Aug. 31—ORONO — With Villanova's Tyrell Mims on his left arm like a sleeve, Montigo Moss did the only thing he could. He extended his right arm, clutched Joe Fagnano's pass and pulled it into his body in one fluid motion, making the touchdown catch as he hit the end zone turf at the University of Maine's Alfond Stadium in a game last October.
"Everybody will tell you, in practice I make them all the time, but it's not like that," Moss said. "It's part of the game that just happens sometimes. I'd like to catch with two hands all the time, but sometimes one hand is all you have, so you have to catch it."
The catch was reminiscent of many made by the man who couldn't contain his enthusiasm when showing the highlight on ESPN a couple days later. Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss, Montigo's father, was so excited he couldn't even get the nickname of his son's team right.
"The University of Maine Bearcats, Black Cats, look at my boy Montigo Moss, number 81, going up there," Randy Moss boasted to a national television audience as he announced his son's catch as the best one of the week. "Villanova, you got Mossed! Montigo, I love you son. Good catch."
Earlier in his career, Moss, now a junior and the Black Bears' top returning receiver, would have shied away from his famous lineage. But a shadow that stretches from Canton, Ohio, is impossible to step out of completely. Now, Moss knows he can embrace it by making catch after catch after catch, and by pulling touchdowns from the chaos.
"I was happy. Always seeing a smile on his face is what I try to do. I just want to make him proud, make him happy," Moss said of his father. "You saw him. He couldn't say the words right. It felt good from my perspective to see that."
Moss and the Black Bears open the season at 6:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN+) in Miami at Florida International, a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
LED TEAM IN TD CATCHES
Moss made his father's You Got Mossed segment on ESPN again four weeks later with another one-handed touchdown catch against Richmond — this time with his left hand. Moss outjumped the Spiders' Angelo Rankin Jr. for the ball, then twisted his body to make sure he got one foot in bounds.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Moss led the Black Bears with six touchdown catches. He was third on the team in receptions (35) and receiving yards (398). In 24 career games, Moss has 44 catches for 547 yards.
"Like his dad, he has great ball skills. He's a different player, though. There's a lot of things he does that I never would've expected just from the tape," said Maine offensive coordinator Steve Cooper, who joined head coach Jordan Stevens' staff this season. "You pull up the film, you see some of these highlight-reel tapes, but he does a lot of things."
Cooper said he and wide receivers coach Mikahael Waters emphasized to Moss a need to improve his blocking skills, and he did so. Quarterback Derek Robertson said every day in practice, he sees the work Moss did in the offseason to get faster and stronger.
"It shows on the field here in practice, and we can't wait to showcase what he's been doing, what this offense has been doing, this whole offseason," Robertson said. "You've seen him make plays out there last year. He's obviously a very dynamic player. He's really stepped up into more of a bigger leadership role this year with the offense, which is huge for that receiver room. They really needed somebody to step up. He's done exactly that."
Moss grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and spent his senior year of high school at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. He knew Maine was the right collegiate fit after a phone call with then assistant coach Makana Garrigan on New Year's Day 2020. They talked about family and this new thing COVID going around, which didn't look like a big deal. Garrigan offered Moss a full scholarship, and he accepted a week or two later.
"I didn't have a lot of offers. Everyone wants to go to the SEC, stuff like that, but knowing where my worth is and that group of coaches, they were 100% in on me," said Moss, a business management major with a focus on international affairs. "I came up for a visit, I had (former UMaine tight end) Shawn Bowman as my host. It felt like a family environment and they were bought in on me, so why not buy into the program?"
When Stevens came on as head coach following the 2021 season, he and his new coaching staff bought into Moss, too. Last season, Moss saw a huge jump in his playing time and production. This summer, Stevens added Moss to the team's leadership council, a group of upperclassmen who act as a conduit between the players and the coaches. Stevens describes Moss as a mature, positive young man who commands the room when he speaks, and a smart football player.
"He wants to know the why. He wants to get it right," Stevens said. "So if you're coaching him, you're going to need to make sure you explain things. If he doesn't know, he's going to ask you, why? What am I supposed to do and how do I do it?"
EMBRACING LEADERSHIP ROLE
Joining the team's leadership council was a step out of Moss' comfort zone. He's always been a guy who enjoys extra film study, breaking down the game and learning as much as he can so nothing surprises him when he's on the field in a game situation. Cooper pointed at a recent scrimmage in which 18 players caught at least one pass. That speaks to the leadership Moss provides, Cooper said, Moss is pushing his teammates to continuously improve.
When he speaks of goals for the upcoming season, Moss mentions continuing to grow in a leadership role.
"I've always tried to lead by example, but I know sometimes leading by example, the guys don't really see it. You kind of have to be vocal at times. Reaching out to them first instead of them reaching out to me," Moss said. "I would like to be a better leader. I would like all my coaches to come up and say, you've improved on the leader front. That's probably my main priority right now."
Moss said he'd welcome a steady stream of double teams all season if it means teammates are left wide open and the Black Bears are able to exploit that. Occasionally he hears smack talk from opposing defenders about how they're ready to lock down the Hall of Famer's son.
"I don't let it bother me. Football, as much as it's a physical game, it's a very mental game. If you get into somebody's head, you can mess up their whole game. I try to be calm, be tranquil about everything. If he says something, in one ear and out the other," Moss said.
Even if Moss is consistently double-teamed, the Black Bears know they need to find ways to get him the ball.
"Tigo is going to be a guy we rely on, and we're hoping he's going to be that guy on third down and red zone, when you've got to have it, and he's the guy we're looking to right now," Cooper said. "We'll continue to push him to be that guy."