Editor's note: 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco visited Rand, West Virginia during the 49ers' bye week. He filed the following feature on Nov. 14, 2012. CLICK HERE for all things Randy Moss.
RAND, W.V. -- Six television sets line the two shelves, high and low, along the wall. These are not the flat-screen, high-definition types that have become standard for most sports bars across the country. And this is no lavish man cave, either. The floor is linoleum, and folding chairs are lined against one wall. There's a refrigerator eating up space in the other corner. The scent of Lysol fills the room. This is where one of the great NFL wide receivers of his generation is comfortable, and totally within his element.
Randy Moss, perhaps the most controversial figure in the NFL over the past 15 years, has a close circle of friends outside of football. And virtually all of those he trusts can fit together inside the walls of this 12-foot-by-12-foot cube. This is where Moss, who guards his privacy with far greater success than NFL cornerbacks have been able to cover him through the years, can be himself.
It's a place called, "The Shed." And it's located in the backyard of his first pee-wee football coach. "He never really lets his guard down," said Donnie "Blue" Jones, who manages many of Moss' affairs and is known around these parts as Moss' right-hand man.
"There are just a very few select places he can be himself. And one is here in Rand. He doesn't trust very many people. When he comes home, he can kick his feet up and relax."
Rand, W.V., is the hometown of Randy Moss. There's nothing much to see in Rand, located seven miles outside of Charleston, the state capital. There is one easy-to-miss exit off Route 60, a short distance off the West Virginia Turnpike.
Rand consists of five blocks of streets with small one-story houses and trailers jammed between the Kanawha River and the highway. It is an unincorporated town of 1,600 residents contained within less than a half-square mile. It is a rural town with the problems generally associated with an urban setting. There are problems with drugs, alcohol, gambling, violence. And it has been that way for decades.
This is the town in which Moss grew up. He knew nothing different. And even though he later found plenty of success, wealth and fame -- along with plenty of infamy -- outside Rand, he keeps coming back.
"I think I owe it to my community to show my face to do great things in the community and be able to give back," the 49ers wide receiver said in an exclusive interview with CSNBayArea.com. "Because when I grew up I didn't really have nobody to really look up to. I didn't really have nobody to follow. And now I just want to be able to show these kids, the next generation coming up, that I was in that same classroom, I ran these same streets, did some of the same things, and if I made it, you can too."
HOME OF 'RAND UNIVERSITY'
There are no stoplights. And there is only one business in Rand: A 7-Eleven. It stands less than a mile from where Moss grew up.
"Randy spent a lot of time here," Jones said, standing just feet from a faded sign on the side of the building that warns, "No Loitering." The 7-Eleven was a gathering spot for Moss and his friends. It came to symbolize the destiny that awaited everyone who grew up here. After all, there were few success stories to come out of Rand.
DuPont High School is located a mile down the road. It is situated in Belle, just on the other side of a rusted cyclone fence that marks the south border of Rand. To be a star athlete from DuPont guaranteed nothing but, perhaps, exalted status at "Rand University." Or, so, that's what everyone thought before Randy Moss and some of his high school classmates came along.
While playing for the New England Patriots in 2007, Moss introduced himself on a nationally televised game during the starting lineups as "Randy Moss, Rand University." The reference is to the 7-Eleven. Moss has made it a regular practice to identify his alma mater as the mythical place of higher learning.
This season, Moss again went national with his obscure shout-out in the opening minutes of the 49ers' game against the Detroit Lions on "Sunday Night Football."
"Really, all I'm saying is, we did a lot of gambling, there was a lot of drug activity, there was a lot of things going on at 7-Eleven," Moss said. "And if you come to Rand, West Virginia, that's really all we can stand on is a 7-Eleven. I mean, you name it, it's probably been done on that lot."
Said Jones, "As a child growing up you never understood what that meant. But as you got older and saw the old athletes standing out here and drinking a cold beer, you started to understand what they were talking about. Basically, they were saying that there is no success stories coming out of Rand."
When Moss identifies his alma mater as "Rand University," it's a point of pride in his hometown. Sixty miles away at Marshall University, where Moss caught 54 touchdown passes in two college seasons, it is not nearly as well-received. "We got shirts. People got hats. It's a big thing here," Jones said. "It draws a bit of bad blood as far as Marshall University goes because that's where he went. He's thankful for what they did for him. He's just giving a shout-out to his hometown. Ain't no harm in that."
AVOIDING A WRONG TURN
Despite all of his athletic gifts, Moss can look back and appreciate how he could have easily ended up spending his time on the property of 7-Eleven as a regular on weekend evenings.
"I was very close," Moss said. "I think my high school fight and what I went through in high school and then going to college, switching from Florida State to Marshall, is well-documented." Then-Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz recruited Moss and his DuPont teammate, Bobbie Howard. Holtz called Moss "the best high school football player I've ever seen."
But Moss never made it to Notre Dame. He was denied admission after getting involved in a racial fight at school between a friend and a white student. Moss was charged with a felony after the white student was hospitalized. "I got a wrong deal, you know what I'm saying?" Moss said. "I played a little role in a high-school racial fight. I'm the only one who really seemed to get in trouble by that. I still think about it to this day, because that right there, that's what makes me stronger -- things like that."
Moss enrolled at Florida State, where then-coach Bobby Bowden said, "Deion (Sanders) is my measuring stick for athletic ability, and this kid was just a bigger Deion." But Moss broke probation for smoking marijuana while at Florida State and was kicked out of school. He spent a total of 63 days in jail, and his future appeared to be heading down a familiar path.
"I could have easily took the wrong turn to end up at Rand University," Moss said. "But through my mom, her prayers, how strong she is as a woman, guiding me out of trouble, to me seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and becoming the person that I am today."
His mother, Maxine, has always been Moss' pillar. She was gone early in the morning and worked two or three jobs to support three children and pay the bills. Moss grew up in a modest, one-story white clapboard house at the north end of Church Street with his half-brother Eric and older sister. With his mother tirelessly working to keep the family off welfare, Moss went to the streets, where he and his peers channeled most of their energy and aggression toward athletics.
TURNING TO SPORTS
Moss figures to be a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame selection with more than 15,000 receiving yards and 155 regular-season touchdowns. About the only thing that has eluded him is a Super Bowl ring.
Moss, 35, accepted a lesser role with the 49ers this season on a one-year contract to come out of retirement. This could be his final chance to win a championship.
One of his DuPont classmates already has earned a ring. Moss was a high-school teammate of Jason Williams, whose dad was a West Virginia state trooper and lived on a trailer on the DuPont campus. Williams retired in 2011 after 12 seasons in the NBA, including one championship season with the Miami Heat. But Moss and Williams were not the only two success stories to come out of DuPont in the early 1990s. Moss's brother, Eric, attended Ohio State and briefly played for the Minnesota Vikings. Bobbie Howard played three seasons at linebacker for the Chicago Bears.
Sam Singleton, whose father has "The Shed" in his backyard, was a high baseball draft pick.Moss, Williams, Howard and Singleton all lived at the same end of Rand and were teammates.
"Myself and Jason and Bobbie and Singleton, of course, we tried to take advantage of our opportunities," Moss said. "We didn't really have a lot of guidance in sports. We had a lot guidance in home and manners and how to respect people. But I think when it came to sports, we just played it."
Moss said his fierce mentality was formed during those years, when the kids would gather to play sports. Meanwhile, the streets also posed constant threats.
"Our lower end was called the 'Ape Yard,'" Jones said. "So we used to tell them guys that they didn't have what it took to live down here because this is where it all went down.The fighting, the shooting, you know, as kids, we really didn't know what was going on. They used to call this 'Dodge City,' which meant every weekend you were going to come here and dodge bullets."
Moss and his friends helped bring a lot of pride to the downtrodden community through their athletic achievements. DuPont won back-to-back football state championships in 1992 and '93. Moss was twice named West Virginia's Player of the Year in basketball. And as a sophomore, in his only year of track, he was the state champion in the 100 and 200 meters. And some in Rand say his best sport might've been baseball. He was a fleet center-fielder who would routinely range deep into the alleys to track down would-be extra-base hits.
Moss still loves to swim. It is a part of his training regimen that he preached to his 49ers teammates upon his arrival for the club's offseason program. It was on the debris-strewn banks of the Kanawha River that Moss' passion for swimming was cultivated. Just a few blocks from his home, Moss would play on a rope swing. He would repeatedly land out in the green water and swim back to shore.
"The upbringing we had, we basically didn't know what rough meant," Jones said. "We didn't know what it meant to be poor. We just thought it was all natural. The way we were growing up was the way we were growing up. Nobody had money so we didn't know the value of money. All we knew is we had each other. Playing sports, that's what we thought you did."
SOFT SPOT FOR CHILDREN
DuPont High School no longer exists. Moss' former school consolidated with another area high school. Now, those same buildings and fields comprise DuPont Middle School.
Last year, Moss was in retirement. He said his reasons for sitting out the 2011 season had nothing to do with football and everything to do with his family. Moss does not make his year-round home in Rand. But he returned to DuPont to spend every day for three weeks during the summer coaching football for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.
"When he first got here, they just wanted to be up close to him to say, 'Hey, I'm next to Randy Moss,'" DuPont principal Tommy Canterbury said. "But, then, I don't really believe they thought about, 'He's our coach.' They just like to be around him. Not because he was Randy Moss, but because of his personality. He was always upbeat."
Dominique Reed, Mark Seites and Jacob Clark, three players on that team, do not hesitate when asked, "Who's your favorite football player?" They each supply the same answer: Randy Moss.
"Because he came from here," Seites said. "He's a hero. To look up to him is great because not a lot of people come around here."
"I was excited," Clark said. "One of the greatest receivers of all time. I was defensive captain. As the middle linebacker, I have to get the defense situated. He taught us Cover 3, two corners, one safety; Cover 2, two safeties and one corner, and things like that."
When asked what he learned about Moss, Seites said, "He likes to play 'Call of Duty.' He loves to be around kids. He just loves it. And he's the best fisherman in the eastern end of Kanawha County."
"I've met him plenty of times, but I'd never been close to him," Reed said. "All the people in sports say he's a mean person, but he's really not."
Canterbury lauded Moss' ability to remain patient and teach his young football students. "He would have been an excellent teacher," Canterbury said. "He would be as good a teacher as a football player. I really believe that. The kids knew he wanted to be there. You can't fool kids. They knew he really enjoyed it. They knew he was having fun and that was pretty cool to see."
Moss introduced football concepts to the youngsters in the classroom. His fellow coaches began calling him "Black Belichick," Jones said, a reference to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Moss said he loved coaching and can see himself coaching football in middle school or high school after her permanent retirement from the NFL. He says coaching major college or professional football would take too much time away from his family.
During his brief time as a coach, Moss softened after his demand to have the kids report early in the morning brought one of his athletes to tears. Yes, Moss has an obvious appreciation for children. As a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, he befriended a 2 12-year-old girl who attended training camp with her father. Two years later, she was diagnosed with leukemia and he visited her in the hospital. When the 49ers played Minnesota earlier this season, Moss had dinner with her.
Moss recalls as far back as kindergarten when his mother was working in a day care center, and he would react at the sound of babies crying.
"I would go and put the pacifier back in the baby's mouth," Moss said. "That's just something I've always had a soft side for is for children. I have kids of my own and being able to look at and see the smiles on other kids' faces makes me feel good. So I try to extend a helping hand and go the extra mile for children."
Last Thanksgiving, those children on the football team went the extra mile for Moss, who was handing out Thanksgiving baskets to needy families.The entire team unexpectedly entered the auditorium, wearing their game jerseys, to provide assistance. Moss could not hide his emotions.
"It was something dear to me because I love my community and for me to be able to see these guys and for them to come back and help deliver these presents, it softened me up," Moss said. "I dropped a few tears because I didn't expect it. They surprised me.It was something I really wasn't expecting because I hadn't seen my boys in months and for them to show up in their football jerseys to help carry the baskets to the cars and things like that, it was very touching."
'OTIS' RETURNS TO 'THE SHED'
When coach Jim Harbaugh gave the 49ers a full week off during the recent bye week, Randy Moss predictably returned to Rand. He returned to visit with friends, whom he had not seen since the day before he reported to training camp in July.
Of course, he joined several of his friends in "The Shed."
"When he shuts this door right here, he's down to earth," said Sam Singleton, 62, Moss' first youth football coach. "There's no more Randy Moss. It's just Randy. It's a blast, man. It's a blast. It really is."
Moss is circumspect when it comes to dealing with most adults. He is inherently suspicious and untrusting of others. It seems ever since he was a high-school star, going through his ups and downs, his life has been inundated with people who looked to benefit from him.
"He may appear rude and obnoxious," Jones said. "That's just a defense mechanism because he really he don't care if you come talk to him or not. But once you get to know him, he's funny and you can't get enough of him. That's why I'm never surprised when his teammates say, 'We just love him.'"
In a short time, Moss' personality, caustic sense of humor and willingness to share his wealth of football knowledge with his teammates have made him one of -- if not the -- most popular player on the 49ers. Inside 'The Shed,' his friends see Moss Unplugged. It's all about sports and games. It's all about telling stories and sharing laughs.
"A lot of sports games being watched there," Moss said. "A lot of alcohol, moonshine. You name it, man, it really goes down in the shed."
Back home, Moss is known by another name. "Just Otis," said longtime friend Michael "Mike Dads" Smith. "Just Otis. I mean, he's one of my best friends. We grew up together, hang out, played, ate at the same table. Went to the same church. He's a good guy."
Said Jones, "You all call him Randy. Back here, he's just Otis to us. "Why Otis?" That's just what the streets named him. His name is Otis."
Those streets have a lot of stories to tell. Those streets hold a lot of answers, too. Said Moss, "We had a great group of guys growing up. . . Still to this day, I hold something deep in my heart for Rand, West Virginia, because that's where I'm from."