BATON ROUGE, La. — In some ways, LSU defensive end signee Aaron Moffitt is exactly who you’d expect him to be.
Moffitt’s father, Tommy, is LSU’s strength and conditioning coach and has been since Aaron was born.
It was recently job-shadowing day at Baton Rouge Catholic High School, with each senior picking a professional to follow around for the afternoon. It didn’t take a great deal of detective work to figure out Aaron’s choice.
“Where do you think I went?” Moffitt asked playfully, knowing the answer was obvious.
Yes, he went to the LSU weight room. But it wasn’t to shadow his dad. Instead, he studied assistant strength coach Ben Ianniochiane.
It’s a minor distinction, but an illuminating one. Aaron is largely who he is because of his family. But the incoming LSU defensive lineman is where he is by following his own heart.
A young, strong copycat
Aaron Moffitt didn’t have a bottle in one hand and a barbell in the other as he crawled around the family house, but it didn’t take him very long to mimic the environment around him.
Aaron wanted to be like his older brother, Clay. And Clay, who is three years Aaron’s senior, wanted to be like the LSU football players their dad worked with every day.
“When I was little kid I saw all the big, bad LSU football players working out,” Clay said. “My dad would get home and I would beg him to work out. The last thing he probably wanted to do was get in that garage and work out, but he’d come out and do that.”
Aaron followed in Clay’s footsteps.
“I looked up to my older brother,” Aaron said. “Everything he did, I did.”
That desire to copy Clay went so far that Aaron was lifting competitively by the time he was 8 years old — an age group for which no actual competition existed. That hardly mattered. As long as he got to do what his brother was doing, he was willing.
That didn’t just apply to the weight room. Swimming, gymnastics, even karate — the Moffitts did it all. All the activity fit under the lone mandate Tommy provided to his sons.
“He wouldn’t let us sit on the couch,” Clay said. “He’d just say, ‘Go outside and play.’ If we didn’t want to play sports, we’d do something. We just loved sports.”
In fact, the Moffitts agree that Tommy wasn’t the one who pushed the boys’ competitive buttons. If anyone, it was their mom, Jill.
“I remember going into the backyard one day and both were in the pool and visibly upset,” Tommy said. “I asked, ‘What’s the matter?’
“‘Mom’s making us do 100 flip turns.’”
School of hard knocks
Aaron’s trademark as a defensive lineman is his physical toughness, and there’s good reason for that. As a younger brother, he was often subject to the torment of Clay and his friends.
“He always wanted to work out with us,” Clay said. “… We’d slam him on the ground.”
The perseverance born from constantly being beaten out and beaten up by the older guys paid its dividends as Aaron overcame a variety of injuries that bedeviled his high-school career.
Playing with the varsity as a freshman at Baton Rouge Catholic, Aaron dislocated his elbow. He aggravated that injury when he was hit by a pitch the following baseball season. His return to the football field as a sophomore lasted all of one game when he broke his thumb. As a junior, he tore a labrum reaching to make a tackle.
Moffitt played through the torn labrum to help the Bears to their first state title in football. In fact, his fumble recovery with less than 2 minutes remaining set the team up for the game-clinching field goal in a 31-28 win. But it also spelled the end of his baseball career, which to that point had been his primary focus.
“He’s known for being tough. Whenever it comes to orthopedic injuries, you’ve got to be tough,” said Clay, who is an expert in the subject after three ACL tears forced him to change his own focus from football to baseball. “It showed him how to be tough whether he’s going against people bigger or smaller.”
Few know that reality better than Clay’s old buddies, who these days are a bit wary of Aaron.
“My friends that used to pick on him are now scared of him,” Clay said. “They’ll say, ‘I’m not picking on him anymore, he can beat my ass!’ ”
The quiet Moffitt
The more astute reader will notice that Aaron Moffitt’s story collectively includes the phrases “Tommy said” and “Clay said” more frequently than “Aaron said.”
That is not an accident.
As any current or former LSU player can attest, the volume is never low in a Tommy Moffitt weight room. He speaks as readily as he breathes, and does so with tremendous enthusiasm. Clay does not appear to have fallen far from that tree.
Aaron, however, is different.
Clay calls him “The Silent Assassin.”
“I think maybe because I’m so loud and energetic just like my dad, Aaron’s just kind of laid back,” Clay said. “He’s the Iceman. If you force him to talk, he’ll talk. But he’s going to be quiet.
“I say everything for him, I guess. He’s definitely different than me and my dad, emotional-wise. We’re always yelling, screaming, having fun. He’s the silent assassin. He didn’t even cry when he was a baby.”
Aaron, of course, has nothing but admiration for his dad and older brother. But he does feel he’s better off taking a different approach.
“I take after him, but he kind of has to be boisterous,” Aaron said of his dad. “He felt the best way to get guys to listen to him and respect him is through his voice and his actions. I’m not as boisterous as him, but I’ll lead a team through example. My older brother is very loud. I’m more of a visual-type guy. But when it comes to the field and the weight room, I’m fairly talkative.”
An easy recruitment turns complicated
Having attended an LSU bowl game every year since he was 2, it goes without saying that Aaron Moffitt always had his eye on the Tigers. Plenty of other programs were after the 3-star recruit, but Texas Christian was the only campus he visited outside of the one he has known his entire life.
However, a potential wrench was thrown into things when Les Miles was fired in September.
In theory, a new head coach might decide to replace Tommy Moffitt with his own strength and conditioning coach. On top of that, Aaron’s friends and Catholic teammates, Ben Miles and Chris Cameron, had already seen their own dads get fired.
“It was sad, it really was. Not knowing where my dad was going, either,” Aaron said. “(Texas coach Tom) Herman could have brought in a totally different staff (if he were hired at LSU). You just never know with this job.
“I just felt it could have happened in a lot better way than during the season. You never want that for anybody. But at the same time, change is never a bad thing.”
Ed Orgeron continued to recruit Moffitt when he was named LSU’s interim head coach, which brought its own set of complications among friends.
“It felt awkward whenever I’d talk about LSU around them. I didn’t want to talk too much about it,” Aaron said. “But we love football and they understand that. I’m not going to decommit from LSU because their dads got fired. But I felt awkward when you’re like, ‘I talked to Coach …’
“It’s hard to not be uncomfortable talking about it, because you’ve been so close with them and the coaches for so long.”
‘A dream come true’
When Aaron Moffitt signed to play for the Tigers, a lifelong dream came true. But that dream isn’t limited to him alone.
“I’m excited for him because I know this is a dream come true. Because he’s going to be able to do something he loves,” Tommy said. “I try to keep the emotions in check. As parents, my wife and I are both excited that he gets to do it.”
The trick for Tommy will be treating his son the same way he treats the rest of the Tigers — a challenge he has never dealt with before.
“As a coach, I’m trying to keep that in check. I am excited. But I think it’s more important that I focus on being a good parent and allow my staff to do most of the coaching,” Tommy said. “My coaching for him will be done indirectly. I’ll coach the entire group he’s in. But I don’t think it’s fair for his college experience or my longevity here that I focus on my son’s career here at LSU.”
It’s also a dream realized for Clay.
The elder Moffitt brother is a redshirt sophomore pitcher at LSU-Eunice, one of the top junior college baseball programs in the country. His injuries took him off the gridiron and delayed his own path to Division I on the diamond. But now he can live vicariously through his brother.
“I don’t question the way things happened. I’m happy Aaron has been given the opportunity to play Division I football,” Clay said. “However it worked out, one of us is playing D-I football. It’s just as good as me playing.”