Long before Dezman Moses was an undrafted free agent trying to make the Green Bay Packers’ roster, he was a 15-year-old kid who idolized nobody more than his high school basketball coach, Jeff Coney.
The longtime head coach at Rancocas Valley (N.J.) Regional High School, Coney put his reputation on the line when he tabbed a then-freshman Moses as the team’s starting point guard over a couple of seniors.
Some criticized the move, but Moses appreciated his coach taking the leap of faith on his talent. He felt indebted to Coney. That’s the kind of man he wanted to play for.
Then, Coney was gone.
In the summer following his freshman year in 2004, Moses received word the coach’s body was found in the Delaware River. He was pronounced dead at 43 years old. Police had no leads. There were few answers.
A note was left in his nearby car, but many have debated whether it was written by Coney or not. Barely a high-schooler, Moses struggled to take it all in.
“It was pretty sudden. I guess they called it a suicide,” Moses said. “They found his car by the lake with a note in it. That was it. To have that happen and hear your coach committed suicide or whatever the case was, it left a lot of question marks. That was the tougher part about it. I didn’t know how to react at that point. You were just kind of hoping it was a rumor. Once you found out it wasn’t, you don’t know where to be emotionally.”
A three-sport varsity athlete as a freshman, Moses returned to Rancocas Valley for his sophomore year, but things were different. He didn’t connect with the team’s new basketball coach and needed a change.
After the year, Moses talked with his father, Vernon, and the two decided it would be in his best interest to transfer to Willingboro, the school district he attended in his hometown until eighth grade.
Moses continued to play basketball and baseball there, but also discovered his passion for football. Playing wide receiver and linebacker, Moses was motivated by a successful program and a growth spurt that saw him gain about 20 pounds each year of high school.
By the time he was a senior, Moses weighed about 225 pounds and decided to attend the University of Iowa on a football scholarship over a bevy of other offers in football and basketball. At one point, he even had Major League Baseball organizations looking at him.
After two years at Iowa, Moses transferred to Tulane, where he converted from linebacker to defensive end and finished as the fifth all-time in career sacks (15˝) despite spending only two seasons there.
Now, the 6-foot-2, 249-pound Moses is back at linebacker with the Packers after going undrafted last April. Since arriving at rookie orientation, he’s proving he deserves a role in the NFL one outing after another.
During the Packers’ 27-13 win over the Cincinnati last Thursday, Moses led the team with four tackles (one for a loss), a quarterback pressure and a pass defensed.
“I felt really from Day 1 he was pretty natural at the outside linebacker position,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s a raw young player that’s getting better on special teams, and there’s some things just in the sub packages that he’s had the opportunity to get some reps at. I think he’s grown. We’re all excited about his football.”
Eight years since being confronted with reality, Moses sees the irony in the role his basketball past has played in his potential NFL future even though he feels no added sense of comfort entering Friday’s final cuts.
Part of that credit goes to Coney, who instilled the confidence in Moses at a formative time that he’s talented enough to compete with anybody.
“It helped me grow as a person, being strong,” Moses said. “He was a great guy, standup guy and easy to talk to. He gave me a lot of opportunity as a freshman over a couple seniors to play. That takes a lot of guts. Some people thought it was a bad decision, some people thought it was a good decision but I think it takes a big person to make that decision and stick with it. I appreciate him for that.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.