By Jeff Zrebiec and Mike Klingaman
12:20 PM EDT, May 10, 2014
C.J. Mosley was exhausted, the day's events clearly taking a toll.
The walk down the red carpet and into Radio City Music Hall was more unsettling than anything he did during the tedious pre-draft process. The two-plus-hour stay in the green room, waiting to hear his name called and for his lifelong dream to be realized, seemed endless. The holding up of a Ravens jersey spurred a mixture of emotions, from relief to satisfaction.
It was nearing midnight Thursday when Mosley returned to his New York City hotel room and found something lying on his bed.
A No. 32 T-shirt — a number he wore in honor of his late friend Robert Hardy — included pictures of Mosley and Hardy on it.
"We'll keep him with us the whole way through. It's something that you never forget," said Mosley, the inside linebacker whom the Ravens picked 17th overall in Thursday's first round. "It just shows that as long as you have some type of motivation that keeps you grounded, you can be great."
Mosley emerged from a small town in Alabama to become one of the top high school football recruits in the country. He was a two-year captain at Alabama, won two national championships with the Crimson Tide and was named the country's best college linebacker last year. Now he'll be given every opportunity to start immediately for the Ravens.
For him, the journey started about eight years ago when Mosley learned that Hardy, who suffered from a heart condition, had collapsed during a basketball game and died at the age of 13. Mosley was a pallbearer at the funeral and dedicated the rest of his life to honoring his best friend and serving as a mentor to Hardy's brother, Tyler.
Tyler Hardy attended Thursday's draft and was the one who left the T-shirt on Mosley's hotel bed.
"C.J. has pretty much taken the big brother role," said Mosley's mother, Tracy. "He and Robert had talked about going to college and playing football together. That's why he's always motivated. He has never forgotten."
Clinton Mosley Sr., C.J.'s father, said Hardy's death changed his son's life, making him more serious about athletics and more focused on academics.
C.J.'s football idol is retired Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Mosley sings — he was a regular in his church choir — but, unlike Lewis, he doesn't dance or strut on the field. A pump of the fist is viewed as an outpouring of emotion for him. He rarely talks trash, nor does he particularly enjoy talking about himself to the media.
"I'd just rather play football," said Mosley, who said he got his quiet side from his mother and his "wild and crazy" side from his father.
"You have a lot of guys that when they come out of college, they have a lot of baggage and off-the-field issues. But you don't have to worry about stuff like that with C.J.," said Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who was C.J.'s teammate at Alabama. "With C.J., he's going to go out there and let his pads talk. They say you have to play like a Raven. That's something he does."
C.J. — which stands for Clinton Jr. — grew up in Theodore, Ala., (population 6,100), near Mobile Bay. His father is a shipyard supervisor who ran track in high school; his mother, Tracy, is a substitute teacher who favored basketball.
Early on, there was no doubt where C.J.'s interests lay. At age 4, his Christmas gifts were an Alabama helmet and jersey. At 5, he played youth football with his mother's blessing.
"I'd been scared of my baby getting bruises," she said. "But when he started tackling pillows in the house and knocking over tables, it was time to get him out into the park."
C.J.'s parents introduced him to many sports but never allowed athletics to get in the way of academics. He once brought home a bad grade, prompting his father to hold him out of a playoff game. C.J., his teammates and coaches were all mad at Clint Sr., who didn't budge.
"Nobody liked [Clint Sr.] that day but it was a life-learning lesson," Tracy said. "C.J. talks about that to this day. After that, we've never had problems with school. He always knew school was first."
The lessons he learned as a kid shaped C.J.'s work ethic.
"C.J. was never a quitter," Tracy said. "He started basketball at age 8, later than most, and was put in a [weaker] league because he didn't know how to play. His team was mostly girls and they lost every game. He'd come home and cry but we wouldn't let him quit. The last game of the season, the coach didn't even show up so Clint Sr. coached the team — and they won. C.J.'s whole attitude changed."
C.J.'s freshman year at Theodore High, he led a fast break in a contest against a heated rival.
"C.J. drove straight to the basket, jumped over a defender and dunked the ball," Bobcats coach Philip Roebling said. "I thought, 'Wow — and we have this guy for three more years?'"
A 6-foot-2 center, C.J. led Theodore in scoring averaging (17 points) and rebounds (nine) as a senior and took the team to the state regionals for the first time, but all the while it was clear his future was in football.
"Another kid might have quit the team that year, after getting a football scholarship to Alabama. But he didn't," the coach said. Roebling also coached freshman football at Theodore and recalled an incident that forged C.J.'s reputation there.
Action, not talk
"We had another talented kid, Todd Neal, who kept jawing that he could 'outdo' C.J.," Roebling said "C.J. never said a word. But they were our two best players, so we lined them up against each other, gave C.J. the ball and told Todd to tackle him."
Mosley flattened the kid.
"That stopped the talking," the coach said. "Nobody wanted to tackle C.J. after that."
In four seasons at Alabama, C.J. played in 51 games, made 319 tackles, five interceptions and 6.5 sacks. He became only the fourth player under Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban to receive consensus All-American honors in multiple seasons.
C.J. was projected as a first-round pick as a junior and he had just celebrated his second national championship. However, he didn't consider leaving school early, intent on graduating and proving to NFL officials that he was an every-down linebacker.
"I didn't want to leave without my degree," said C.J., who graduated with a degree in general studies. "I didn't want to leave anything on the table if I had left my junior year."
It seems that everybody who knows C.J. has a story about his humility, his faith and his devotion to his family. As a freshman, C.J. befriended Fuller Goldsmith, a young boy who was diagnosed with leukemia. Alabama had a ton of established stars at the time, but Goldsmith admired C.J. because he kept to himself. Goldsmith's father sent a text message to C.J. late Thursday night, vowing that the family will be at his first Ravens game.
C.J. can't wait to get to know the fans in his new football home.
"I'm about giving back and doing the right thing," C.J. said. "[Fans] shouldn't see my name in the paper about any arrests or doing something stupid. They don't have to worry about that. I'm trying to win a Super Bowl and be part of a great defense. Just be a great person and a great player."
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