From the moment he set foot on Virginia's campus, it seemed like Morgan Moses was destined to hear his name mentioned on NFL draft weekend at some point. Football came easy to the big man from Richmond.
Academics were a different challenge.
After spending a year at Fork Union Military Academy before heading to U.Va., having his name called at a college graduation ceremony wasn't always a given. As significant as Thursday night could be if Moses follows in the footsteps of recent U.Va. offensive linemen D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Branden Albert and Eugene Monroe and is chosen in the first round of the draft, the proceedings in Charlottesville on May 18 will be just as important.
Moses has buried the image of the "big, dumb jock." Along with a multi-million dollar contract to play football, he's going to get his college degree.
"I was always determined and could always see the bigger picture, so when people doubted me about making it through U.Va. and playing at U.Va., it was always in the back of my head that I can prove people wrong," said Moses, a 6-foot-6, 313-pound offensive tackle who is majoring in anthropology. "Now ... I feel like I proved the world wrong."
Moses or Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller will be the first player from either U.Va. or Tech to be selected in the draft, but they won't be the only players from the Commonwealth's Atlantic Coast Conference representatives that will be picked. Fuller is considered a mid-to-late first-round pick in most projections, while Moses could go mid-to-late first round or early second round.
In addition to Moses and Fuller, U.Va. defensive lineman Brent Urban and Tech defensive end James Gayle, a Bethel High graduate, are considered mid-round picks. Tech quarterback Logan Thomas could go anywhere from the third through seventh rounds. Tech cornerback Antone Exum is likely to be a mid-to-late round selection.
U.Va. coach Mike London was a Cavaliers defensive assistant coach during the playing careers of Ferguson, Albert and Monroe. Ferguson was chosen fourth overall in 2006 by the New York Jets, Albert went 15th overall in '08 to the Kansas City Chiefs and Monroe was picked eighth overall in '09 by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
What do Ferguson, Albert, Monroe and Moses all have in common?
"If it's a word — 'ginormous,'" London said. "They're all big. You just look at them. Just physically, the wingspan, the length in their torso and their leg area, it's something that's indicative of what NFL offensive linemen look like."
As flexible as Fuller was at Tech while playing cornerback and outside linebacker, Moses' versatility could make him just as attractive to NFL front office personnel. He played primarily right tackle in his first three seasons at U.Va., starting 35 of 37 games, before moving to left tackle as a senior and starting all 12 games for the 2-10 Cavaliers.
"Just this past year, I moved back to the left side, so I had to relearn those techniques I learned throughout high school and Fork Union back on the left side just to get back to feeling like myself on the field," said Moses, who went to Meadowbrook High in Richmond before heading to FUMA and U.Va. "One thing that has helped me is I'm ambidextrous in playing both sides."
Moses surrendered a combined five sacks in his junior and senior seasons. His personal highlight in his senior season came in U.Va.'s 59-10 loss to Clemson, when he held defensive end Vic Beasley to one tackle. Beasley led the ACC last season with 13 sacks.
Moses, who worked out for 13 NFL teams and dropped 12 pounds from the end of his senior season, was one of 30 players invited to attend the draft in person in New York's Radio City Music Hall. He'll be there, where he'll likely get selected by a team as a right tackle to open his career.
"He's extremely long," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "At first, I didn't like him because he's got very average feet. What I've learned is sometimes those really big, huge, long right tackles with average feet end up being pretty good football players."
While all the accolades on the field have put Moses in position to go early in the draft, his transformation in the classroom has been just as impressive. Despite being considered by most recruiting analysts one of the nation's top-five offensive tackle recruits coming out of high school, there was speculation he might not make it through college.
Moses heard the criticism of his academic willpower, or supposed lack thereof. London saw him use it as fuel to produce quality study habits.
"When people tell you you can't do something, it's always a motivating factor and something you can turn and internalize," London said. "When people count you out, when people say you'll never make it, and 'Mo' has a great story.
"We provided a support system that allowed a young man to study, to learn how to take notes, how to time manage. Don't be afraid, even though you're an athlete, after class to introduce yourself to a professor and talk about how you want to learn and how the class is interesting to you. Don't be categorized or stereotyped as a big, dumb jock."
Being put in a similar category on the field with Ferguson, Albert and Monroe is an honor to Moses, but he's always been keen on walking his own path. He's going in the right direction.
"I always want to pave my own road," Moses said. "I'm pretty sure if you ask (Ferguson, Albert and Monroe), they would say the same thing. So, being in the position that I am now, definitely coming from U.Va. and playing on the offensive line helps a lot, but I wanted to be me throughout the process and pave my own way."
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun