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On that midnight train to Georgia
Knowshon Moreno is on top of the Georgia Bulldogs world looking down on elation.
Fans — even a Rhodes Scholar — are ready to chisel him on the program's Mount Rushmore as a legend in the making.
"Can one person alone make a difference?" asked Deep Shah during his Georgia spring commencement speech. "Sure. Especially if his name is Knowshon."
Moreno's No. 24 jerseys — particularly those of the black variety — have become what to wear to Sanford Stadium.
We can dress like Moreno, but we can't run and juke and spin away from defenders like Moreno. We can't leap with the ball extended over Florida's defense like Moreno, setting off a celebration for the ages.
What we can do is roll like Moreno. For nearly 800 miles each way. On Amtrak's Crescent Line. The same way Moreno traveled from New Jersey on his first trip to Athens for a summer camp in 2005, before his senior year at Middletown South High.
Not that Moreno would recommend taking a Midnight Train to (or from) Georgia. "That was a long trip," Moreno said. "I'm not taking the train again. Fly in to Newark. In and out. Best way to do it."
That's the easy way. Not if we want to experience America the way Moreno did when he made the round trip by train. Clear your schedule. It's at least 15 hours. Each way.
"I slept most of the time," Moreno said.
Nobody can remember exactly the way Moreno traveled. Metropark to Atlanta. Middletown to Gainesville. Newark to Toccoa. Ask three different people, get three different answers. Ask a fourth and get the final answer — Trenton to Toccoa.
Moreno traveled by rail just like current Bulldogs defensive tackle Kade Weston, from nearby Red Bank, N.J., did a year earlier.
"Knowshon, when your time comes, I'll send you to Georgia, too," Dr. Jean D'Arcy Maculaitis, who runs a college prepatory testing center in the area, remembers telling him. "You interested?"
Maculaitis played an integral role in putting Weston and Moreno on track to become academically eligible for college.
Even so, coach Mark Richt was pretty sure Moreno wasn't too interested in playing for Georgia. "I didn't think we had any chance of getting him," Richt said. "Not only did he show up kind of unannounced — I didn't know who he was when he showed up — I met him because he ended up here early (at the football offices) and he was kind of bopping around."
By the time Moreno finished his prep football career, he was the state's all-time leader in points (782) and touchdowns (128) and had the second-most rushing yards in New Jersey history (6,268).
Moreno led Middletown South to three straight state titles from 2003-05. Moreno finished his career with the Eagles on a 36-game winning streak.
"We were pretty good, but at the same time, we had a lot of fun, all the guys around there," Moreno said. "It was nice to win that many championships and that many games in a row."
Head coach Steve Antonucci won one before Moreno arrived and another the year after he left.
"Never seen anything like him," Antonucci said. "The best football player I've ever seen is that kid. There's no doubt."
Moreno rushed for 188 yards and three touchdowns against Florida and showed the folks that saw him dominate the Shore Conference that, yes, he could make it in the rugged SEC.
"If there was any question about 'Shon when he left, I think the No. 1 question people had around here was, 'Is he fast enough to play in the SEC?,' " Antonucci said. "When I turned the TV off after the Florida game, I think he had solidified himself as a bona fide SEC kid and there was no doubt in anybody's mind anymore."
There was zero doubt after Moreno rushed for the most rushing yards (1,334) for a Georgia freshman since Herschel Walker.
What can he do for an encore?
Mildred McQueen and Antonucci are part of a Jersey group planning to travel to Athens for Saturday's season opener against Georgia Southern to see for themselves.
"We won't be wearing No. 24s anymore," said McQueen, Moreno's grandmother. "Oh, no. People, they were hounding us (last year). No, we won't do that again."
And that was before Moreno's college debut.
"My goddaughter and nephew down there, they were telling me they can't keep his shirts in the store long enough," McQueen said. "The manager was telling them no other person that came through Georgia has made them money like 'Shon has."
With the NFL calling in the future, Moreno will be able to one day cash in on that Knowshon Gravy Train for himself.
Best of the rest 2. Chris 'Beanie' Wells, Ohio State | He ran for 1,609 yards last year and was the lone bright spot in another national championship game loss. In the last two games of the year, against rival Michigan and in the title game against LSU, Wells ran for 222 and 146 yards, respectively. If the Buckeyes are in contention for another trip to the title game, the junior will be a Heisman contender.
3. LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh | This super sophomore is going to draw favorable comparisons to Pitt legend Tony Dorsett, similar to what Knowshon Moreno is going to face at Georgia with comparisons to Herschel Walker.
4. James Davis, Clemson | Davis and C.J. Spiller form the best running back combination in the nation. Sharing the load will affect Davis' yard total, but he's special.
5. Joe McKnight, USC | Sure, we are taking a flier on this one, since McKnight has never started a game at USC. But his breakout performance against Illinois in the Rose Bowl should be a sign of things to come.
— Nick Mathews