HOLMDEL, N.J. — Knowshon Moreno was warming up before practice in December as Georgia prepared for its bowl game against Michigan State when he was asked his thoughts on a recent statement made by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
His reaction was quintessential Moreno: "Roger who?"
It was hardly a surprising response from a player who means it when he says he isn’t interested in the glitz and glamour of big-time football. But at some point today, the man whose name Moreno didn’t recognize four months ago will step to a podium and announce the former Georgia running back’s arrival in the NFL. Make no mistake, Moreno is excited.
"I don’t watch too much of the NFL," Moreno said, "but I guess I’ll be doing it in a couple weeks."
Just because Moreno is embracing the next step in his career, however, doesn’t mean he’s changing his attitude toward the game of football.
Better than the contract that promises millions, Moreno is excited about his character in the next NFL video game.
More than the fame and celebrity he’ll immediately achieve in his new home city — he’s hoping to land in New York or Philadelphia to be close to his boyhood home in New Jersey — he’s excited to simply be spending this time with friends and family.
While draft experts predict he could be the first running back selected today, Moreno couldn’t even name more than a handful of other players in the draft.
Football for Moreno is about what happens when he’s on the field. Beyond that, it has never seemed all that interesting.
"If you ever ask him where he’s been on Super Bowl Sunday, I don’t think he’s ever watched it," said Steve Antonucci, Moreno’s coach in high school. "I don’t think he really cares. When he’s on the football field, it’s all about football. But when he’s off it, he’s just trying to be normal and fit in and be who he is. And I think that’s what makes him so great."
It wasn’t long after Moreno arrived in his life that Antonucci learned that his new running back wasn’t the typical football star.
Moreno had been so impressive during his freshman year at Middletown South High School that colleges were already showing an interest. The first to arrive was Michigan State, which sent representatives to New Jersey to meet the young tailback.
Antonucci was a wreck. He had goose bumps. He was nervous, excited and worried all at once. When the Michigan State reps arrived, however, Moreno was nowhere to be found.
Antonucci dashed up and down the hallways, peeking in classrooms, looking everywhere for his star tailback. When he finally tracked Moreno down, their conversation became a template for future recruiting trips.
"Michigan State is here to meet you," Antonucci said.
Moreno looked puzzled.
"Who are they?" he said.
After all, it was just football. Why would anyone take it so seriously?
As Moreno answered questions from his former coach and a horde of fans at a sporting goods store near his hometown in New Jersey earlier this week, his answers made plenty of sense for those who know him best.
Who is his favorite athlete?
It’s not a football player. It was Lebron James.
What was it like scoring is first touchdown?
He didn’t remember. Antonucci had to remind him what team it was against.
What are his favorite memories at Georgia?
It wasn’t his big game against Florida in 2007. It wasn’t the infamous leap against Central Michigan last year. Nope. It was simply hanging out with his pals in the locker room before practice or after games. Moreno was introduced to football in back yards and playgrounds, and even though the fields have gotten bigger and fans now wear his jersey and reporters want to know his opinions on key issues in the NFL, the tailback from Belford, N.J., still treats the game the same.
"We didn’t know this was going to happen," Moreno’s grandmother, Mildred McQueen, said. "He just plays the game because he loves it."
Sure, football has seemed a bit more like business lately, and that’s something Moreno hoped to avoid. He has flown from one NFL city to the next, meeting with coaches and a handful of players (most of whom he can’t remember now). He has answered hundreds of questions, run a handful of 40-yard dashes and had his game critiqued by every draft expert, NFL scout and water-cooler analyst with pronounced authority.
The one player in the draft who cares the least about the minutiae of the draft process has been subject to more than his share of it.
And yet, even that process remains relatively innocent for Moreno. Those people asking all the questions and dishing out all the analysis are just doing their jobs. He has a job now, too. But just because the game he has always loved is now the means by which he’ll earn his living doesn’t mean he’s changing his attitude toward football.
He’ll still be playing back-yard football and loving every second of it.
"If you don’t love your job, then why do it?" Moreno said. "I’m not out here for the money or anything. If that comes with the job, that’s great, but that stuff doesn’t really matter to me. I just love my job."