Moss sheds weight to carry his weight in UM offense

9/22/2005 - Miami Hurricanes

To hear the stories out of Coral Gables, Fla., some of Miami running back Tyrone Moss' best runs last season were through the chow line. Some of his longest jaunts took him from his apartment to the grocery store.

Instead of carrying his weight in the Hurricanes' offense, Moss couldn't.

Following a prep career in which he rushed for more than 7,000 yards, Moss was rushed into line in 2003 as the next great back at Miami. He was to follow a recent spate of NFL-bound talent at the position that included Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore.

But Moss found another line more to his liking. And so the story went.

With Moss and Gore unable to carry the load in an NFL-style offense that counts heavily on having a reliable, if not game-breaking, back, the Hurricanes slid to a 5-3 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference as a first-year member.

That sort of performance was unacceptable at UM, and though coach Larry Coker saw many reasons for the results, he knew one place in particular where a change was necessary.

"I'm not gonna go through another season with an overweight, sluggish running back. I did that last year, and I'm not gonna do it again," Coker vowed in July, two weeks before the start of preseason practice.

By then, Moss already was two steps ahead of him.

Where he had given in to temptation as a freshman and sophomore, when the weight on his 5-foot-9 frame swelled to 240-something, depending on who you ask, Moss had found inner resolve.

By just saying no -- to dessert, among other things -- and saying yes to more and longer conditioning sessions, he reported to fall camp with a new look, and a healthier outlook.

The payoff has been enjoyable for both parties.

Last Saturday, the Hurricanes took shelter in their leaner backfield leader. During a triple-overtime victory at Clemson, Moss carried the ball a career-high 31 times for 139 yards and three touchdowns, including a game-ending 25-yard sweep in the final overtime.

Contrast that to 2004, when Moss' work in an overtime loss to Clemson at the Orange Bowl was limited to 15 yards on seven attempts.

So what prompted the change?

With Gore's leaving by way of the third round of the draft, and Coker bent on having youngsters challenge for Moss' playing time, the surprisingly reticent junior from Pompano Beach, Fla., took a different approach last summer.

"I had to," Moss said. "I think I had to work a little bit harder than what I was doing before. I took it upon myself to do extra to get the job done."

Coker didn't go into the Clemson game suddenly ready to give Moss the ball and let him run. He knew a while back that a day like that was possible.

"Everybody wants to play well on Saturday afternoon in front of 80,000 on national television," Coker said. "But when you're in the hot summer sun, and when you got a chance to go eat four pizzas and you don't go -- those are the things that make an indication that this guy is really gonna dedicate himself to helping us be the type team that we want to be and him to be the player he can be."

Two games into the season and with Colorado visiting the Orange Bowl this weekend, Moss already has carried more than half as many times as he did all of last season. His 241 yards, which put him at No. 2 in the ACC with a 120.5 average, is 204 fewer than he gained in 12 games as a sophomore.

So now that he's back to being a heavyweight in Coker's offensive game plan, is Moss ready to take his place in line at UM?

"He knows that there is that window of opportunity and he has to respond," Coker said. "It's not going to be inherited, he is going to have to earn it and he has done the things to do that.

"That has encouraged me about Tyrone, because he really has stepped it up a level. We knew what we had when we recruited him."

Sometimes, it's what you don't have. And as Coker has learned, less is more this season for Tyrone Moss.

Doug Carlson covers the ACC for the Tampa Tribune. He can be contacted at dcarlsonespn@hotmail.com.