YOUNGSTOWN - A good play turned bad in a hurry for Youngstown State defensive lineman D.J. Moss.
Moss, a sophomore at the time, was playing against Western Illinois University in a key conference game late in the year. Moss ran a stunt with another defensive lineman and broke free, setting up a clean shot on Leathernecks running back Nikko Watson.
"I landed weird," said Moss, an Austintown Fitch High School graduate entering his senior year with the Penguins. "He was a big 260-pound back. I landed on my shoulder. I had a TFL (tackle for loss). I guess it was a decent hit. It was just how I fell on it."
The "it" he was referring to was his shoulder. The 5-foot-11, 290-pound Moss tore his labrum and rotator cuff, but the severity of the injury wasn't known at the time. Moss played the rest of the season before he finally couldn't take the pain anymore.
"I thought it was a stinger, but it never (went away)," he said. "I couldn't bench anymore. They thought I sprained it or something, and finally, it was halfway through Christmas break, and I was like, 'J.D. (YSU head athletic trainer John Doneyko), I still can't bench. I need an MRI.' "
Moss had surgery after the season, just a little over a year ago, he said. He played sparingly last season, earning his third letter, but he said the shoulder wasn't the same. He's back to full strength after continuing his rehab and getting back in the weight room, and the fifth-year senior, who is one of the only remaining players from the John Heacock era, seems poised to earn a starting spot at defensive tackle.
"He's an overachiever," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "He's strong. He had the shoulder injury last year, so that kind of hampered him, but he's stout. He does a good job controlling the A-gap. I think him and Octavious Brown inside are going to give us a really nice 1-2 punch as far as controlling the A-gap."
The "A-gap" is the middle of the line of scrimmage, right where the powerful and stocky Moss dwells. He hopes to be part of a defensive line that is young but extremely talented. Moss and Kyle Sirl, a 6-3, 260-pound senior who recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last year, are the veterans of the group. Young, up-and-coming players like Brown (a 6-foot, 300-pound junior-college transfer from Georgia Military College), Eric Meyers (6-3, 250) and Terrell Williams (6-3, 255) provide depth and a variation of skills to the unit.
"We're young, but there's so much potential," Moss said. "We have so many athletes. And it's an interchangeable defensive line. We have guys who are built to stop the run, and we've got guys who can get after the passer. That's why I think you could see eight to 10 'D' linemen playing this season."
One of Moss' main strengths is stopping the run, Wolford said. He likes that Moss is a former wrestler (he was a district qualifier as a junior and may have advanced to the state tournament as a senior if not for an ACL tear).
"Those guys are tough," Wolford said. "In wrestling, you can't blame someone else. It's just you and the other guy. You can't blame the quarterback or blame the o-line. You've got to be a man."
Moss will finally get his chance to be the man this fall.