They are rookies now, sharing locker rooms with the likes of Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III, seeing their own names on the backs of NFL jerseys.
In December of 2008, they were high school kids hanging out in Hawaii. One of them got hurt out on the water and screamed for help. The other one didn't know how to swim.
Morgan Moses and Bryn Renner were prep standouts from Virginia. Moses was a mammoth kid from the Richmond area, on his way to 6-foot-6, 314 pounds, and so big that he wore men's slacks and size 12 shoes at age 12. He needed a birth certificate on file for his local football team in case other parents protested. Even if they did, he had to wear a helmet with stripes to show everyone he was the right age.
Renner, of West Springfield, had a big arm and a choice of schools. He wanted to go to North Carolina and he wanted Moses to block for him. He reached out on Facebook and the two got to know each other. Renner's dad, Bill, ran a high school all-star game in Hawaii and invited Moses to make the trip. The boys decided to go surfing in the days before the game. Renner loved the water. Moses was a force on the football field and on the basketball court, and he even played hockey back home, but surfing was new to him. He floated along on his board and watched Renner go.
"I had a dislocated shoulder during the year," Renner said this week, recalling the day. "I knew it was kind of loose. I was paddling back out, riding the wave, and I went to make a turn and my arm got stuck."
Moses saw it happen and heard his friend scream. Renner's dad was back on shore. Bryn was a football field away, in "excruciating pain," and unable to get to safety on his own.
"I'm looking around, and there's no one else there," Moses recalled. "And I can't swim."
Moses wasn't trained for anything quite like this, but he was raised to be a helper. He got his first job at 13, working as a janitor's assistant in his family's church. When asked how many kids she has, Morgan's mother, Marion Graves, mentions her sons – Morgan has an older brother, Morris – and then all the kids from the Richmond-area neighborhood where they lived. Marion always had an enormous pot of spaghetti waiting after practice. She was a mother to many.
"I was raised in a godly home where values are key," Marion said. "We try to instill in them, look out for yourself and others who are less fortunate. You hope it catches on."
With Renner struggling in the ocean, it was time for those values to catch on. The quarterback heard a booming voice from about 100 yards away:
"Bro! Chill! Chill!"
Moses started paddling on his board, carefully navigating out toward his friend.
"He was using those long arms, kicking his feet," Renner said. "We were talking the whole time."
Eventually, Moses pulled Renner onto his board and the three-armed duo made it back to shore. Renner's mom was waiting, crying and thanking "Big Mo."
Moses plays it down, saying quarterbacks are "dramatic." He didn't even tell his mom, who found out about the rescue by reading about it in the newspaper. But Renner believes Moses saved his life. "I can't thank him enough," he said. "I don't know how I would have gotten back in there." The two agree on one thing: they are now best friends.
Renner went to North Carolina, and even though Moses went with him on recruiting visits, he ended up at Virginia after spending a year at Fork Union Military Academy. Renner struggled to feel comfortable under multiple Tar Heel head coaches and offensive schemes, but Moses thrived at both tackle positions. He was one of the 30 players invited to New York for the draft, and he went in the third round to the Washington Redskins – the team with the same nickname as his childhood team. Moses burst into tears when he got the call, so surprised at the 703 area code that he thought it was a wrong number. After all, how many athletes get to play college and pro ball in the state where they grew up?
"He's so enthusiastic about life," said Renner, who signed as a free agent after the draft with the Denver Broncos. "If you're having a bad day, you can talk to him. He always has a smile on his face. That's who you want to be around in life."
Moses showed up at rookie camp and then left (with the team's permission) to attend graduation at Virginia. The class speaker was Renner's new teammate: Peyton Manning.
One of my favorite pics! Jock with a degree... pic.twitter.com/F83CNS8eQc
— Marion Graves (@MoMama78) May 20, 2014
— Marion Graves (@MoMama78) May 20, 2014
Moses' mom, understandably, is over the moon. Her son will be within driving distance, and blocking for Griffin.
"He's not going to have to worry," she said of RG3. "He's got the big man on board."
Moses certainly has the credentials for it; no one can ever question his ability to protect the quarterback.