards and exploded back to his feet, ready to juke another would-be tackler." After he watched Knowshon Moreno's human pogo stick act, Ball shook his head and smiled.
No tale of Moreno's rare blend of balance, agility, power and iron will surprise Al Bigos. Long before Moreno rushed for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in the SEC, long before Moreno was the offensive focal point of a national title contender, long before he made every preseason Heisman Trophy short list and long before he became one of college football's most accomplished practitioners of the Soulja Boy dance, Moreno was just another eighth-grader at Bayshore Middle School in Leonardo, N.J.
Bigos, who taught Moreno at Bayshore and later at Middletown High South, said that even if he gets Alzheimer's, he'll still remember the moment. With construction rendering 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 tossing a football to himself. Then, Bigos said, Moreno walked to one end of the patio. He 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 one 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. Yes, Bigos said, he had 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."
If Moreno builds on his freshman season, the story could someday rival the most famous tale from the youth of a future Georgia back. You'd be hard pressed to find a football fan in the Peach State who doesn't know that Herschel Walker's father, disturbed that his son watched too much television, ordered the youngster to do push-ups and sit-ups during the commercial breaks. That led to a regimen -- up to 2,000 push-ups and 3,000 sit-ups a day -- that produced one of the most dominant runners the college game has seen.
Moreno, however, is reluctant to discuss the talent that helped him become Georgia's most successful freshman back since Walker gained 1,616 yards and led the Bulldogs to the 1980 national title. 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. "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," 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."
Also, Moreno's 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 nine-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, 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."
Everyone will be watching Moreno this season. Moreno knows this, and he thinks he knows how to keep from letting the attention go to his head. "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 expressed 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."
Moreno's freshman season drew comparisons to former Bulldog Garrison Hearst and to Walker, the most legendary of Georgia's backs. In December, Walker and Moreno filmed a segment that ran on Fox minutes before the kickoff of Georgia's Sugar Bowl rout of Hawaii. Past and present walked between the hedges at Sanford Stadium. 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."