ATHENS, Ga. -- All the great ones have stories.
Knowshon Moreno's start: Bayshore Middle School in New Jersey. There were 25, 30 kids in a P.E. class that day. Little Knowshon lined them up and told them to come get a piece.
"Weaved through the whole class without getting touched," Steve Antonucci said. "I don't think anybody came even close to him."
|1. Tim Tebow||QB||Florida|
|2. Sam Bradford||QB||Oklahoma|
|3. Chase Daniel||QB||Missouri|
|4. Pat White||QB||West Virginia|
|5. K. Moreno||RB||Georgia|
|6. Chris Wells||RB||Ohio State|
|7. Jeremy Maclin||KR/WR||Missouri|
|8. Michael Crabtree||WR||Texas Tech|
|9. Noel Devine||RB||West Virginia|
|10. Joe McKnight||RB||USC|
|11. Armanti Edwards||QB||Appalachian St.|
|12. Graham Harrell||QB||Texas Tech|
|13. Colt McCoy||QB||Texas|
|14. P.J. Hill||RB||Wisconsin|
|15. Max Hall||QB||BYU|
|16. Todd Reesing||QB||Kansas|
|17. Percy Harvin||WR||Florida|
|18. LeSean McCoy||RB||Pittsburgh|
|19. Juice Williams||QB||Illinois|
|20. Ian Johnson||RB||Boise State|
The tale came to Antonucci, Moreno's high school coach, second hand, but has been repeated enough times to become urban legend. Fortunately, there are now cameras around each Saturday to document reasonable facsimiles of what Moreno did in P.E. class.
Welcome to the Heisman class of 2008. We're not saying Moreno, Georgia's redshirt sophomore tailback, is going to win the award but why not? We heard all the stories about Tim Tebow coming out of high school. He surpassed the hype to become the first sophomore to win the statue. Moreno is at least the next big thing in the SEC, maybe the country.
If we're way early with this list, we're only trying to get ahead of the 5-foot-11, 207-pound hybrid energy mix of Cadillac Williams, Walter Payton and humility. "The amazing thing to me about Knowshon is he already knows what is happening before it happens," Antonucci said. "He makes decisions in milliseconds."
Not the decision that brought him to Georgia. New Jersey talent doesn't regularly find its way to the SEC, much less Georgia. But Mark Richt already had landed defensive tackle Kade Weston from Red Bank, N.J., when Moreno was completing his career as New Jersey's No. 1 career rusher (now No. 2) at Middletown South High School.
A couple of 15-hour train rides to and from Athens for a camp and Moreno was hooked.
"There's a train that runs from here to New Jersey?" quarterback Matthew Stafford asked.
"I really believe that when Knowshon came to a camp here, he thought it was a Nike camp where coaches from all the schools were coming to watch," Richt said. "I think maybe he was a little bit bummed."
If he was bummed, Moreno didn't show it. During that camp, coaches decided to pair Moreno with Norcross, Ga. prospect Caleb King.
"Sweltering heat, sand, rubber in your face," Richt said. "We were grinding them. Then we started doing competitive stuff. They were our top two war daddies. We didn't know who Knowshon was. We didn't know what was inside of him."
Now it's going to be Moreno this season, backed up by King. War daddies together in the backfield in a program that has been picked by some -- CBSSports.com included -- as the preseason No. 1.
|Knowshon Moreno is the 12th Bulldog to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. (Getty Images)|
Don't say that out loud in Athens. You'll get your mouth washed out from UGA's water dish.
After a redshirt season in 2006, Moreno became the first Georgia freshman running back since Herschel Walker to be named all-SEC. Only Walker (1,616) had more yards as a freshman at Georgia than Moreno (1,334). Considering what Walker accomplished, let's just say there is reason for the usually rabid Hairy Dawgs to practically jump out of their skin this season.
Georgia's second-half push to a Sugar Bowl berth coincided with Moreno's first career start. Midway through the season, the Bulldogs were mentally adrift after a loss at Tennessee. Boom. One-hundred fifty-seven yards on 28 carries against Vanderbilt. Georgia won seven in a row. A string of five consecutive 100-yard games began and spurred the Athens T-shirt industry to ask: Do you Knowshon?
Expect to see a few of them in the stands Saturday, when the Dawgs play their spring game.
When the complaining died down in December regarding missing out on a) a national championship berth and b) a Rose Bowl shot at USC, Georgia started to realize it had something special.
Another title shot in '08 and another great tailback from a school that has produced a few. And we do mean a few. Georgia's history of stockpiling tailbacks and then sharing carries gives Moreno's 2007 accomplishment more weight. He is only the 12th Bulldog ever to rush for 1,000 yards. That's one more than produced by quarterback-factory Arizona State, which will host the Bulldogs on Sept. 20.
Sometimes it's hard to break out in Athens. At one point in the 1980s, Georgia had four Parade All-Americans on the roster.
"The thing that separates him a little bit is because of his incredible energy," coaching legend Vince Dooley said of Moreno. "As soon as he gets hit, he rolls on the ground, he's jumping up. He's back in the huddle."
High school players in Georgia now imitate Moreno's signature move -- popping up as if poked by a cattle prod after a tackle. Half of it shows the opponent that he isn't fazed by a hit. The other half is Moreno being continually wired to a car battery.
"He wants to be great," said Rodney Garner, Georgia's superstar recruiting coordinator who landed Moreno. "I don't think he wants to be good. He's going 100 mph. He's hyper. It's not an act of showboating."
Teammate Jeff Owens remembers the term, "Repeeeaatt it." That's what coaches would say to the defense in '06 during Moreno's redshirt year. The rookie was on the scout team but wasn't content just to give the defense a "look."
"Oh man, he was a killer," said Owens, a defensive tackle. "He is to this day. He did more than give us a look. We had to run millions of plays because of him. He'd hit the hole so fast."
"I guess I was just excited," Moreno said. "At the same time I wanted to get someone mad on the defense. I was always getting in a little scuffle."
Competitive? Moreno makes a habit of hurdling defenders if he gets them in the right position.
"That's illegal when you do that," Garner said.
Home visits de-evolved into monster spades tournaments. Moreno against Garner and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
Garner, always looking for angle, used that competitiveness to his advantage.
"It drove him nuts that he could not beat us in spades," he said. "On his official visit we said, 'If you win, you're going to commit.'"
Grifters that they were, Garner and Bobo tanked at cards and got their commitment.
If Garner wasn't working Moreno, he was working the kid's grandmother. Knowshon came to live with Mildred McQueen in Middletown, N.J., full time when he was 11. His parents Knowledge and Varashon -- combine them and you get his first name -- are separated.
"Miss Mildred" is originally from Georgia but still wasn't prepared for the growing interest in her grandson.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I think my grandson would do this," she said. "I'm not comfortable with (the attention). I guess he's playing so well, this is what happens. I'm a private person. I don't like my name out there in the papers and everything. I'm sure he doesn't either."
Miss Mildred can do something about that. Knowshon? He is a man of the people, or at least Bulldog Nation.
Georgia's 11-2 season might have crumbled had not Moreno developed so quickly. After that redshirt season, he entered the lineup when tailbacks Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown went down with injuries.
What followed was a side-by-side rise. Bulldogs and Moreno. The coaching staff was tempted to take the redshirt off King to provide depth before the Florida game. They agonized over it before deciding to go with Moreno and his one career start, backed up by true freshman Kalvin Daniels.
Thirty-three carries later, Moreno had 188 yards and Georgia had only its third victory over Florida in the past 18 meetings. A star was born, his moves were put to music and Verne Lundquist gushed.
"Maybe like Cadillac Williams," Richt finally said when nailed down for a comparison. Williams is a former Auburn star who could deliver a blow or break ankles, sometimes in the same carry.
"That's the only guy I can say he's really similar too."
That's why Moreno really is a hybrid of sorts. Part Cadillac, part Toyota Prius is the best way to put it. Powerful and economical.
"He's not like Herschel," Garner said. "He's got some Sweetness (Payton) in him. Some Barry (Sanders), some LaDainian Tomlinson."
All those great ones have their stories. Knowshon's is still being told.