“To be honest, I did not think he was going to go there,” says Maurice Douglass, a starting cornerback at UK for Coach Jerry Caliborne in 1984 and ‘85.
Maurice Douglass, who coaches his son as the head man at Ohio’s Springfield High School, thought Wisconsin would prevail in Moses’ recruitment.
Yet after visiting the University of Kentucky earlier this year for a football recruiting “junior day,” Moses Douglass, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound safety, had a surprise for his father.
“He just loved UK,” Maurice Douglass says. “He was like ‘Dad, this is where I am supposed to be at.’”
In March, Moses Douglass, a four-star safety, committed to Coach Mark Stoops and Kentucky as part of the Wildcats’ 2019 recruiting class.
For a UK football program whose struggles attracting high profile “legacy recruits” — the sons of former players — have been keen, landing Douglass, the No. 7 senior prospect in the state of Ohio according to Rivals.com, is a boon.
Yet Moses Douglass choosing Kentucky comes with some intrigue.
Moses says following in his father’s footsteps was less instrumental to his picking UK than the positive feelings developed by his mom, Camela, toward Kentucky during the recruiting process.
There is also another university that Moses Douglass says has not slowed its recruitment of him one iota since his commitment to UK.
“The Ville,” he says of Kentucky’s archrival. “Louisville is after me for real.”
‘Something was missing’
When Maurice Douglass arrived at Kentucky in the fall of 1984 as a transfer from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, he seemed a man in a hurry.
On his first play as a Wildcat, he made the tackle for the Kentucky kickoff team against Tulane. In his initial Cats start, Douglass intercepted a Rutgers pass on UK’s first defensive play.
That 1984 football season ended with Douglass helping to contain Wisconsin wideout Al Toon — the future New York Jets star — as Kentucky capped a 9-3 season with a 20-19 upset of No. 20 Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
“Mo was intense. And he was a hitter,” says David Thompson, the defensive captain of the 1984 Cats. “When you got hit by Mo, you knew it. Some guys didn’t get up.”
Under Claiborne, the ethos of the UK football program was as old school as it gets. The head coach even held a voluntary Bible study with his players on Thursday nights.
“At that time, I was not hearing what Coach Claiborne was saying,” Maurice Douglass says. “When I was off the field at UK, I did not make good decisions. I was just doing, doing, doing. I liked to chase ladies. And I liked to party.”
After Douglass finished his UK career in 1985, he burned to go to the NFL. Word got back to him that Claiborne was not providing NFL scouts with a glowing review of his lifestyle.
“A scout talked to (Claiborne) about what kind of player I was. And Coach Claiborne told him the truth,” Douglass said. “He said ‘He’s going to give you everything he has on the football field. It’s off the field you have to worry about.’ And that was real. That was the truth.”
The Chicago Bears nevertheless chose Douglass with the final pick of the eighth round of the 1986 draft. Douglass went on to have one of the longest pro football careers by any ex-Cat not named George Blanda. He played nine years with the Bears, then two more with the New York Giants.
It was after his ninth NFL season, Douglass says, that his life changed in a profound way.
“I was in a dark state in my life,” Douglass says. “On one particular night, God said ‘Today is your day. You need to make a decision on what you really want.’
“That night, I wound up giving my life to Christ. It was March 10, 1994. I will never forget that day. Something was missing in my life. That March 10th, God opened my eyes. He showed me ‘This is what you are missing.’”
A desire to set a Christian example while working with young men eventually led Douglass into coaching. Claiborne, who died in 2000, did not live to see his former player bloom as a high school head coach.
“I am not running the wide-tackle-six,” Douglass says of Claiborne’s signature defensive system. “But the message of the Good News, that’s the thing from Coach Claiborne I have incorporated.”
Mom buys in on UK
While there have been some exceptions, Kentucky has had an overall bleak record in wooing the highly touted sons of its former players.
Quarterback Nick Fanuzzi, son of ex-UK QB Mike Fanuzzi, chose Alabama over the Cats in 2007. In 2009 and 2011, respectively, brothers Zack and Nick Martin, sons of ex-UK defensive tackle Keith Martin, picked Notre Dame. Safety Jamal Adams, son of ex-UK running back George Adams, chose LSU in 2013.
The one that may have hurt Cats fans the most came in 2017, when defensive back Russ Yeast, son of ex-UK wide receiver Craig Yeast, picked Louisville after having earlier decommited from Kentucky.
With scholarship offers from Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, West Virginia and Wisconsin, among others, Moses Douglass had good options other than UK, too.
Initially, Camela Chavers-Douglass was set on Moses joining the list of UK legacies who have played elsewhere. “I started out dead set against Moses going to Kentucky just because his Dad had played there,” Chavers-Douglass says.
That was bad news for Kentucky’s chances with Moses. “I told all the schools, ‘My Mom’s gotta love you before I do,’” Moses Douglass says.
Chavers-Douglass says, however, she told Moses at the start of the recruiting process to go with his gut, that the time would come when he would know he’d found the right place. When her son came home from a visit to UK and all but demanded she talk to Kentucky recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow, Chavers-Douglass says she realized Moses had found his “fit.”
“As a parent, you are relinquishing your child to somebody for four years,” Chavers-Douglass said. “I’ve seen football not work out for a lot of young men. After I talked to Coach Marrow and Coach Stoops, I felt like Kentucky cared about Moses’ development beyond his just being a football player.”
Alas, one school keeps pressing Moses Douglass to consider a future somewhere other than UK.
The safety says a specific thing constrains his interest in Louisville. “Too much traffic,” he says, smiling. “I don’t want to be driving there.”
Maurice Douglass says his perception is that U of L “just wants to get (Moses) away from UK. ... They are consistent in making sure he gets different things, text (messages), DMs, some type of Twitter. But we’re blue. We’re blue. We’re rocking this blue.”
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory