GAINESVILLE, Fla. _ It wasn’t until Emmanuel Moody’s second season of youth football before he had a chance to play running back. That first season in Coppell, Texas, Moody said he was discriminated against because of his appearance.
“They actually wouldn’t let me play running back that first year because most people saw me as Asian, unless I told them I was half black,” said Moody, whose middle name is Pan-Sok (Korean for “Peter”). “I didn’t really get a chance the first year, and finally the second year, they saw what I could do with the ball.”
This will be Moody’s third season as a running back for the University of Florida. Four years since he transferred from the University of Southern California, and the same question about his ability remains: What can he do with the ball? He begins his senior season Saturday, but like Florida’s offense as a whole, Moody still is somewhat of a mystery. He never has rushed for more than 460 yards in a season.
Florida’s backfield is loaded with talent this season. In theory, Moody (5-11, 215 pounds) is the Gators’ most complete running back. He’s big. He’s fast. He can catch. He can block. He’s experienced. Hampered by injuries throughout his career, Moody said he is healthy and “pain free” for the season opener against Miami of Ohio on Saturday.
“You’re talking about a mature kid _ a mature kid in Moody,” said Stan Drayton, UF’s running backs coach.
Moody and junior Jeff Demps are listed on Florida’s first unofficial depth chart of the season as first-string running backs. Behind Moody and Demps, sophomore Mike Gillislee and freshman Mack Brown have received early praise from their coaches. There was a time in his career when Moody would loathe playing on a team with so many talented running backs.
After all, that’s the reason why he left USC in 2006. Moody was named the Pacific-10 Conference Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2005 but left the Trojans on the eve of his sophomore season because then-USC coach Pete Carroll had stockpiled no less than eight highly rated rushers.
“It’s my fifth year and my mind-set has changed a lot ever since I was a sophomore and junior,” said Moody, who admitted he let a poor attitude affect his personality early in his career.
“I’m to the point where I’m just going to handle what I can handle and not think about if I’m going to be a 1,000-yard rusher.”
Moody wanted to be a featured back when he came to UF. The irony in that is that he transferred to a school where a 245-pound quarterback did most of the power rushing in a spread-option offense. Moody actually ran for more yards his freshman season at USC (459) than he did during his first and second seasons combined at UF (417 and 378 yards, respectively).
It didn’t help Moody’s cause that the running backs coach who helped recruit him to Florida (Drayton) split for Tennessee before Moody played in a game. At the time, Drayton had a falling-out with UF coach Urban Meyer and left to work with then-Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.
After one-year stops at Tennessee and Syracuse, Drayton mended his relationship with Meyer and returned to the staff. Moody was in his car this offseason when he received a phone call informing him that Drayton was returning to UF. Moody said he was so excited, he screamed.
New assistant coach and no more Tebow _ none of it matters, of course, if Moody’s ankles can’t remain healthy for an entire season. Sprained ankles and bone spurs limited his carries in 2008 and 2009. He had two surgeries on his right ankle during the offseason and said he feels no pain for the first time in more than a year.
“I’m just healthy right now,” Moody said. “For running backs, healthy is everything.”
(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.