Nov. 7, 2013
By DeMario Phipps-Smith
CARBONDALE, Ill. - It usually takes children with athletic aspirations until their teenage years to figure out which sport is the best fit. Senior Saluki offensive tackle Jarien Moreland has known which sport -- and which position -- he was going to play since his youth football league days.
"Everyone kept telling me that my size was a positive, a real strength of mine," Moreland said. "I knew pretty early that I'd be either on the defensive or offensive line."
Moreland, a native of Belle Glade, Fla., said having four brothers helped him focus on what he wanted to do in life. His god-brother, Claude Harriott, played football at Belle Glades Community High School, the same school Moreland attended. Harriott is a former fifth-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears and attended the University of Pittsburgh. Moreland said Harriott is one of his mentors and idols and is among his closest friends.
"Claude definitely helped get me to where I am today," Moreland said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't think it would be possible to do so much, especially with me coming from the neighborhood I grew up in. It has been a great experience to just watch him play ball and see all that he was getting out of it -- the celebrations and the joy. I wanted to see what that was like."
Harriott advised Moreland at a young age that he needed to discipline himself if he wanted to succeed at football.
"He told me that my days of playing football on the street and street basketball had to quit," Moreland said. "Because of my size, Claude told me that a lot of coaches would be willing to put in extra time with me but I couldn't risk getting injured. He said if I wanted to do something fun, then I should work out and exercise."
A fully focused Moreland excelled at football and received recruiting interest from the likes of Florida State, LSU, Miami (Fla.), Pitt and USF. Moreland accepted a scholarship to play for Central Florida. His freshman season, he entered training camp as the starting center. Although he would ultimately redshirt his first collegiate season, Moreland said the UCF coaching staff called him a first rounder and said he had potential.
His mother, Angela Johnson, passed away in 2009. He said he tried to stay positive and keep improving but his immaturity made it hard for him to cope with the situation. He decided to transfer and start fresh at a new school, Florida A&M.
Moreland played two seasons for the Rattlers. In his first season at FAMU, he helped the team to a conference championship and an 8-3 record. After grading out at 87 percent as a guard, he was asked to transition to tackle the next season. Despite living in Florida all his life, Moreland said he was outgrowing his environment.
"I just really wanted to get away from Florida. I felt like every school I was going to just wasn't the right fit for me," he said. "I wanted to see what things were like up north, and SIU was the only school to give me that chance. I had offers from schools like Florida State, FIU, Miami and FAU, but they were all in Florida."
Moreland said he has great pride and admiration for his home state but the opportunities were limited and the dangers were plentiful.
The diversity of Southern Illinois has Moreland as optimistic as his freshman year. He said he enjoys being around so many people from varying walks of life. He said he sees this not only in the classroom but also on the football team.
"I love being here because I love meeting all types of people," Moreland said. "The fact that I have so many different types of teammates is new to me, but I like it. I like this group of guys. On the O-line we have this saying, `we are not working with five pennies, we are working with a solid nickel.'"
Although he is one of the oldest members of the SIU football team and already holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, Moreland said he is just another member of the team.
"I don't consider myself a role model because I'm still striving to be the best that I can be," he said. "For anybody who is following after me, I encourage him to go after that degree. Football won't last forever, but no one can take your diploma from you. You have to think about the legacy you are leaving behind. That's why I'm getting my master's, so that my son will have someone good to look up to."