Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of the “Next Up” series, which profiles the signees from Florida’s 2016 class. SEC Country traveled around the South to visit the recruits before they reported to campus.
HOOVER, Ala. — Forrest Gump isn’t the only football player who grew up in Alabama wearing leg braces.
Florida freshman linebacker Jeremiah Moon was born with a physical deformity that hindered him until he reached elementary school.
“I was bowlegged and pigeon-toed, so I had to wear braces on my legs,” Moon said. “That was not easy.”
Once Moon had trouble walking, doctors put him in braces that stretched from his feet to his knees. He wore them every day for more than a year, and each Monday his family would take him to see a specialist.
The braces helped his legs grow straight, but also caused a hairline fracture in his back. Moon overcame both issues by age 5.
“I almost don’t remember it, but I’ll never forgot how much pain I was in,” Moon said. “I used to cry because my legs hurt.”
Unfortunately for Moon, puberty created more problems with his body. He skyrocketed to 6-foot-4 as a teenager, but his weight couldn’t keep up with his height.
“I had to start taking supplements and drinking protein shakes,” Moon said. “I might gain five pounds, but if I stopped or took a break, I’d just lose the weight. My metabolism is so high it doesn’t make any sense.”
Once he got to high school, Moon began attending camps to put his name out there as a recruit. Those experiences only made matters worse.
“I went to a countless amount of camps just trying to get looked at and be recognized,” Moon said. “I would feel like I did well, but never got any offers. It was always my weight.”
Two people looked past that during the summer of Moon’s freshman year. He received his first scholarship offer from Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins (then at Mississippi State) and met former Gators linebacker Jevon Kearse, who told the 195-pound Moon that he looked just like him in high school.
Collins and Kearse both predicted that Moon would eventually fill out his frame. He’s now 216 pounds, the same weight Kearse was when he started his career at the University of Florida.
Millions of Americans young and old are self-conscious about their appearance and struggle with obesity. Moon had the opposite frustration.
“I used to look in the mirror,” Moon said, “and ask myself, ‘Why can’t I gain any weight?’ But my family told me the reason and always kept that in my head. That helped me deal with it.”
Moon is not the first football player in his family who had trouble putting on weight. His uncle, Darius Gilbert, was a linebacker at Alabama from 1998-2001.
“He was around 220 pounds when he came out of high school and he got up to 260 in college, so my family can gain weight,” Moon said. “I’m only 17, so I’m still young and still growing. My body just isn’t ready yet. It’s going to take some time. I know it will come, just not right now.”
Florida linebackers coach Randy Shannon didn’t want Moon worrying about his weight this summer. He had him channeling his inner Forrest Gump.
“He goes, ‘I just want you to run.’ That’s all he asked for,” Moon said. “He needs me to be able to run sideline to sideline and not get tired. He told me they’ll put the weight on me, so don’t stress about that.”
After years of struggling with his physique, Moon knows better days are ahead.
“They can’t come soon enough,” Moon said. “It’ll be crazy to see myself when I’m fully developed and NFL ready. I’ll have a book to write about my body one day.”
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi
THE NEXT UP SERIES
- Rick Wells relishes role as Jim McElwain’s first commitment
- Murder brought Tyrie Cleveland to Texas, new lease on life returns him to Florida
- Jawaan Taylor underwent major transformation to land offer from Florida
- Brett Heggie grew up a Seminole, but the FSU legacy is Florida bound
- Florida’s Lamical Perine validated by senior season after lack of offers, respect
- Antonneous Clayton used to be an outcast because of another game he played
- Florida’s Jachai Polite, high school teammate are now SEC rivals