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COLLEGE FOOTBALL ’97: Randy Moss _ best athlete you’ve never seen

August 21, 1997

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) _ The worst time in Randy Moss’ young life were the days he spent in jail, watching his football future cut to pieces and unable to use his awesome athletic ability to do anything about it.

Moss, on probation for a school fight, had violated conditions of his sentence by testing positive for marijuana. He was about to lose a scholarship to Florida State, which itself had been a second chance after Notre Dame had withdrawn its scholarship.

``That was the low point,″ said Moss’ lawyer, Tim DiPiero. ``We’ve come a long way since then.″

A long way, indeed.

The wide receiver got a third chance last year, with Marshall, and led the Thundering Herd to a Division I-AA title. He seemingly broke records each week and set playoff marks for receiving yardage (636), touchdowns (nine) and championship TD catches (four). He also was an All-American as a freshman.

In short, he was the best player you’d never seen. That anonymity, however, is about to change.

Marshall moves up to Division I-A this year and Moss has already made several preseason All-American teams.

``Since my name has been in the limelight, people are going to be out to shoot to kill,″ Moss said.

``Teams now know that in order to stop Marshall, or have a chance of stopping Marshall, is to double-cover Moss. ... (But) the object is not about stopping Moss. It’s about stopping all 11 out there.″

Some even think the 20-year-old sophomore has an outside shot at the Heisman Trophy. The coach of Marshall’s first opponent, West Virginia’s Don Nehlen, says Moss probably is the premier college receiver in the country.

``Any time he gets the ball, that’s a major problem for us and anybody else,″ Nehlen said.

But it’s not easy to deny Moss the ball.

At 6-foot-5, he’s taller than most defensive backs. With 4.25 speed in the 40, he’s faster. His hands make a football look like a Nerf ball and he rarely drops a pass. His body can twist gracefully and he has a vertical leap of almost 39 inches. And at 210 pounds, he can take a hit.

Marshall coach Bob Pruett isn’t about to take a lot of credit for making Moss a superstar.

``What sets him apart?″ Pruett asks, laughing, ``is God’s given him something he didn’t give the other guys.″

But Moss’ talent is still an unknown, like a map of North America in the 1790s: You know there’s a lot out there, but you’re not quite sure about the details.

``Everybody knows he can play basketball and football really well, and run track,″ quarterback Chad Pennington said. ``But then we get out there and we’re just messing around in the pool and jumping off of a springboard, low dive, and Randy gets up there, jumps off the diving board and does a complete one-and-a-half real easy ... with grace.″

Yet despite all that talent, Moss has had a troubled past. And there is plenty of reason for him to straighten out his personal life: The NFL is watching.

``When someone has been in trouble socially we’ll shy away from him, especially in the early rounds,″ said one NFL consultant. ``Would you really want to put a million-dollar investment on someone who might not pan out for you in three or four years?″

Moss has been told all this. But Lawrence Phillips, Warren Sapp, Tremain Mack and Corey Dillon had the same information. All watched their draft stock plummet because of character concerns.

``He understands if he gets in trouble, all the talent in the world will not make him a top draft pick,″ DiPiero said. ``I don’t think the problems he’s had to date are going to be that big a problem, provided he doesn’t have any further ones.″

Moss’ legal problems began in March 1995. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor battery charges and was put on probation for a fight in which a high school student was injured.

He had planned to play for Notre Dame, but was turned away after his arrest. He moved on to Florida State but was kicked off the team after smoking marijuana while on probation.

Moss spent about a month in jail in June 1996 but was allowed to attend day classes at West Virginia State. A judge then released him and reduced his sentence to time served.

Moss grew up in the Charleston area without a dad, and he credits his mom, Maxine, for his success.

``If it wasn’t for my mom working all night, all day, there isn’t any way in the world I’d be here in college, period,″ he said. ``I plan to give her anything she wants in life. ... You might as well say I’m a genie. I grant her wishes.″

Moss has a baby girl, who is being raised by her mother’s family. But he wants to keep his private life private, football fame and fortune notwithstanding.

``The time I have to spend with my daughter, I try to use it wisely,″ he said. ``If I take her out somewhere, I don’t want to be surrounded by people, saying, `Look at Randy Moss’ daughter.′ ... Just let me chill.″

And maybe just stay low, period.

``If people try to get nosy, try to get in your business, that’s when trouble’s going to occur,″ he said. ``I feel I don’t try to get in anybody else’s business, then why get in mine?″

But Moss may need to change his attitude. If he keeps setting records on the field, the attention he’ll get in college, and perhaps one day in the NFL, will only increase.

End Adv for weekend editions, Aug. 23-24

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