For New York Giants rookie defensive end Avery Moss, hearing his name called during the 2017 NFL Draft was only the start of what he hopes will be a long and productive pro career in a sport he initially wanted little to do with.
Sunday, when the Giants host the Los Angeles Rams, Moss, the Giants’ fifth-round draft pick who thus far in four games has four tackles (two solo) with one pass defensed and a forced fumble, could be looking at an increased role on defense thanks to the injury-related absences of Olivier Vernon and Kerry Wynn this weekend when the Giants host the Los Angeles Rams.
Moss has had to overcome a lot of adversity in his young life to get to this point, some of which was a result of misfortune and some of which was the result of his own doing.
On Thursday, Moss reflected on his journey–how far he’s come and how far he still has to go.
When he was growing up in Tempe, Arizona, the now 6-3, 271-pound Moss wanted very little to do with football.
“I was a basketball player,” Moss said. “I never really had an interest in getting involved in football.”
Moss laughed a bit when asked when he first got the itch to play football. “I had no choice,” he said. “I grew up with (New Orleans Saints offensive lineman) Andrus Peat, and his big brother (Todd) is kind of the one who got all of us started with football.”
Todd Peat, himself once a football athlete, sized up Moss and decided he would be best playing tight end and defensive end for the Corona del Sol High School team.
While Moss agreed to give football a try, he admitted that at first, the game just wasn’t his cup of tea.
“At first, I was wishy-washy about playing football—I didn’t like it, I didn’t go to practice and I missed games. I just didn’t take it seriously,” Moss admitted.
Moss, who also continued to pursue basketball, his first love, finally began to change his mind about football midway through his junior year.
Because he showed talent, Moss soon found himself being courted by numerous college programs. In realizing he had a chance to maybe get a scholarship to help pay for his education, he stayed with football.
However, instead of following Andrus Peat, whom he considers one of his closest friends, to Stanford, Moss decided to enroll at Nebraska, the school where Todd Peat initially began his college career.
On the Rise
When Moss arrived at Nebraska, he really started to develop a deeper appreciation for the game thanks to the enthusiasm and nurturing ways of then-Cornhuskers head coach Bo Pelini.
Unfortunately, Moss’ college career got off on a bad note. As a freshman, he suffered a shoulder injury after just three games.
Encouraged by Pelini to stick with it, Moss kept himself as active as possible with football even though he couldnt’ practice or play.
“Coach Pelini taught me a different aspect of the game that I wasn’t accustomed to before,” said Moss. “He made everything fun for me again and made me love the game.”
After being granted a medical redshirt, Moss, rehabbed from his shoulder injury, played in 12 games with three starts, racking up 36 total tackles, with eight tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 19 solo stops, six quarterback hurries and an interception returned for a touchdown against Northwestern the following season.
He was on his way to greater things, or so he thought.
For as fast as Moss’ stock was rising, that’s how quickly it came crashing down.
In December 2012, he was charged with disturbing the peace and public indecency, both misdemeanors stemming from allegations that he exposed himself to a female employee of a campus store.
As his case went through the legal system, Moss found more trouble in December 2013 when he unknowingly violated a restraining order that banned him from setting foot inside the campus dormitories.
As his academic and football futures crumbled right in front of him, Moss began to realize that unless he changed his ways, he was on a path to nowhere.
“You don’t realize what you take for granted until you don’t have it anymore,” he said . “Once I got football taken away from me, I didn’t realize how good I had it, how much I loved the game and the respect level I should have brought to the game.”
A contrite Moss underwent counseling to get himself back on the right path. He also spent a year off from school working a 12-hour shift at a car dealership, another experience that taught him another valuable lesson about education.
“I learned a lot about perseverance and being patient,” he said. “Even though I’m not a cocky person, it was still a humbling experience.
“It wasn’t even just football—it was also school. I knew that if I got a second opportunity, I’d have to make the most of the opportunity because for me. I was like 19, working a 12-hour shift. You can get through that, but when you’re like 39, 40 years old like some of the other guys I was working with who were doing the same job as me but who had kids to support, you realize what a different kind of struggle that is.
“I just knew this wasn’t for me and that if I got a second chance at school and football, I would do whatever I could to make the most of it,” he said.
The Second Chance
While Moss’ world was crumbling around him, so too was that of Pelini, fired by the University of Nebraska after the 2014 season.
Pelini would ultimately land on his feet as the new head coach of Youngstown State.
Moss, meanwhile, was trying to figure out his next step.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I never really thought about the NFL–I just thought about what am I going to do when school is over? I didn’t want to go through all this work and get a degree and then end up living life on the street.
“I just knew that I had an opportunity to do something better. I knew that whatever I did, I wanted to be a good leader and an example for my brothers and sisters.”
He found that opportunity when he was reunited with Pelini at Youngstown State. In one season, Moss logged 25 tackles (14 solo), 2.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble in 10 games played. He was able to continue his education and he also said he strengthened his faith in God.
He also strengthened his case of a chance in the NFL.
“I’m not really a person who pays attention to that stuff—I don’t even get on social media much, so I’m always hidden from everything,” Moss said.
“It’s funny—people always talk and say stuff—even in my freshman year at Nebraska, people were saying, ‘Oh you’re really good and you could probably go to the NFL.’”
Moss didn’t believe it at first, but as time went on, he began to think it was a possibility.
Then adversity struck again.
Ever since reaching adulthood, Moss has insisted on taking responsibility for his life and the choices he makes.
When he veered off the path at Nebraska, he did everything he could to handle his business himself because, as he explained it, “I didn’t want to burden my family with my problems, and I felt like I was an adult now I’m a grown man and I can handle my own problems.”
With no guarantees of being drafted, Moss resolved to take whatever life threw at him. However, before he could cross that bridge, he and his family would find themselves gathered in a Las Vegas hospital room where his grandmother had been admitted following a stroke.
That was on the Tuesday before the NFL draft. Moss and his family faithfully remained by his grandmother’s side, praying for her recovery and doing little things to keep her mind active and to help her regain some of the motor skills she lost.
While sitting bedside later in the week, the NFL draft playing out on a small nearby television in the background, football was the last thing on Moss’ mind.
That is until he got the call on his cell phone, a call from the 201 area code that he initially thought was from his agent.
“So I answered my phone and I’m like, “Ok, what’s up J.P?” Moss said, smiling. “Then I hear this unfamiliar voice asking me, ‘Hey, have you ever been to New York?’ And I’m like ‘New York? Who is this?’”
Moss then learned his caller’s identity: Giants general manager Jerry Reese.
“He was like, ‘I don’t know if you’ve been to New York, but how would you feel about becoming a Giant?’” Moss said, the grin growing wider.
When Moss shared the news with his family, including his grandmother, who was awake and aware of what was going on around her, he remembers their reactions.
“My family was excited and my grandma–she understood what was going on,” he said. “She started crying tears of joy and man, it just got me here,” he said pointing to his heart.
Moss paused when asked to reflect on how far he’s come from his days at Nebraska to where he is today as a member of the Giants defense, a youngster who could be in line for a bigger role.
When he first arrived in East Rutherford for the team’s three-day rookie minicamp in May, Moss admitted that he was in over his head.
“I was running around like a chicken with his head cut off,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Ultimately things began to fall into place for Moss. He credited the coaching staff and all his defensive line teammates for helping him with the transition, but he saved his praise for one teammate in particular whom he said has been coaching him up of late.
“He’s a real intelligent man,” Moss said. “I really don’t say much; I just listen to what he says and try to focus my mind into the details that he sees and is trying to explain to me and just try to get it all through repetition.
“He’ll tell me stuff the first time and I try to make myself get it and it’s definitely a process, but with him being there helps make it a little easier.”
Moss’ eyes widened when asked if there was anything in particular Vernon shared that has been an “a-ha” moment.
“He’s said a lot to me. Every week he’s taught me something new, like alignment, keys, analyzing formations—he’s taught me so much for every opponent. He’s got a lot of knowledge he’s been dropping on me.”
Thanks to those lessons and his own studies, Moss believes he has a better grasp of the defensive playbook than he did back in May.
“I think I’ve learned how to rush a little better. I think pass rush is really different for me coming up here because I wasn’t accustomed to different things the (offensive) tackles do,” Moss said. “Rushing inside was terrible before–not that I’m where I want to be right now, but at least I have a little better understanding on it.
“When I first got here, I would get thrown in there and I didn’t know what to do. I was just surviving. I think there’s been a lot of growth since then, and I want to keep growing.”
More Growing Pains Ahead
Moss knows that whatever he’s asked to do, it won’t always go smoothly. However, given the adversity he’s gone through so far in his young life, he’s confident that he can overcome it.
“I think me learning through all the lessons I went through made mentally tougher,” Moss said. “This is a business and you have to be mentally tough you have to be strong. I think all the speed bumps I went through in life provided a foundation for me to get through these moments.”