KNOXVILLE - In a span of a little more than six months, Emmanuel Moseley went from being a rail-thin kid from North Carolina who impressed Tennessee's coaches with his speed at a summer camp to the Volunteers' starting cornerback.
That's a pretty rapid rise, but it's nothing compared to how much weight Moseley has added in a short time.
His ascension from obscure recruit to immediate first-teamer has been impressive, especially since when he committed to Tennessee last October, the only person who expected him to grab a starting spot as a freshman probably was Moseley himself.
"Ever since I was younger, I always started," he said after Tuesday's practice. "I kept the expectations high to come in and start. Everyone doubted me because of my size, but I just came in and wanted to ball out."
And that he's done. Since the early parts of spring practice, Moseley has manned the first-team cornerback spot opposite Cam Sutton, himself an All-SEC freshman team performer in 2013.
After not playing football as a 10th-grader, the 5-foot-11 high school quarterback wasn't on many recruiting radars, and Tennessee didn't see him until he showed off his speed at a camp in Knoxville last summer.
The Vols coaches wanted to wait before offering a scholarship spot to a 145-pound player, but not long into a senior season in which he led his Greensboro Dudley High School team to a state championship, Tennessee pulled the trigger and nabbed a player who at the time was committed to Charlotte's fledgling program.
Moseley is now 178 pounds and aiming for 185.
"A lot of credit goes to him," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "It's the sacrifices. It's maybe getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning and making himself a triple-decker peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's maybe eating a little bit more, getting the rest and working exceptionally hard in the weight room, and he's done that."
Safety Devaun Swafford said Tennessee's defensive backs didn't give Moseley a hard time about being so small when he first arrived in January.
"He's making tremendous strides, both in the weight room and on the field," the sophomore said. "His technique is getting way better, and he's way stronger than when he first came in. He's going to make an impact.
"Emmanuel's always been tough. He's a tough guy. He's coming with the boom. He's physical, and he uses his hands real well, so I knew once he got some weight on him and got some more strength, he would be hard to handle."
Moseley credited Allison Maurer, Tennessee's nutritionist who runs an impressive setup the Vols call the "fueling station" inside the relatively new Anderson Training Center, for "staying on me" about eating to add weight.
"His style of play is never changed in terms of his swagger, his competitive nature, his instincts," Jones said. "Obviously he's playing a lot more physically just because of the added strength, and he needs to continue to go. He can't play at this level at that weight, and he knows that and he's continuing to work through it."
Enrolling early allowed Moseley to add weight and gain the knowledge of Tennessee's defense he'd need to play to his speed. Moseley said he ran timed 40-yard dashes in the 4.3- and 4.4-second range this spring, but he joked he's just "one of the fastest" players on the team. His speed was evident from the Vols' first spring practice.
"That was the biggest adjustment, putting on the weight and keeping my speed," he said. "As I put on the weight, I had to run, then I would lose some, but then I'd have to gain it right back. It was kind of hard, but it was worth it."
It's to Moseley's benefit, too, that a teammate was in those same shoes a year ago. Sutton was a three-star recruit who came in without much in expectations, and he earned his starting spot early last August. He then showed he's simply a good football player.
"I mentor him a lot," Sutton said. "I'm always in his ear, always encouraging him, always staying on him. Even outside of football, whether it's academics or anything in life, he can always come to me.
"We sit down and watch film all the time, whether it's before practice or after practice. That way he gets accustomed to our system and accustomed to what he needs to work on and what we need to work on. We coach each other, and that's the big thing about it."
Moseley said Sutton's "like a big brother" to him and gave him some advice about starting as a freshman.
"He said it would be hard," he said. "But if you put your mind to it, you can do it."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.