ASU football star Moody shining on baseball diamond, too

Albany State junior Dexter Moody, left, was all smiles Thursday at practice thanks to the recent run the Rams have been on since starting the season 1-14. Moody, who is also a star for the football team, has been a big reason for the turnaround that’s seen the team jump out to an 8-2 conference record.

Albany State junior Dexter Moody, left, was all smiles Thursday at practice thanks to the recent run the Rams have been on since starting the season 1-14. Moody, who is also a star for the football team, has been a big reason for the turnaround that’s seen the team jump out to an 8-2 conference record.

ALBANY — Dexter Moody was a heartbeat away from never picking up a baseball bat again.

The star safety on the Albany State football team is back on the baseball diamond this year and playing the game that he grew to love as a child but eventually gave up — and he was thinking about giving it all up again.

“I was getting so depressed and down on myself when I first got back and couldn’t hit the ball that I just wanted to walk away from baseball and go back to football,” said Moody, who hadn’t played baseball for years but decided to return to the diamond after transferring to ASU last summer to play football. “But it’s just not in my heart to walk away.”

So he stayed, returning to the batting cage day after day to keep his childhood dreams of playing baseball alive.

He battled through the frustrating swings and endless strikeouts, found a special bond with teammate and former Westover star Jacob Campbell and turned into one of the top hitters for the Rams.

He still glances over at the football practice field every now and then to catch some glimpses of a spring practice, but he’s not leaving the baseball diamond anytime soon, and that’s great news for baseball coach Kenyan Conner, whose Rams have bounced back from a dreadful 1-14 start to the season and are now 10-20 overall and 8-2 in the conference.

“He is a competitor and runs like the wind with an arm as strong as they get,” Conner said. “He has all the tools you look for in a ball player, but it was just a little rusty. We had to polish it up, and he polished it up a lot quicker than I thought he would.”

Moody, a junior transfer from Georgia State, leads the team in slugging percentage (.744), runs batted in (16) and home runs (2) and is in the top three in batting average (.442), runs scored (16), hits (19), doubles (3), triples (2) and on-base percentage (.471).

He has a perfect fielding percentage in center field and is able to track down fly balls as easily as deep passes in the secondary. He led all of Division II in interceptions last fall on the football field, and while a professional football career could easily await the native of Twin City, Campbell said his newest teammate is quickly turning heads on the diamond.

“If he came out here and we had a pro day, he would be the No. 1 prospect,” said Campbell, a three-year starter who is just behind Moody in many offensive categories. “His speed and his raw bat speed are unreal. The ball just flies off his bat.”

Moody starred in both football and baseball at Emanuel County Institute but decided to take his talents to the gridiron in college and signed a scholarship with Georgia. But two months before graduating from high school, UGA coach Mark Richt rescinded the offer because of a combination of poor grades, low test scores and behavior issues in high school.

The eighth-ranked outside linebacker in the nation then landed at Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College for two years before transferring to Georgia State and becoming the leading tackler for the Panthers. But just as quickly as he rose back to football prominence, he was kicked out of the Georgia State program for an altercation at an Atlanta bar that led to him getting arrested for fighting and underage drinking — charges that were later dropped.

Since he arrived at Albany State last summer, he has turned his football career and life around — and he’s even found his calling on the diamond after college coaches denied him the opportunity to play two sports at every stop.

“When I first got to Georgia State they said I could play baseball, but when they saw my talent on the football field they said I could only play football,” said Moody, who was also flirting with the idea of walking on the UGA baseball team.

Moody said ASU football coach Mike White had no issues with him playing both sports.

“Coach White told me before the season that no matter what I chose, he would have my back,” Moody said. “I respect him a lot for that, because every other school I have been to the coaches wouldn’t let me play (baseball).”

Conner, who played baseball and football himself at ASU in the early ’90s, is also an assistant coach on the football team and was instrumental in recruiting Moody for both sports.

“I told him when I recruited him that he can get it done, but it will take focus because he still has to be up on his studies,” Conner said. “You just have to make sure you are around the right people and have the right support group, and I think he has done that, too.”

Nobody has offered more support than Campbell, who was right there at the beginning of the season when Moody was close to hanging up his baseball cleats for good.

“I was a heartbeat away,” Moody said. “That’s how close I was to leaving baseball. I talked to Jake all the time about it. I never mentioned it to coach because I knew in my heart that I couldn’t give it up.”

He started the season on the bench, and when he did get a chance to play, he was walking back to the dugout with more strikeouts than hits.

“I started off really slow, but that’s where Jake played a big part. He talked to me a lot and told me to stay with it and that it would all come around,” Moody said. “He will meet me at the field at 10 in the morning when we don’t have class, and we will come out here and hit. I am beginning to feel more comfortable in the box hitting the ball.”

They spend hours before practice working on Moody’s swing with Campbell — an outfielder — stepping on the mound and throwing pitch after pitch.

“I knew we had the team this year, and that’s when I told him to just come out and work with me one day,” Campbell said. “All it took was just coming out here and seeing more balls come at him at the plate and just getting his timing down. His swing was there, but he was just a little late on everything and second-guessing himself.

“He’s the best teammate we have out here in my opinion. He is all about winning and is willing to do what it takes. He is definitely an athlete, but he comes out here before and after practice and works.”

Moody has worked his way into the starting lineup and has been a big part of the Rams’ current run of five wins in their last eight games heading into today’s doubleheader at Tuskegee. During that streak, Moody had a team-best four-hit game against Claflin on March 17 and racked up seven total bases in two different games.

His two home runs have been monster shots — one coming at Nova Southeastern and another at home.

“He hit the ball so hard, it’s still in the air,” Conner said about the homer against Nova Southeastern. “We knew right then that we had something.”

His long ball at home flew even further.

“That ball is in the Flint River somewhere,” Conner joked. “He crushed that ball. He has power, but he still needs to work on hitting for average. But he’s not doing too bad at that either.”

Moody has also dabbled a bit on the pitcher’s mound, where Conner says he has the tools to emerge as a star.

He has already emerged as a leader.

“I know a lot of the guys thought he was going to be a pushover because he was coming from the football field, but the way he performed he proved that he wasn’t all talk,” Campbell said. “We love having him out here. He is in his first year here, and the guys already respect him.”

He’s earned the same type of respect he already has on the football field, which he still finds himself drawn to occasionally.

“I go over and watch football practice a little bit and try to pump them up a little bit when I can,” Moody said. “I go down there with my baseball cleats on, and they give me a hard time, saying ‘Don’t come out here unless you are ready to play football.’ The guys miss me out there, and I miss them, too. But they understand that baseball is really my life right now.”