“You must take your place as king.”
If you were to ask my mother what some of my favorite movies were as a kid, she would probably name a few. She would tell you that in my younger years I watched the Winnie the Pooh movie over and over. The second that movie stopped I’d ask her to rewind the VHS (shout out to everyone born before 1997). When I got older, another one was Space Jam. Bugs Bunny was my favorite cartoon character, so naturally the crossover between that and the sports world was right up my alley. But whether it would be the first movie she would name or the second or the third, you wouldn’t get very far into the list without her telling you what my favorite Disney movie was.
The Lion King.
The story of The Lion King was captivating, to me, especially at a young age. I wanted to see myself in Simba. A kid very close to his dad who was adventurous in spirit – sometimes too much. Though the details of the whole story didn’t line up exactly with my own life experiences, the plot of a young ambitious cub growing up into something special, something important to those around him inspired me. I believe it’s by that feeling that they felt compelled to remake the film with the incredible cast they've assembled; people love the inspiration throughout. It is a story of growing youth and ambition, of a role model to look up to, of friendship and togetherness.
And through it all, a destiny; a place in life.
Dylan Moses’ destiny started at a young age. The age of nine, to be exact. In an article told by Moses himself with The Players' Tribune, Dylan and his father would wake up at 6 a.m. to beat the heat of Alexandria, Louisiana to train; an athlete’s regiment he began before he even got to middle school.
“We’d wake up at six and get started. Four hundred push-ups, 800 sit-ups, 10 minutes of jumping rope and a one-mile run. After 90 minutes or so, we’d go back home, and then I’d shower before catching the bus to elementary school. As soon as school was over — and if I didn’t have track practice — I’d get back on the bus and go home, where my dad would be waiting for me. Then we’d head back over to the field to train some more.”
Moses' dad was always by his side growing up. He let Dylan make his own decisions, but once he did he made sure Dylan saw them through and did them to the best of his abilities. He taught Dylan about the game of football and about pushing himself to be the best he can be. He was a guiding figure in Dylan's life, one that time would prove he would need.
By the time Moses attended middle school, he was already about 6-foot tall and near 200 pounds in weight -- thank all those early morning training sessions and some good genetics. The results were more than a few hard-to-believe plays on the football field that his parents still have the film of in their archives. Moses played both linebacker and running back for most of his early years. He was the go-to player on offense and the middle man show stopper on defense. He was far and away the best player on any field he stepped on.
Moses' dad wasn't the only one who helped him through his early journey. There was another family member, his uncle, who helped keep him on the right path during his younger years.
Over the years, one guy who always kept me in line and helped me to stay focused on the ultimate goal was my uncle. He’s only eight years older than I am, so he treated me more like a younger brother than anything else. We had fun times running around the neighborhood and wrestling in the house.
And even though he was older, he didn’t hold back on the football field. He’d tackle me me like any older brother would: hard.
I remember when I was 10 years old, my uncle and I would play football on the field near our house. He’d invite a bunch of his friends over and we’d go at it. Full tackle, no pads. It was only fair, they’d say, because even though they were 18 and I was 10, I was just as big as they were...
I’ll never forget those afternoons. Those football games taught me a lot about pride. There was no way I was going to allow myself to get embarrassed after a big hit. I’d pick myself up out of the mud and keep going. My speed and strength might have been what caught the eye of college recruiters, but I’ve always been most proud of my toughness.
In sixth grade Moses attended his first college camp and clinic at LSU. Moses recalls hundreds of kids being at the camp with him, likely the best athletes in the state. On one of the days, the camp held its own “Mini-Combine” for the kids to test their athletic skills. When Moses got up to the line and ran, he said the coaches laughed at the time they saw on their stop watches.
A 4.6 40-yard dash – as a sixth grader.
Fast forward a few years and Moses was entering his final year of middle school football. He once again attended a summer camp at LSU. The coaches once again wanted to see just how fast this eighth grader could run, and if he could duplicate his 4.6 time from before.
He one-upped it with a 4.5.
Months after that Moses was asked to come back to LSU, this time to train and run drills with some of the underclassmen already in the football program. This was a 14-year-old kid being asked to keep up with 19 and 20 year olds. Moses not only kept up, he stood out.
When he ran the 40-yard dash this time, the words out of the coach’s mouth even he had a hard time believing.
A 4.4 40-yard dash at 6-foot, 200 pounds as an eighth grader. You had to believe that if LSU could have offered him a scholarship then and there that they would have. And you wouldn’t be wrong. The next morning Moses was woken up by his mother in the middle of the night. He ran downstairs and his mother told him to go to the kitchen table. That’s where his father was sitting staring at the computer. It was an email from LSU.
An official scholarship offer.
To an eighth grader.
After the LSU domino fell, the rest came flooding in. Soon Moses was getting letters and offers from what seemed like every major program around the country, still just as a 14 year old. Moses said that on a weekly basis he would get around 400 letters from schools and fans.
But there was one letter that stood out to him: the one from Alabama.
By the age of 14, Moses had scholarship offers from both Alabama and LSU, the SEC’s top two schools in the area, and two of the most powerful athletic programs in the country. Three months after LSU first offered him, he verbally committed to the Tigers. But, in 2015, Moses decommitted from LSU. He kept them on the table, but he wanted to make sure he had a clear mind to make the right decision.
One of the other letters on the table was the one from Alabama.
For guidance, Moses said he leaned back on his family. Football was his destiny, but it wasn't all of it. His father instilled within Dylan at a young age the importance of getting a degree. That doing great things didn't stop on the football field. He knew that going to a university to play ball meant starting a degree in college, and he wanted Dylan to finish what he started in school, too.
At first, I didn’t really see the value of a degree the way my dad did. It all seemed so far away. But the reason it was so important to him eventually dawned on me. See, outside of my parents, somebody in my family graduating from college was rare. Not many kids from my neighborhood get a chance at higher education. But my dad and I knew that, if I kept my grades up and committed to football, college would one day be a possibility. I wasn’t training just for me — I was doing it for a lot of people.
Moses said that once he went to visit Tuscaloosa that his heart was at home. He watched the kind of respect the players had for Nick Saban, players who went on to the NFL as high draft picks. As a full-time linebacker now, Moses studied and watched the likes of Dont’a Hightower, C.J. Mosley, Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster and Rashaan Evans. Linebacker royalty; kings of college football. And Moses was destined to be next in line, to take his place.
By the time Moses stepped on campus in Tuscaloosa, people already knew who he was. By this time he was 6-foot-2, 220 pounds. He was the No. 1 ATH recruit in the country. He was the next big thing.
Moses played in all 11 games of his first season at Alabama, staring two of them. He recorded 30 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss, a sack an interception and a forced fumble before suffering a foot injury while practicing for the Tide's College Football Playoff game. As a sophomore last season, Moses played both inside and outside linebacker. He led the team in tackles with 86, recorded 10 tackles for loss and three and a half sacks.
Here in 2019, going into his first collegiate season as a draft eligible prospect, Moses is no hidden gem. He's been on college football's radar since he was 14 years old, and he's likely been on the NFL's radar since before he played his first snap in Tuscaloosa. Though there is a heavy emphasis on getting his degree from both himself and his father, both of them and everyone else around them knows that Moses' destiny lies in the next chapter of his football life.
He's been chasing it since he was nine years old.
Will he be ready for it after this season? Let's take a look.
Play No. 1: Pursuit Pro
When you watch Moses play the first thing that pops out is his speed. There's a reason he was listed as the No. 1 ATH in the country coming out of high school. Moses' running back background gives him a good understanding of where ball carriers might go and what they might do. This aids him in lining up his targets consistently and getting stops right at the point of contact.
Moses also has the kind of speed needed to stop plays at the sideline. Whether it's toss plays, outside runs, screen passes or option pitches, Moses doesn't get beat to corners. You need both speed and tracking instincts to be consistent in that area. Moses has both.
Play No. 2: The Art of Sifting
Building off that speed and quickness, Moses is incredibly good at "staying clean".
What that means is that in pursuit or at the line of scrimmage, Moses does an excellent job of staying off blocks while keeping his eyes on the ball. He can sift in and out of gaps and cluttered areas with ease to give himself a clear path to the ball.
That play above is crazy fast and smooth for any linebacker, let alone a true freshman. Moses' instinctive ability to stay clean is what allows him to make so many tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Play No. 3: Hit Power
Moses wraps up very well, but he's not just a wrap up tackler. When the time comes, he can really deliver some pain on you.
Moses is rocked up, meaning that most of his body weight is muscle. When that's the case, anytime you make contact with someone at high speed it's like you're hitting them with a wrecking ball. Moses makes simple shoulder tackles seem like hit sticks in Madden. I guess you can thank the foundation of 400 push ups a day for that.
Play No. 4: Run Defense
When you combine the pursue instincts, the ability to stay clean and the strength in his shoulders for tackles, Moses makes one heck of a run defender. When lined up as a middle linebacker, Moses has a great eye for where the blocking scheme is going and where his path of least resistance to the ball might be. He is already well ahead of his years when it comes to understanding blocking concepts and reading and reacting to plays as they unfold. There is no hesitation with Moses. He sees things, he acts, and he's usually right where he needs to be.
Play No. 5: From A Cub To A King
As touched on in the previous section, Dylan Moses is not just an elite linebacker prospect in his talent and athletic ability, but also above the shoulders. The play above is of Moses -- who is wearing No. 18 in that clip, not No. 32 like he does now -- as a true freshman. In it, he was completely taking charge of the defensive communication, including calling audibles and switches when the pre-snap motion came in. His understanding of the game of football is so deeply rooted that it is second nature to him. It would be like saying a second grader is reading at a 10th grade level.
Moses not only understands his own defense, but he understands the opposing offense and even what ball carriers are thinking, too. I've seen upperclassmen prospects over the years that don't even know all that is important. Moses knew it as a true freshman.
It's the Circle of Draft Life. Highly rated recruits come in to big-time college football programs, they wait for their time, they have success on the field and then they get drafted. It's just like a family line, and if you're a linebacker at Alabama, that line is royalty. The next starter is the next king.
Moses' destiny was put in motion when he was just a kid -- a cub, even. His story and the one of Simba's in The Lion King share many parallels. Both were on the path to be great at a young age. Young Simba and young Moses never backed down from a challenge. Both had a father figure guiding them to their path, and had friends around them throughout their maturation to ultimately keep them on that path. And both have had to forge their own way since. Both knew they had the chance to rule as far as the eye can see.
Simba was born to be king, and when it comes to the royalty of college football, so was Moses.
Now it is time for Moses to take his place.
There's more to being king than just the leader you are in battle. The truth is people need you more than just then. That's not just true in the jungle, either. That's true in football, too. Who players are as people off the field means just as much if not much more to those who are around them. In The Lion King, Mufasa says to Simba that "while others search for what they can take, a true king searches for what he can give."
For as much ambition and talent as Moses has to be a successful football player, he understands that his lasting impact of his talents should go well beyond the lines in a stadium.
One day I want to go back home to Alexandria and build a state-of-the-art training facility for inner-city kids. My experience inspired me to try to create more opportunities for kids who share the same drive and passion as me. That’s my dream.
For now, it is a dream. But not for long. For this year, Moses will take his place.
In the Circle of Draft Life.