This brings us to the reason a lot of NFL observers think Knowshon Moreno is destined for NFL stardom. (And many Eagles fans hope he is bound for Philadelphia.) It isn't just that Moreno (5-11, 217) is the only Georgia running back besides Herschel Walker to gain 1,000 yards each of his first two seasons, or that his explosive, swivel-hipped style has provoked comparisons to Barry Sanders. The thing Moreno has made into a trademark - without really meaning to, he said yesterday - is popping up and hustling back to the huddle after every hit. Often, Moreno is up and ready before the defenders who hit him have untangled themselves.
"I didn't really notice I was doing that. I guess I did it a little in high school, but I didn't notice until I got to college and they told me about it," Moreno said yesterday. "I guess the main thing is, I just don't like to be down there - I'm not claustrophobic or anything, I just don't like to be underneath that pile or to stay on the ground too long."
Some people might debate whether Moreno or Ohio State's more powerful Chris "Beanie" Wells is the most talented back in the 2009 draft, which starts tomorrow and continues Sunday. There isn't much debate about who has the sure-fire work ethic, though.
Yesterday, Moreno made a public appearance, attended by about 100 well-wishers, at the Modell's Sporting Goods in Holmdel where he worked for about a year while attending Middletown South High School. Moreno, who grew up in nearby Belford, was a little stunned to see a dozen or so copies of his red No. 24 Georgia jersey hanging above a display of Rangers and Devils jerseys, a display he might have once been in charge of stocking.
"It really is kind of weird," Moreno confessed. "I didn't think that would ever happen."
Beaming alongside Moreno was his high school coach, Steve Antonucci, who presided over 36 successive victories during Moreno's prep career.
"He loves the game, and he plays the game with passion. You see it; when you watch him bounce up from tackles and run back to the huddle, he's having fun," Antonucci said. "He brought us to another level in high school. Our practices were different, our games were different, because you had to play and practice the way he was. He talked about being a leader up here [in brief remarks to schoolkids clustered around him]. That's what it was like - you either followed the lead, or you got out. He made it that way. The way the program was run for the time that he was there was about him."
After Moreno finished with the schoolkids' questions, a small group of reporters gathered around the player many mock drafts say is headed for the Eagles, with the 21st pick in the first round, as a complement and eventual successor to Brian Westbrook. Moreno has the receiving ability the Birds covet; he's excellent on screens and has the speed to flank wide, as Westbrook does.
Another running back the Eagles are believed to be interested in is UConn's Donald Brown, a guy with a similar work ethic whose skills generally rank him slightly below Moreno. Moreno and Brown played peewee football together for the Atlantic Highland Tigers; Brown was the running back, Moreno the quarterback on that team, Moreno recalled. He said he and Brown talked about those days recently when their visits with the Jets happened to overlap.
"He told me a story about my first touchdown, at quarterback, I'm running down the sideline and my pants start sliding down. I had no belt. I'm running, holding my pants up, and I scored," Moreno said. "I don't remember that."
Moreno does remember his recent trip to meet with the Eagles, which he called "a great visit." He said he toured NovaCare and met some players, including fellow Georgia alum Reggie Brown.
One youngster yesterday asked Moreno how nice it would be to play "near home." Moreno answered that it would be wonderful to play for the Giants or the Jets. Alas, Holmdel sits near the Jersey Shore, less than 90 miles northeast of Philadelphia, but well within the New York orbit. Moreno later told a reporter from Philadelphia that he figured the kid was talking really local, but that "Philly would be awesome."
Moreno plans to spend tomorrow at the home of his grandmother, Mildred McQueen, whom he lived with during his high school years. He'll watch the first round there, hoping to hear his name called, and then plans to head over to Antonucci's to celebrate, he said.
"Might go fishing early in the morning," Moreno said. "I hear it's supposed to be a nice day. Maybe golf or something - no, I can't do golf. I might get aggravated. That game, you've got to stay calm."
McQueen, a stately, softspoken woman, was on hand for yesterday's appearance, watching her grandson at the center of the predraft hubbub.
"I just love watching him play, because he plays an exciting game," she said. "He's exciting to watch . . . I'm very proud of him; he's worked hard."
She said she has no team preference, though the New York teams obviously are closest, and Philadelphia would be a manageable drive.
"I'm sure wherever he goes, he'll make a difference," she said.
The Eagles announced that wide receiver Hank Baskett signed his 1-year, $1.545 million restricted free-agent tender . . . An NFL source contended yesterday that the Eagles had shopped guard Shawn Andrews to at least one other team, but another source, who would have more direct knowledge of the situation, strongly denied anything had happened or would happen with Andrews. Neither Andrews nor agent Rich Moran responded to requests for comment . . . The Eagles signed rookie free-agent tight end Eugene Bright, from Purdue and Harriton High. *
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.