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Maryland's Moten having emotional, successful season

Adrian Moten's face was streaked with tears.

Maryland had just defeated Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in the season opener. The senior linebacker was peering into the lower stands, as he routinely does after games, to make eye contact with his mother and other relatives.

It wasn't whom he saw that overwhelmed Moten. Rather, it was who he didn't see in the crowd — his late father. Moten became so distraught that an assistant coach came over to the bench to check on him.

Five months earlier, on an April morning two days after Adrian's 22nd birthday, Anthony Moten had died of a heart attack. He was 53.

The Navy game was Moten's first since his father's death. But it was more than that. In 2005 — in Moten's previous trip to M&T Bank Stadium — his father had sat in the stands and watched Adrian's Gwynn Park team win the Class 3A state championship over Westminster on a fourth-down run in double overtime.

Five years later, so much seemed similar as Maryland and Navy played a game that, like the high school contest, hinged on a late, fourth-down play — a goal-line stop by the Terps.

But this time, there was a conspicuously empty seat.

"It's crazy," said Moten, interviewed as the Terps (4-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) prepared to face Clemson (2-3, 0-2 ACC) Saturday at Death Valley. "We went for it [in high school] on fourth down and scored. And now it's kind of the same scenario, but this time I was playing defense. And it just hit me. I see my mom and all my family. But I don't see my dad."

Moten also lost a cousin to a gunshot wound a few years ago. He said he was thinking about him, too, as the Navy game ended.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown met Moten at the bench and cradled the linebacker's face in his arm.

"I just really hugged him and told him how proud I was of him," Brown recalled. "I was one of those moments that stays right there, you know? That's why you coach. All that other stuff don't mean nothing. That's why you coach."

The talkative Moten is a team leader. "You hear his voice like everywhere. He just talks, talks, talks," said cornerback Cameron Chism.

As the sounds of crickets are to summer nights, the chatter of Moten and fellow linebacker Alex Wujciak is the background music of Maryland football practices.

Coaches wondered how Moten might react to his father's death. Moten said he had been close to his father, who had endured previous health issues but whose death was nevertheless a shock. "He and my mom didn't have the best relationship. He didn't raise me," the linebacker said. "But it's your dad. I talked to him on the phone."

Moten addressed coaches' concerns in the Navy game. His 12 tackles included a leap over a Navy blocker that resulted in a jarring hit on quarterback Ricky Dobbs near Maryland's goal line. Dobbs fumbled and Maryland recovered — one of the season's most memorable plays.

The play was reminiscent of one that former NFL star LaVar Arrington once made for Penn State. Moten said Arrington heard about his leap "and gave me a couple tweets" commending the fifth-year Maryland player.

"I don't know if I've seen a play this year that was as incredible as the leap," Brown said. "It was the timing of it — how he wasn't offside."

Brown continued: "If you watched his play [against Navy], it was almost inhuman. That's the hardest I've ever seen him play, and the most determined."

For the season, Moten — a likely candidate for All-ACC honors — is averaging 8.2 tackles. His three interceptions lead the Terps and is tied for second in the conference. His coaches say Moten could have a future in the NFL.

Moten said he draws inspiration from his teammates and coaches. He refers to Brown, coach Ralph Friedgen and others as "father figures."

Moten was at ease being interviewed about his late father, answering questions in his usual rapid-fire style. He said he thinks about him often but is determined not to let sadness affect his play.

More than a half-dozen Terps — including Wujciak and fellow defensive players Derek Drummond, Justin Anderson and Joe Vellano — attended the service for Moten's father in April at Moten's church in Landover.

"We went up to his funeral, a bunch of us," Vellano said. "[Adrian] is a gamer, he really is. He's close with probably everybody on the team."

Said Moten: "I really commend [those] guys for coming. I feel like this is a family. I'm playing for them. I'm just giving it back."

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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