Rams senior safety Dexter Moody makes a tackle during a drill at Friday’s practice. Moody was one of the best in the country at his position last season, but now expectations are enormous for the senior who is looking to put himself on the radar of NFL teams this season. (John Millikan)
ALBANY — Dexter Moody tries not to think about his past.
But every once in a while it creeps into his mind, filling his head with memories soaked in disappointment and lost opportunities.
“Without a doubt, I know I would probably be in the NFL and be playing football right now,” Moody said. “But that wasn’t God’s plan for me.”
Plans changed drastically for Albany State’s star senior safety, who had two devastating setbacks due to disciplinary problems — losing his scholarship with Georgia prior to his freshman season and getting kicked out of Georgia State last spring — before landing at Albany State last summer.
Becoming a Golden Ram changed everything for Moody. It was the first step on the road to redemption for a player that has turned into one of the best safeties in the country at any level.
Moody became a leader with the Rams as a junior, turning both his life and his football career around, but now expectations are through the roof for the Twin City native as he prepares for his senior season.
It’s a season that could lift Moody higher than any Ram in years.
“He has a good shot (to make it to the NFL),” ASU coach Mike White said. “Anytime you are a Division II football player, you have to have a good (senior season). He has to play better than he played last year, and I think he is capable of doing that. He has all the tools. He just needs to be Dexter. No pressure, he just needs to play his game. And the NFL will take care of itself.”
Moody, a Second-Team All-American last season and one of just two Division II players to be selected to this year’s HBCU Preseason All-American team, finished third in Division II last year with seven interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He also had two fumble recoveries and 48 tackles, all while serving as the unquestioned leader of the Rams’ secondary.
And that might just be the beginning of the legacy Moody plans to leave in Albany.
“I know people expect better things from me, and with me going back and looking at film from last year, I see a lot of things I did wrong. Like it might have been a run play, but I was still in my back pedal,” Moody said after practice Friday. “I have to do better. And from the team’s point of view, they expect me to be better, too.”
It’s all about the team for Moody.
“That’s all I know about him. I don’t know him by his past, and that’s the way I have always judged kids coming in,” White said. “What I see is a very dedicated and very caring guy who really gives to his teammates. He’s really about the team. He’s not about Dexter. He’s about the team.”
He’s also about family, which is why — more than any other reason — he’s pushing himself to the limit this season and trying to forge a path to a better life for both himself and his 1-year-old son, Daylen.
Go ahead and ask Moody a question about his son, and even behind his tinted face mask you can see his eyes light up with pride. Moody can’t talk about his future as a football player without talking about the future of his son, who lives 150 miles away in Twin City with his mom.
“I’m not in (Daylen’s) life as much as I want to be with me being (in Albany), but I want him to understand and his mother to understand that I am working to get where I need to be so they can have a better life than I did growing up,” Moody said.
And even though Daylen is just a year old, Moody says the two have already been able to bond over football.
“It’s in his blood,” Moody said. “Me and my family all played sports — football, basketball, baseball, some form of sport. And when I am with him, we play a little football and baseball. But more than anything, I’m trying to teach him the mental part so that when he gets old enough it will come natural to him.”
Nobody knows more about natural talent than Moody, who spent the spring away from football to become a star on the baseball diamond for Albany State and then spent even more time away from the gridiron during the summer working as a landscaper in Florida to support his son back in Twin City.
He admittedly stepped on the field this summer a little out of shape, but the 6-foot-3 linebacker-turned-safety expects to be better than ever come Sept. 7 when ASU opens the season at North Greenville (S.C.).
“He has a lot of rust from baseball in the spring, but athletically he is extremely gifted,” White said. “The things he can do out there are next-level type of stuff.”
During the first week of practice, Moody and linebacker Marcavius Dudley have emerged as the leaders on defense, which is littered with inexperience at nearly every position. That makes the roles of Moody and Dudley even more important.
“(Moody) is a born leader,” Dudley said. “He is constantly on me as a leader and constantly on both the freshmen coming in and the returning players.
“He made some plays last season that I had never see anybody make. But just like he said, I hope he improves and I hope I improve and I hope our team improves.”
Moody believes he has certainly improved his knowledge of the game.
“I understand route recognition and understand where my guys need to be at in certain situations. I pretty much understand the whole defense,” he said. “I know the playbook, but I want to understand the terminology better and understand where everybody should be.
“The main thing is that we have to know what we are doing before the ball is snapped, which is difficult right now for us because we have guys not knowing what to do and (not) studying the playbook like they need to.”
Moody is the face of the ASU secondary, which is only returning himself and defensive back Keionten Miller after DB Gary Howard graduated and safety Chavius Jackson, a former Monroe star, decided not to return for his senior year. Moody, who called the coverage last season from the field and will be asked to resume that role this year, still doesn’t know who will be his counterpart at safety.
“Once we get a good matchup with him, I think it’s going to be a good year for the safeties,” said White, who added that several prospective starters are rotating at the other safety position. “(Moody) allows us to have the luxury of not worrying about his side of the field.”
Moody has taken the safety position to a whole new level since stepping on the field at Albany State, where he came in as a perceived troubled outcast from Georgia State and emerged as a unique talent at the Division II level.
“I made a 180-degree turn in life,” he said. “It’s really about the people you put yourself with. That really reflects on your life. I wasn’t hanging out with the right guys at the time, and it showed. That’s why I was kicked out of school, but today I know who I am as a person. I know who I am as a leader. I expect good things out of myself, and I want my teammates and coaches to expect even more out of me.”
Moody, who is ranked as high as 35th among safeties in the 2014 NFL Draft rankings, knows his senior year is likely his last time to prove he is capable of being selected in next year’s draft.
“There aren’t any more chances after this. But I can’t think about it too much right now, because I know for a fact I am going back to play baseball in the spring,” said Moody, who played center field for the Rams and became the team’s most dangerous hitter.
But with a possible NFL career months away, it begs the question: Why would Moody take time away from the football field to play baseball at Albany State next spring?
He says it’s because he hasn’t ruled out a career in Major League Baseball either.
“I’m not leaning toward either the NFL or MLB,” Moody said. “I love both sports, and I give both sports everything I can. I give both of them the same 110 percent in everything I do. In the end, I am just going to see what happens and see how this season goes for me in football and do the same with baseball in the spring.”
The harder he pushes himself, the more his past seems to fade away and get replaced by visions of a future brighter than he could ever imagine.
“I try not to look too much in the past because I had a pretty rough past,” he said. “I know God puts us in situations to better us, so I feel like I am in the right situation right now and where I need to be.”