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QUENTIN MOSES was 6'5" in eighth grade, and his future seemed as clear as a plexiglass backboard: He would keep growing, continue to hone his basketball skills and then have his pick of scholarship offers from major universities eager for him to don their colors and play the sport he loved. � Offers did, indeed, pour in: from as far away as Stanford and as close as Georgia, whose campus was 10 miles from his home. North Carolina wanted him, as did South Carolina and almost every other school in the Southeastern Conference. The problem, for Moses, was that the men doing the offering all coached the wrong sport. They wanted him to play football, and Moses saw himself as a hoops god. � Even as he tore it up on the gridiron during his senior season at Cedar Shoals High in Athens, Moses kept football suitors at arm's length, waiting for what he called the Big Offer--a full ride from one of the basketball meccas. But his interest in those programs went unrequited. The best roundball offers Moses fielded were from mid-majors Rhode Island and Western Kentucky. Still, he held out hope. "Basketball was my love," he says. "It was closest to my heart."
As he says this he holds his left hand over his heart, which beats beneath a shelflike pectoral that is the product of hours spent pumping iron in the weight room at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. That gleaming, 85,000-square-foot facility is the home of the Georgia football program, whose best player is Moses, a senior defensive end who weighs 257 pounds and stands, to this day, 6'5". While his growth may have stalled in eighth grade, his football development did not. After a tentative start in the college game--tackle Jon Stinchcomb body-slammed him in his first practice, "and we weren't even in full pads," Moses recalls--he has emerged as the SEC's preeminent sack artist, a projected top 10 pick in the '07 NFL draft who came late to the realization that his future lies in nailing quarterbacks, not midrange jumpers.
It could have easily gone the other way. Late in his sophomore year at Cedar Shoals, Moses had a scheduling conflict. His AAU hoops team was playing a tournament in Raleigh, the same weekend as Cedar Shoals's spring football game. "The coaches told me if I didn't play [in the spring game], I couldn't play in the fall," recalls Moses. "So I said, 'O.K., that's a decision I don't have to make, 'cause y'all are makin' it for me.'"
"Quentin was the sweetest baby I ever had," says his mother, Claudette. "But he was stubborn. I guess he got that from me."
Thus did football disappear from his home page ... until the following August, when those same coaches told Moses that if he came back, he would only have to serve a two-game suspension and all would be forgiven.
He went back, all right. In the first series of his second game as a senior Moses ran down a receiver on a reverse on first down. He tackled the running back for a loss on second down and sacked the quarterback on third down. A short time later the big-program football recruiters were trying to run him down. Scott Wilkins, the football coach at Cedar Shoals, told them, "Basketball is his first love. But if you could work it out so maybe he could play both, he'll think about it."
Jim Harrick, Georgia's basketball coach at the time, had courted Moses during his sophomore and junior years at Cedar Shoals. By the time Moses was a senior, Harrick's ardor had cooled, but when one of his recruits failed to qualify academically, the coach suddenly had renewed interest. "Q, I didn't know you were such a good football player!" Moses recalls Harrick saying. "If you play football here, you've got a spot on the basketball team."
Minutes after they hung up, Moses got another call--this one from Bulldogs football coach Mark Richt, who said, "You got something you want to tell me?"
A SIDE FROM the opportunity to play both sports, there was another compelling reason for Moses to stay home. Claudette believes he stayed in Athens to remain close to her. Theirs is a stout bond: Claudette raised him by herself after she and Quentin's father separated when Quentin was "six or seven," she says. While she has always punched a clock--she works the graveyard shift at a power plant--she has guided her son with a firm hand. Ever since elementary school, she has paid him $5 for every A he has earned and $3 for each B. With the carrot came a stick: "She saw my love of sports and made it real simple," he says. "Bring home a C, sit out the rest of that season."