On the surface, Alabama redshirt junior inside linebacker Dylan Moses appeared to have a successful return from his lost 2019 season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament four days before the opener against Duke in Atlanta.
The 6-foot-3, 244-pounder from Alexandria, Louisiana, leads the top-ranked Crimson Tide with 74 tackles entering Monday night's national championship matchup against Ohio State in Miami Gardens, and he was recently tabbed by the Associated Press as a third-team All-American. Yet the right knee he thought was fine before the Sept. 26 opener at Missouri wound up causing constant pain in the weeks that followed and had to be wrapped before the national semifinal Rose Bowl victory over Notre Dame on New Year's Day.
"It was something I had to persevere through," Moses said this week. "I've never had to go through a whole season feeling like that. It was new for me, but at the same time, it wasn't anything I couldn't play through. I'm really tough when it comes to dealing with a lot of pain, and at the end of the day, I just wanted to be there for my teammates, make a difference and be able to make the calls for them."
Moses had eight tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss during the 38-19 win at Mizzou, and he collected a career-high 13 stops during the 63-48 surviving of Ole Miss on Oct. 10. He had 10 tackles and a sack the following week in the 41-24 downing of Georgia, but there were struggles along the way as well, most notably in pass coverage during the 52-46 outlasting of Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game.
His season totals also include 6.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception, which occurred in the end zone during the 41-0 win over Mississippi State on Halloween.
"We've obviously had several talks," Crimson Tide third-year defensive coordinator Pete Golding said. "He's a great kid, and I'm proud of the way he's fought through it this year. When he's here in the building or out on the field, he's locked in.
"There hasn't been any of the, 'I'm a little banged-up. I can't go out and practice.' That's not who he is, so I appreciate him for that."
Moses is not without company when it comes to Alabama players having to bounce back from significant setbacks. Head coach Nick Saban recalled this week how linebacker Dont'a Hightower needed more than a year to regain his dominating form after tearing his ACL in September 2009.
Hightower returned in 2010 and had 3.5 tackles for loss, but he was far more menacing in 2011 with 11.
"Dylan has done an outstanding job and has shown a lot of perseverance and leadership on our team, and I'm pleased with the way that he's played," Saban said. "I'm pleased with the way he's handled his circumstance, and certainly he's made a positive contribution to our team."
Offering guidance within the current roster has been fifth-year senior tight end Miller Forristall, who tore his ACL during the third game of the 2017 season against Colorado State and was rarely targeted in 2018, when he went all season without a catch.
"Everyone thinks you're just going to come back," Forristall said. "You hear all this, 'You're going to come back bigger, faster and stronger immediately,' and you just don't all the time. I struggled coming back from my ACL a little bit. Honestly, it took me two good years to feel like myself again.
"Dylan and I have talked on and off a lot about encouragement. Sometimes you don't always feel like you used to, but you can still play better and you can still be better than the player you were."
Moses may not be completely back athletically to the player who amassed 86 tackles and 10 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2018, when the former five-star talent became a finalist for the Butkus Award. He hasn't lost a step from a leadership aspect, however, and he has the Crimson Tide on the doorstep of their first national championship since his freshman year.
Ohio State won't be easy, but what about these past few months for Moses has been easy?
"There have been a lot of ups and downs, but that's life," Moses said. "Everything is not going to be picture-perfect. Everything happens for a reason, and I'm grateful to be in this position with my teammates. This was something that I was looking forward to, knowing I would come back and all of that.
"Being here and being able to be part of this historic team means a lot to me."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.