By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He arrived at the University of Virginia in June 2010, a mammoth young man as well-known around the state for his struggles in the classroom, it sometimes seemed, as for his prodigious talent on the football field.
Morgan Moses first signed a letter of intent with Virginia in February 2009, as a senior at Meadowbrook High School in the Richmond suburbs. Unable to meet NCAA qualifying standards for freshman eligibility coming out of Meadowbrook, Moses spent the 2009-10 school year not at UVa but at Fork Union Military Academy.
At FUMA, where he played for the postgraduate football team, Moses shored up his academic foundation enough to meet the NCAA’s requirements and earn admission to UVa. (He had signed with the Cavaliers again in February 2010). Still, Moses knew that many people doubted his ability to survive at the University.
His coaches and academic advisers at UVa knew it, too.
“When we had our very first meeting, when he first arrived here,” recalled Natalie Fitzgerald, “I said, ‘You have two choices. You can prove people right or prove people wrong. Which one are you going to do? Because people say you shouldn’t be here. It’s up to you to decide which one of those roads you’re going to take.’ ”
Fitzgerald is an academic coordinator and study skills specialist in UVa’s athletics department. If every student-athlete she worked with were as diligent as Moses, her job would be much easier. Moses has remained in good academic standing since enrolling at UVa some 16 months ago.
“He has done absolutely everything I’ve asked him to,” Fitzgerald said. “I think Morgan has a maturity about him, in that he realizes that in order to be successful he has to be successful in everything he does, and that includes academics. Even though that might be harder for him than it might be for someone else, he has to find a way to make himself successful, and that’s what he’s good at.”
For Moses, who’s in the College of Arts & Sciences, that means meeting regularly with professors and taking full advantage of the academic support available to athletes at UVa.
“I knew I had a big task ahead of me, playing and trying to balance that with school,” Moses said. “I just attacked it, like I attacked everything on the football field. I just went headfirst into it.”
Mike London said: “He’s the example of what a guy that’s motivated, that just wanted an opportunity, and he’s made the most of his opportunity on the field, in the classroom and in the community here.
“The thing is, when you become an active participant in your own educational process, then you’re going to be successful, no matter who you are. And that’s one of the things Morgan did. He became an active participant in study hall, he talks to professors when they hold office hours, does extra credit, seeks help.”
This is London’s second season as the Cavaliers’ football coach, and his best players include big No. 78, who was a Parade All-American as a Meadowbrook High senior.
As a true freshman last season, Moses started six times at offensive tackle and once at guard. He’s started every game this fall at right tackle for Virginia (1-1, 4-2), which hosts ACC rival NC State (0-2, 3-3) at 3:30 p.m. today at Scott Stadium.
That the 6-6, 335-pound Moses would emerge as an All-ACC candidate is no surprise, given his rare blend of size, strength and athleticism. London may be prouder of Moses’ accomplishments off the field.
“No one knows what motivates some guys internally and what things drive them,” London said. “You look at Morgan’s situation. People did tell him that he could never could do it here. People told him he wasn’t smart enough, he wasn’t good enough. So internally I think he just decided to himself, ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure that it happens for me.’ ”
Moses was not so dedicated at Meadowbrook, especially before his senior year. He’s the first to admit that.
“If I’d carried the mindset that I carried in high school here, I probably would have been a mess,” he said. “I just matured along the way. It’s just growing up and becoming a man.”
FUMA, where his coach was the legendary John Shuman, played a vital role in his growth, Moses said. He didn’t necessarily enjoy his time there — Moses vows never to wear a military uniform again — but he learned valuable study skills and self-discipline at the Fluvanna County school.
“It definitely helped me a lot,” Moses said. “It’s definitely playing a big part in my life right now, just being able to have a second chance.”
Fitzgerald said she’s seen Moses evolve during his time in Charlottesville.
“He came in as a very focused, determined young man, but I don’t think he had a real understanding of what that meant as a UVa student and as a UVa student-athlete, trying to balance everything,” she said.
“So I think that’s been a maturity process on his behalf, because he is a whole lot more comfortable. I don’t have to say to Morgan anymore, ‘Well, why don’t you go talk to the instructor and figure out how to make the next test better.’ He’s coming in my office and saying, ‘Miss Fitz, I got this grade, but don’t worry, I’ve already met with my instructor. This is what we’re going to do.’ Or ‘I’ve already sent this e-mail. This is what we’re going to do.’ He’s a much more pro-active student.
“He just wants to be successful, and I think he kind of has a chip on his shoulder: ‘I have to prove these people wrong. I have to show them that I can earn my degree from here, and I can move on and be successful off the football field.’ ”
Moses’ biggest fans are his parents, Marion and Morris Moses. They were at the Wahoos’ spring game at Scott Stadium in April when their son was recognized as the 2010-11 recipient of the Bill Dudley Award. That honor goes annually to the first-year football player at UVa who best demonstrates excellence in the classroom, on the field, and in the community.
“I was blown away,” Morris Moses recalled Friday. “Me and his mother looked at each other, and she had tears in her eyes.
“This was a kid that people counted out. Morgan caught a whole lot of flak, because they said he didn’t belong at the University of Virginia. I never had any doubt he could make it. He had people in his life like [former UVa football players] Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert and Chris Long, people telling him he could do it.”
The elder Moses, himself a former lineman, draws inspiration from Morgan. After developing diabetic ulcers in his left foot, Morris had that leg amputated below the knee in June 2010, about the time his son enrolled at UVa.
“My goal was to work hard in rehab so I could see Morgan play his first game,” Morris said. “That was my motivation.”
He reached that goal. When UVa opened the 2010 season against Richmond at Scott Stadium, Morris was there, watching proudly from his wheelchair. Within a few months, he was walking on a blue-and-orange prosthesis adorned with V-Sabres, and the leg continues to do well.
“For him to be there, not only for the first home game, but all of them, it was a big deal,” Morgan said early this year. “I knew I could look in that one corner of the stadium and he was going to be right there.”
Morgan shares a house off-Grounds with teammates Cam Johnson, Austin Pasztor and Billy Schautz. He’s only in his second year at UVa, but Moses says he tries “to do for the freshmen what seniors and other upperclassmen did for me last year. Just being a person that they can come and talk to about football, family stuff, no matter what it is. I always tell them my door is open. Like Kelby [Johnson]. I always try to talk to him and encourage him. Just being a support system to everybody else.”
As for those who predicted he wouldn’t last long at UVa, Moses said: “There’s probably people still out there that are doubting. But I just take it as, I create my own destiny. It’s up to me if I want to succeed or not.”