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Cut Off From The Herd
S.L. Price
August 25, 1997
Randy Moss, the most gifted player in college football, is leading the revival of a Marshall program still haunted by a devastating 1970 plane crash. But Moss cares little about the Thundering Herd's past—and won't be around for its future
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August 25, 1997

Cut Off From The Herd

Randy Moss, the most gifted player in college football, is leading the revival of a Marshall program still haunted by a devastating 1970 plane crash. But Moss cares little about the Thundering Herd's past—and won't be around for its future

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The place is nearly empty, a cavern of weight machines and pulleys and heavy bars in which just two men cruise, station to station. "What you doing, dawg?" Moss asks his roommate, wide receiver Jerrald Long. Long gestures, and Moss yelps, "Jerks!" He grabs a bar and starts flinging it over his head. "Ahh! Ahh!" he groans loudly. His right biceps is tattooed with a scripted R; his left reads MOSS. He's not wearing a hood today, but who knows? Trouble can follow a Marshall player anywhere. Just this morning, July 22, the Huntington Herald-Dispatch has one story on a Thundering Herd fullback shot in the leg outside a nightclub downtown and another story on a former Marshall basketball player being sentenced to 10 years for drug trafficking. Moss isn't taking any chances.

"If I go out, people are going to say, 'Hey, he's drinking,' " Moss says as he thrusts the weights up and down. "It's just about being undercover, man, staying home. There's a lot of jealousy, man, and jealousy is downfall. If I go out, the jealousy would probably get worse. Jealousy, player haters—you've got 'em all in Huntington."

Of course, jealousy explains nothing about Moss's litany of troubles with the law, and he knows it. Once, on his way to Notre Dame, the school he grew up worshiping, he dreamed of being "as big as Michael Jordan." But then he began to slide. On March 23, 1995, he backed a friend in a fight at DuPont High. According to the Kanawha County sheriff's report, Moss's friend, Rayeshawn Smith, had been enraged to see his name and the sentence ALL NIGGERS MUST DIE scrawled on a desk. Suspecting a white student named Ernest Roy Johnson, Smith enlisted Moss's help and accosted Johnson in a hallway. According to witnesses, Smith punched Johnson repeatedly until he dropped to the floor. Then Moss stepped in and kicked Johnson from one to four times. Johnson was hospitalized with a lacerated spleen, a concussion, blood around his kidneys and fluid around his liver.

Moss apologized for his actions at the school's football banquet two months later. Notre Dame, which had accepted his letter of intent, declined his enrollment application, saying he had failed to fill out the form properly. While Moss pleaded guilty to two counts of battery, a misdemeanor, county prosecutor Forbes says the initial charge was malicious wounding, a felony. "It was not light-weight at all," Forbes says, it was severe and horrifying. The fact that the [victim] didn't want to go through with prosecuting because he did not want to be retaliated against for the rest of his high school life resulted in its being a misdemeanor." Still, Moss was allowed to serve three of his 30 days in jail and then defer the remaining 27 days until after his freshman year in college.

Moss doesn't shirk responsibility for the crime, but says the school's tense racial atmosphere helped push him to it. "I was out of my mind, man, just started kicking him," Moss says. "There's only so much you can take. All through my years, sophomore, junior, senior year, I was in fights. I won't go out and look for it, but I won't back down. It's all about respect, and I feel nobody at that school had any respect for the black experience." Indeed, Fout, the DuPont basketball coach, says the incident helped ease tension in black-white relations at the school by forcing it to the surface. "We've had some racial problems at our school, and if you have any, it's too much," Fout says. "We've done some good in that area."

For his next bout of trouble, Moss has no one to blame but himself. "I'm the dummy," he says. Holtz had recommended Moss to Bowden, and Moss was accepted at Florida State on the condition that he redshirt his freshman year. He practiced so well that few doubted Moss would start the next season. But in April 1996, on the day he was to begin finishing his prison sentence, Moss smoked a joint. He was given a drug test during his first week in jail, and it came up positive. He was tossed into solitary confinement for a week, and 60 days were added to his sentence. Bowden revoked his scholarship. "That hurt inside," Moss says, "but the only thing I couldn't do was cry, because I did it."

Six months later he slipped again. On Nov. 17, the day after he broke two Division I-AA receiving records in Marshall's game against Furman, Moss became embroiled in a violent argument with his former girlfriend Libby Offutt. The couple had only recently broken up. It was mid-afternoon, and Moss was returning their two-year-old daughter, Sydney, to Offutt at her parents' house in St. Albans, W.Va. Moss pulled up in his new girlfriend's car, and he and Offutt began to fight. By the time they were through, according to the police report, Offutt had abrasions around her neck and minor cuts and bruises on her arm. She said Moss had repeatedly shoved her and forced her to sit down. She also told police that Moss "threw steaming hot water" on her, according to the report. Moss's gold necklace was found to be broken. He and Offutt were each arrested on misdemeanor charges of domestic battery. Their trials have not yet been scheduled.

"She just ticked me off, and it got out of hand," Moss says. "The only thing I regret was I put my hands on her. I don't put my hands on a woman. But I had to apply some pressure to get her off of me. I still love her. I didn't want nothing like that to happen. But that's life, I guess." More to the point, that's Moss's life, which reads like a case study of a child at risk: too little attention paid early, and then too much. Growing up in Rand, 50 miles from Huntington, Moss had little contact with his father, Randy Pratt. "We're not going to talk about that," says his mother, Maxine Moss, who raised Randy, his sister, Latisia, and brother, Eric, while working as a nurse's aide. "I'm everything. A lot of people see Randy as an outstanding athlete, but when I see him, I see a young woman who's poured her life into him so he could have a life."

By all accounts Maxine imbued her son with a strong sense of right and wrong. But once Randy began dominating in sports, her control began to slip. "I couldn't shield him enough," she says. "You couldn't turn on the TV or open the newspaper without seeing him there. We're talking about a high school sophomore getting interviewed, and I never thought that was needed. But the more I didn't want it, the more it would come."

Fout, who has known Moss since coaching him in Little League, says Moss has always been influenced by the crowd around him, for good and bad. He doesn't discount Moss's wild streak, but also recalls Moss's volunteering to help a special education class for kids with "severe mental problems. And Randy would spend time with them, play computer games with them. I've seen the kids put their arms around him and hold him and tell him they loved him. He's made mistakes, and you can say he's not a very good guy. But there's also an awful lot of good there."

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