Avery Moss: Picking the right fight - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Avery Moss: Picking the right fight

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Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 5:41 pm | Updated: 7:11 pm, Tue Jan 31, 2012.

Bo Pelini was in a groove.

The Nebraska football coach stepped to the free throw line at the Corona del Sol gym last Wednesday, decked out in dress pants and a collared shirt.

He picked up a basketball, centered it on his left hand and let it fly.

Swish.

The ball was retrieved and sent back to him.

Swish. Swish. Swish.

Twenty feet away, Avery Moss sat on a bench and casually chatted with a Cornhuskers assistant.

Two years ago, Moss could have envisioned this scenario, but it would have been an actual basketball coach shooting those free throws, not a football coach from one of the country's top programs in town for a recruiting visit.

Moss, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior defensive end, will join dozens of East Valley football, soccer and track athletes in signing his letter of intent during today's National Signing Period.His is to play football for Nebraska, but few knew this was where he would end up.

Moss was born and raised in Compton, Calif., a city notorious for gangs and violence. His parents wouldn't let him play sports growing up.

"I wasn't really allowed to leave the house, and when I did, I had to be really careful," Moss said. "You always heard gunshots and helicopters."

Moss' mother, Alishea, had a brother that was hurt playing football, so she didn't let Avery play the sport growing up. He didn't play basketball, either.

"I didn't really have him in anything except karate," Alishea Moss said.

The family moved to Tempe in sixth grade when Moss' father transferred jobs.

Avery met future close friends Calaen Robinson, Andrus Peat and Todd Peat soon after the move, but he mostly kept to himself early on.

"He was shy," said Robinson, Moss' teammate on Corona del Sol's top-ranked basketball team. "He just hung out with a small cliqué of friends, really, until high school."

Moss started playing basketball in eighth grade and fell in love with the game.

He came to Corona del Sol still raw, but with vast potential.

"I remember he had these size 18 (feet)," Corona del Sol basketball coach Sam Duane said. "He had to grow into his body, but you could tell he would be a player."

He worked hard and became a dominant force on the hardwood, becoming a varsity starter his sophomore season.

Duane said Moss has the talent to play lower-Division I basketball, but as an undersized power forward, the bigger schools weren't calling.

Moss went out for the football team as a freshman, but quit soon after. He didn't play as a sophomore, and even though it became clear that Moss wouldn't be playing basketball in a major conference - Boise State and Santa Barbara showed early interest - pleas from Todd Peat to try out for the football team went on deaf ears.

When Todd was a senior, he upped the ante.

"My junior year, that's when the threats came," Moss said. "They were all suggestions when I was a sophomore, like, ‘Man, you should come out.' I was like, ‘Naw' and I didn't. The next year, he said ‘I'm not having that, you're coming out.'

"Honestly, this is what it came down to: I had to fight Todd if I wanted to play (only) basketball. I wasn't trying to fight that big dude so I went and played football."

It may not be the most heartwarming story, but it worked.

Moss joined the football team for offseason workouts, with Todd Peat making sure he attended every session.

A broken wrist sidelined Moss for all but four games as a junior, but already he had Division I coaches interested.

"I actually had more offers than games played," he said. "It was different for me because I wanted to play basketball, but I wasn't getting a ton of looks like a kid wants in basketball. Once I came to football, they just started rolling in."

This year, Moss finished with 59 tackles and five sacks.

On Jan. 3, Moss announced his verbal commitment to the Huskers at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl at Chase Field with Peat standing close by. Peat redshirted at Nebraska this season, and the pair will play together on the defensive line in college.

He'll fax back his letter to Nebraska, and then it's back to basketball, where the Aztecs are favorites to win the Division I state championship.

Once the season ends, Moss won't step on the hardwood competitively again.

"Football's grown a lot on me," Moss said. "You're always going to have that first love, but sometimes you've got to move on."

If Moss gets the basketball bug, the Bob Devaney Sports Center at Nebraska is only a mile away from the football stadium.

He might even find a smooth-shooting, left-handed football coach willing to hoist free throws with him.

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