JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- That the Super Bowl will be played Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., 45 miles from his childhood home, still seems weird to Knowshon Moreno. That he'll be playing in it as the starting running back for the Denver Broncos? Well, that's something out of the storybooks.
"Very special," Moreno said Monday before the Broncos' first practice of Super Bowl week. "Everyone goes through different things. It's how you battle back from that and see the positive in all of the negative. I think I did a good job of that."
Moreno was a long shot to make it anywhere, born to parents who found themselves incapable of raising him and finally sent to live with his maternal grandmother in the New Jersey shore town of Belford. He found comfort in the home of Mildred McQueen after years spent bouncing around. His gifts as a football player carried him to stardom at Middletown South High School, where his teams went 36-0 and won three state titles from 2003-05.
"That was a good time," Moreno said with a laugh Monday. "Went three years, never losing -- 36-0 and all state championships. Putting all that work in, and then finally at the end of the day, at the end of the season, being rewarded with a trophy, that's what it’s all about. You don’t remember the hard times in training camp. You don't remember whatever happened throughout the week. You remember that moment."
Those moments propelled him to the University of Georgia and into the first round of the NFL draft, where the Broncos picked him 12th overall in 2009. But the hardships didn't stop there. Moreno struggled to develop as an NFL player, sliding down the Broncos' depth chart amid injuries, fumbles and off-field problems
He was an afterthought by November 2012, no longer even dressing with the rest of the active players on game day, until starter Willis McGahee got hurt and Moreno was somewhat surprisingly elevated to the starting running back role. He played well and kept the job into 2013, even after the Broncos drafted running back Montee Ball in the second round. And to hear folks around the Broncos tell it, Moreno's first 1,000-yard season was the result not just of perseverance but also of determined improvement.
"The thing with Knowshon that he's really improved is his accountability and dependability," Broncos coach John Fox said Monday. "He's been a professional as far as his preparation goes, and he has become one of the more dependable guys as far as assignment detail and those types of things. He's done a tremendous job, and he's maybe one of our most improved players this past season."
Success at the NFL level has brought Moreno back to his home state for a chance to cash in on every football player's dream.
"It would be awesome, especially in your hometown," Moreno said of winning the Super Bowl in New Jersey. "My family will be there to enjoy the moment."
Moreno said his high school coach is coming to visit him this week at the Broncos' hotel, and so will his family. He said it "would be cool to get back" and see his old high school, but the team is pretty tightly scheduled with practices and media obligations that could make it tough. Perhaps, he'll get a chance to visit after the game's over, and bring a Lombardi Trophy to show off. That would mark the completion of a truly remarkable journey.