College Sports

‘We worked hard:’ How a Conway kid made it to college’s most prestigious program

Conway’s Jaylen Moody brings down Georgetown's Fred Taylor in Conway’s 40-8 win in the first game of the 2017-2018 season. Moody has signed a letter of intent to play football at Alabama.
Conway’s Jaylen Moody brings down Georgetown's Fred Taylor in Conway’s 40-8 win in the first game of the 2017-2018 season. Moody has signed a letter of intent to play football at Alabama.

Jaylen Moody barely got to the table.

Inside the Tigers Den at Conway High School, the talented football linebacker was ready to show the 220 or so sets of eyes upon him — and who knows how many more from around the country — where he was going to play college football. From inside a cheap plastic sack, he pulled out a crimson ball cap with the University of Alabama script “A” on the front and the famed elephant logo on the right side.

It ended what had been the most anticipated signing day ceremony along the Grand Strand in recent memory. After all, the majority of college commitments who’ve come from this area already have formally announced their intentions, were choosing among smaller schools, or both.

Take his five Conway teammates who signed just prior to Moody, for instance, or the three (including his twin brother, Juwan) who did so during the early period in December. Each of them already had declared their intentions.

In Moody’s case, only his immediate family and his coaching staffs — past and future — were informed of what he was about to do.

So on Wednesday in front of Horry County school board members, cafeteria workers, teammates and even an underclassman who convinced his teacher that he also was signing so he could see it live, Moody didn’t disappoint.

Jaylen Moody (left) with family members after signing his letter of intent to play football at Alabama. Ian Guerin For The Sun News

The first local football player to receive a scholarship offer from Alabama during the Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa picked the Crimson Tide over his other two finalists, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

“All of them were good schools. I’m very appreciative of the schools. But Alabama overrides them with the coaching there, the winning attitude and the mindset,” Moody said after taking hundreds of photos. “The education program there is great. I love what they’ve got going on there for life after football. Football might not work out. So that’s what drove me to Alabama.”

But what drove Alabama to Moody starts much earlier than the offer he received from the Crimson Tide eight days before Wednesday’s ceremony.

In his blood

It is safe to say something in the Moody genetic code is built for athletics.

Greg Moody Sr. played basketball for four years at Coastal Carolina from 1984 to 1988, when he led the team in assists during three of his four seasons and still stands sixth all-time in school history in the category. All four of Greg and Kessey Moody’s sons excelled on the football field, basketball court or both.

Greg Jr. was a standout basketball player at Conway after the family moved there from the Myrtle Beach area.

Juwan signed with East Carolina University in December after the speedy receiver wrapped up his Tiger football career this fall with another 829 yards and nine touchdowns. He averaged more than 22 yards-per-catch, stretching the field for quarterback Darren Grainger and gave defensive coordinators headaches when they forgot to float a safety deep.

And very few area football fans in or around Conway will ever forget Mykal.

When he graduated from Conway in 2013, the Tiger quarterback was the only known player in state history to have thrown for 4,000 yards and rushed for 3,000. He finished with 106 total touchdowns despite missing eight games as a sophomore and another three as a senior with various injuries.

Frankly, the Mr. Football finalist and Shrine Bowl selection was among the most electric offensive players on the Grand Strand over the course of the last decade. After originally signing with ECU in February 2013, he ended up at South Carolina State, where he saw significant playing time on both sides of the ball and on special teams.

That’s three Moody sons playing NCAA Division-I football.

“Football is very small in our equation, for my wife, my sons, our family,” said Greg Moody Sr. “Our main objective was to get the kids somewhere where they could go for four years. They got to go somewhere for four years, do something they love and play football so that after those four years, they don’t have to go out into the real world and bust their butts for the rest of their lives.”

A means to an end? Perhaps. But it has been clear for some time that they all had pretty good means.

“We’ve all got talent in my family,” Juwan Moody said. “My dad gave us all that talent. That’s where it all came from.”

What it also did was inspire a sibling rivalry without causing rifts. Football, basketball, whatever, they drove each other to be better. Mykal and Juwan Moody may have been burners on the field; but Jaylen was more strength.

By the time the twins were sophomores at Conway, Juwan was all of 5-foot-8 and 158 pounds. Jaylen was already 6-foot-1 and 203. Each of the brothers found strategies that would allow them to better challenge the others.

“Growing up, we always had a competitive instinct inside of us, our dad taught us that,” Jaylen Moody said. “My brothers, we all worked together. We played against each other. One of us would win [and the others] would be mad. But we’d just go back at them. It’s just everybody working together. We worked hard. And it’s all paid off.”

Mykal is slated to graduate from S.C. State in May. And assuming everything from the current crop of Moodys goes to plan, Jaylen and Juwan will join the older brothers with degrees of their own in the not-too-distant future.

Football pushed them to better academic opportunities while reiterating an important message along the way.

“We do understand that they are still young men. They are still growing and will still make mistakes like any other person will,” Greg Moody said. “At the end of the day, it’s our job as parents to continue to work with those young men so they continue to mature and get to the place they’re supposed to be.”

Patience and persistence

Consider this: Back on Dec. 20, when the early NCAA signing period opened, Jaylen Moody had offers from two Football Bowl Subdivision programs and two schools from lower levels.

The recognition from the Ole Miss offer — which came mid-way through December — was huge, even if the Rebels are in the midst of cleaning up some of the mess from the Hugh Freeze fiasco. The aforementioned SEC schools followed, as did Kentucky. Only a small handful of locals players in recent memory have received at least four SEC offers.

Still, the attention from Ole Miss wasn’t necessarily the biggest reason Moody got so much love when he did. For starters, he had all of 15 games worth of film at the linebacker position. Prior to that, his athleticism had the staff at Conway shifting him from the defensive line, running back and tight end.

“Just imagine if he had been playing his sophomore, junior and senior year how good he could have been,” Conway coach Carlton Terry said.

Ole Miss was first to pull the trigger, offering on Dec. 16. A month later, on Jan. 18, Arkansas followed suit after defensive coordinator John Chavis watched Moody play in a basketball game. Then, last Tuesday, the Crimson Tide made its move, offering both Moody and sophomore Conway teammate Tonka Hemingway.

Moody was already known as a great football player before those offers. The now 6-foot-2, 225-pounder was named The Sun News’ Toast of the Coast Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 after piling up 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. He was given a North-South All-Star nod, along with several other honors from coaches and various media.

What was still in question throughout much of his senior season, however, was academics. Top-flight football schools don’t take many chances with players whom they fear may not ultimately qualify.

Moody heard the warnings loud and clear. By early January, those fears were put to rest.

“I hope that proved to everybody that you have to take your academics seriously in the beginning,” he said. “My coaches told me that I had to get right; I was a little immature. I saw the big picture around the end of my sophomore year. I saw the big picture that I could be something. I tried to stay hard on it. I skipped a lot of times going out with my friends.”

Said Terry: “If you continue to grind, good things will happen. In this case, he did that. It shows that hard work wins. So many times, kids get frustrated and stop working because they feel like nothing is going to happen good for them.”

Moody bet on himself, and clearing the academic hurdle opened the door to the SEC and a team that has won five of the last nine national titles.

When he got to the table Wednesday, he had earned that Alabama hat.