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October 4, 2013In his introduction to organized basketball, a young C.J. Mosley was picked for the C team, a developmental squad for newcomers mixed with a roster of boys and girls. His friends, a year or so further along in the game, were chosen for A and B teams.
Mosley was upset, but he wasn't allowed to quit, his parents making him stick it out through the season. The team won just one contest, the final game of the season.
That lesson in his youth stuck with him.
The University of Alabama senior linebacker has never quit anything he's attempted. His parents wouldn't allow it. It's not who the Mosleys are. It's not who he is.
If you want to know C.J. Mosley, you need study no further than his mother, Tracy Mosley, an introverted substitute teacher, and his father, Clinton Mosley, a shipyard supervisor during the day and a disciplinarian at home.
"His dad works at a shipyard. His mom is a substitute teacher. If you think about it, those jobs right there are hard-working jobs," Mosley's best friend, Greg Conner, said. "Just seeing his parents live how they live, it really made him strive to be the person that he is now and try to be successful in life."
C.J. Mosley is a product of his environment: a blue-collar kind of kid from a hard-working family.
Contrary to his out-of-character fiery sequence against Ole Miss, C.J. Mosley doesn't much get carried away when he makes a big play. He doesn't do much hooping and does less hollering. To his way of thinking, it's what he is charged with doing. Why celebrate what you're supposed to do?
He gets that directly from his mother.
"He was never a big talker," Tracy Mosley said. "He's a listener.
"He's never been that type of kid that thought he was better than anybody else. I guess because we never put him on a pedestal or made him think he was more than anybody else."
That might explain why UA head coach Nick Saban extends such praise to the player who is the heart and soul of his defense.
"The guy's a fantastic player but beyond that he's a fantastic person," Saban said. "The guy's a hard worker. His effort, his intensity, the way he prepares for a game. He's got a lot of athleticism. He's got a lot talent. But he's also got a lot of true grit in him in terms of the kind of competitor he is and how he plays. The guy just doesn't know how to take a play off."
He gets that from his parents, too.
Hard work is nothing new to the Mosleys, who prefer to sit in anonymity and watch their oldest son captain one of the best defenses in the country. Some parents enjoy the spotlight of having a talented son star on Saturdays.
Not the Mosleys.
"We're just not those type of parents," Tracy Mosley said. "We'd rather fit in with the regular crowd."
They don't miss a game, whether sitting in the stands at Theodore High School in Mobile (Jamey Mosley, the UA player's little brother, is a senior for the Bobcats) on Friday nights and Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturdays.
They have had a lot to cheer for.
His high school coach, Bill Meredith, still remembers the first time he laid eyes on C.J. Mosley, then an eighth-grader running in a track meet.
"I look over and they're running the 100-yard dash and here comes this big monster leading the pack, and I said, 'I'm sure glad he's coming to my school,"' Meredith said.
Mosley did go to Theordore High School, and he starred.
Mosley broke onto the scene the first game of his sophomore season with 22 tackles against Class 6A stalwart Prattville. The next day, Auburn offered him a scholarship. He only blossomed from there.
"When you watch him play he's just at a whole other level," Meredith said.
He combined for 362 tackles and 16 sacks during his junior and senior seasons, culminating by being named Class 6A Lineman of the Year in 2009. But it's the person off the field that won the hearts of Theodore and greater Mobile. "The thing that makes C.J. special is he's just normal," Meredith said. "He does just exactly what you'd want your child to do. Doing just what he's asked to do makes him special.
"His mom and daddy's just that way. They're working class, hard working. They're just a married couple with two kids. Just as ordinary as middle class Americans that you'd want to be. They go to church on Sunday. They're just great people."
Mosley still goes by his high school every time he's in town. He eats lunch with the students in the cafeteria. He plays basketball in the gymnasium. He visits old teachers.
At the homecoming dance last week, a television was set up in the gym so everyone could watch Mosley play.
And Theodore isn't the only place where Mosley is admired. The entire city of Mobile is a fan. He received the key to the Mobile this past offseason.
His success is shared by his city.
"To be honest this is not shocking to nobody from our area," Conner said. "We knew C.J. was going to be this type of player. We'd see it coming since middle school. This is expected. This is why it doesn't shock many of us back in Mobile that he's being successful right now."
Natural athleticism is one attribute that has made Mosley an All-American, but that alone hasn't made him the player he is. His attention to academics accounts for a lot of it, he says.
That, too, came from his parents.
"That was something that was instilled from day one," Tracy Mosley said. "If they didn't do well in school there was no sports."
In middle school Mosley brought home a bad grade, and there was a playoff game that day. His coach pleaded his case to Clinton. The team pleaded its case to Clinton. Didn't matter, C.J. didn't play.
"To this day, he remembers that," Tracy Mosley said.
Academics came first from that day on, and he's put those smarts to use to help run Saban's and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart's defense.
"I guess it comes with good study habits," Mosley said. "You can't just look at it, practice and then you just know it. It's taken me all four years just to be 100 percent comfortable with it. That's something we stress for the younger guys. They think they're just going to come in and play right off the bat. You have to take those steps up to where you want to be."
With a stellar start to his senior season, Mosley is primed for another All-American campaign. Beyond that is a chance to be a first-round pick in the National Football League draft next April.
NFL media senior analyst Gil Brandt lists Mosley at No. 7 on his rankings of the 100 best seniors, calling him a very good leader and a potential long-time starter in the NFL.
He came back for his senior season to become a complete linebacker, able to play on all three downs.
"He plays on all downs now," Saban said. "This is the first year since he's been here that he actually plays all downs. He's so athletic that he's always been a really good space player and played really well in any kind of spread-out situation whether it was nickel, dime or whatever.
"He's gotten bigger, and he's a little stronger. A little better taking on blocks now and does a really good job playing in regular. He's so instinctive and so quick, he doesn't have to overpower people. He's a good player in every circumstance and every situation in the game now."
Against his natural demeanor, he's working on becoming a more vocal leader, too.
Against Ole Miss, he energized the defense and the crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium after being slammed into the turf on a play after the whistle by showing a side of himself that is rarely revealed.
He jumped around. He screamed. He turned the Rebels away on fourth down.
His leadership is invaluable.
"There's no question about that," Saban said. "That's probably something that he wasn't comfortable with when he was a younger player. Now, he is vocal with the other players. His command certainly has an impact and affect on all the players, and is certainly something that we need on our team. He's done a really good job with it."
Despite his success, he's still the same kid who played on the street with his best friends. He's still the same son to Tracy and Clinton Mosley. He wants to make them proud through his hard work.
"It's just kind of natural, I guess," he said.