Jarvis Moss Is No Longer "A Lost Soul"

Back in the spring when he was down to 215 skinny pounds, Jarvis Moss was the football equivalent of dead man walking. Always hurt and never able to practice, his career at Florida bore no resemblance to what he did in high school when he was considered the best prep defensive end in America.

As a junior in high school Jarvis Moss was terrorizing quarterbacks on Texas high school football fields. The Denton (TX) Ryan star totaled 122 tackles, including 52 for a loss and 28 sacks, seven pass deflections, three forced fumbles and five fumble recovers as a junior at Ryan. His senior season he missed seven games and still recorded 81 tackles (29 for loss), 12 sacks, four forced fumbles and four recovered fumbles. When he signed with Florida, it was considered a major coup for the Gators who expected him to be an instant contributor on the football field.

The contributions never happened, though. For his first two years at Florida, Moss was considered the skinny, often injured underachiever. He couldn't gain weight and he was always hurt or in such bad shape that he couldn't play or practice. He was what Coach Urban Meyer called "a lost soul" back in the spring when Moss came to the coach and poured out his soul. Moss told Meyer all about his dream to one day play in the National Football League but he also confessed that if he couldn't get rid of the constant pain, he was ready to give up football.

Upon discovering how much football meant to Moss, Meyer was determined to do all he could to see if there was an answer for this chronic problem. Meyer ordered extensive testing that discovered that Moss had been suffering for two years with an infection in his pelvic bone. The infection was the source of the pain and the chief reason he couldn't gain any weight.

"When we got here he wasn't the same guy," said UF's co-defensive coordinator, Greg Mattison, who tried to recruit Moss to Notre Dame three years ago. "He wasn't moving like he used to. There were days during spring and the spring game where he could hardly stand up out there."

Once the problem was accurately diagnosed, Moss went on a rigorous regimen of antibiotics that steadily killed the infection. As his health improved, he got into football shape quickly and began gaining weight again. He's now a full 30 pounds heavier than he was in the spring and best of all, he's playing football again.

He's back to the terror off the edge that he was in high school, making life miserable for Florida's opponents. Mattison, who is the defensive line coach, is very proud of the turnaround he's witnessed. Not only is Moss contributing on the football field again, he's doing it at a level that tells you he's only scratching the surface of his immense potential.

"He has made a huge transformation," said Mattison. "Now he is a starting nickel player and a big guy going out there making big plays. The thing I like about Jarvis is he wants to be really good. He's a real intelligent guy, a team guy all the way, and he's tough. Those are all the qualities you need to play at this level."

For starting linebacker Brandon Siler the transformation of Moss from the walking skeleton to a beast on the field is something he had never witnessed before.

"It has lifted the defense a lot," said Siler. "Moss has been the biggest change I have ever seen in my life. He was non-existent last year and now that he came onto the scene he is big for us."

The emergence of Moss on the defensive line couldn't have come at a better time for Mattison, who saw one of his best players (defensive end Ray McDonald) go down with a knee injury in the third game of the year. It took Moss a couple of games after that to get cranked up, but ever since he's been making plays when it counts the most.

With Moss an able contributor and McDonald back from his injury, Mattison now has seven players he can count on in his defensive line rotation. Because the Southeastern Conference plays such a tough, physical brand of football, it's important to have depth on the defensive line.

"It just gives you another quality guy to play at this level," Mattison said. "It helps you so much at this level. In that last ballgame (against Georgia), it was such a tough physical game and such a big time football game. To be able to rotate players in was huge, and that's what it has allowed us to do."

The Gators can now use any number of combinations up front. Ray McDonald, Joe Cohen, and Steven Harris can all play at defensive end or defensive tackle. And Derrick Harvey and Moss give the Gators two long armed defensive ends with straight up pass rushing ability. Moss seems to have jumped Harvey for the time being, but don't be mistaken Derrick Harvey's time to shine is coming.

"Derrick is right there, he is going to be a big time player for us," Mattison said. "The position he plays right now is kind of stockpiled. He needs to be able to slip into the Fox or end, he will have his shot."

Mattison likes the flexibility he has on the defensive line. He can put a huge front four out there if he wants to play physical and he's always got four who can run. .

"In running situations I like the big strong end," Mattison said. "In passing situations, by moving Ray inside and Joe inside, we get so much faster by putting Mincey and Moss on the field."

Harris likes the monstrous pass rush that Moss and Mincey provide. With the linemen all working together, Harris thinks it can be a huge pressure for an offense to overcome.

"With Moss and Mincey, both fast and aggressive players, they help us out inside," Harris said. "All we have to do is get some pressure up the middle and they will come off the end and get some sacks."

Even though he hardly played in Florida's first three games, Moss is tied for the team lead in sacks even though he plays mostly in pass rush situations. He had a couple of big plays on Saturday against arch-rival Georgia. On Georgia's first offensive series, Moss tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage from Bulldog quarterback Joe Tereshenski. On the last drive of the game for the Bulldogs, Moss fought off two blockers to tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage on a quarterback keeper that had worked all day. That forced Georgia into a fourth and 11 situation and Tereshinski ended any chance of Georgia coming from behind to win with an incomplete pass.

Siler was happy to have a playmaker of Moss's abilities playing for the Gators on that final drive.

"He came up big at the end of the game … that was real big," Siler said.

Moss finds inspiration at the other end of the defensive line where Jeremy Mincey is putting together an All-SEC and possibly All-America type of season.

"I like watching Mincey and seeing some of the things he does," said Moss. "He has a high motor and is always running hard and that is one of the things I try to do when I'm on the field. It is kind of a competitive thing between him and me. We just try and make good plays for the defense."

Against the Bulldogs, Urban Meyer turned down a chance to kick a 46 yard field goal that would have put the Gators up by seven at the end of the game. Instead he decided to turn the game over to his defense. Moss and Mincey saw that as a confidence booster.

"We looked at as a challenge and an opportunity for us to seal the game up and win it for the team," Moss said. "I think everyone on the defense is really competitive. Everyone was up for the challenge. We talked and said we were going out to stop them and that's what we did."

With the victory Saturday, the Gators moved a step closer for a chance to play in Atlanta for the SEC Championship. They need some help along the way. Georgia has to lose an SEC game and the Gators have to win their final two SEC contests starting with Saturday night's game with Vanderbilt.

"We see it as an opportunity but we have to worry about Vanderbilt," Moss said.

When Vanderbilt comes to Gainesville for Florida's first home game in a month, the Commodores will rest their fortunes on Jay Cutler, the preseason All-SEC quarterback choice by the league's coaches. Cutler leads the SEC in passing and he has proven that he is a more than adequate runner.

"It should be a good challenge for our defense," Moss said. "It should be a lot of fun to play against (Cutler). He is a good football player.

The fun is only beginning for Moss. He has played more in the last few games than in the previous two years combined. The future is absolutely sparkling for the red-shirt sophomore and for his defense.

"Moss is going to be fantastic in years to come," said Steven Harris. "He is quick and fast and brings a lot of energy out there."

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