JHHS grad Kelton Moss helping to change culture at UTEP

As a young boy growing up in Jonesboro Kelton Moss used to follow local colleges Louisiana Tech and University of Louisiana – Monroe games and dream about playing college football. This past month the 2017 Jonesboro-Hodge graduate lined up against both as the starting defensive tackle for the University of Texas-El Paso.

While it is incredibly impressive for a young man from a small school in north Louisiana to be playing on national television (ESPN televised the games) in a Division One collegiate setting it is nothing compared to the dedication and commitment it took for Moss to be on such a stage.

Flashback to November 24th, 2017. The Tigers had just lost to eventual Class A state champion West St. John in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. As Moss was walking off the rain soaked field the reality that the season was over started to sink in. There was also another realization that him like a ton of bricks. His high school football career was now finished as well.

It was a bitter pill to swallow. Was this the end of his football playing days? Moss certainly wanted to continue following his dream of playing at the next level but no colleges had called despite the fact that he had average over 10 tackles a game (138 in 13 games) and was named All-State.

“When it hit me that my high school career I was sad but I thought that I had a good enough season that some college would call with an offer,” said Moss in a recent interview with the Jackson Parish Journal. “First I was like I would like to go here or there. Then as time went by it was like I didn’t care who called, I just wanted a chance to keep playing.”

Day after day Moss waited on the phone to ring with the news he was so desperately waiting to hear, but it never came. It wasn’t because people behind the scenes weren’t working to try and make his dream a reality, especially his former head coach Terrance Blankenship.

“I called every coach I knew” reflected Blankenship. “Kelton had a special kind of character about him. He was a natural leader and I knew that if someone gave him a shot he would make it. He just needed someone to believe in him.”

Finally the phone rang. Only it wasn’t a college coach on the other end but former JHHS teammate and friend Trayvon Calahan who had gone through the same thing when he graduated but found a home at Kilgore Junior College.

“If it wasn’t for Trayvon calling me I don’t know what would have happened,” said Moss. “I’m so glad he talked me into coming there and check it out. “

What Moss found out was that Kilgore College football wasn’t just any run of the mill junior college program but one of the best in the country. The coaches were demanding and the talent he was competing against was much better than he anticipated.

“I remember after my first practice wondering if I really wanted this,” said Moss laughingly. “Man it was tough. They coached us HARD and the competition for playing time was incredible. I knew though if I was willing to give it all I had that I could do this.”

So he went to work. By the end of his Freshman year that saw Kilgore win the 2018 Southwest Junior College Football Conference (SWJCFC) and the Heart of Texas Bowl game he was an integral part of the defensive line recording 52 tackles (30 solo), 3 sacks (23 yards), 3 forced fumbles and an interception.

His sophomore campaign he registered 59 tackles (36 solo), 9 TFL (23 yards), five sacks and three forced fumbles. At the end of the year Moss was named to the National Junior College All-American (NJCAA) Second Team and First Team All SWJCFC.

Unlike the end of his high school career when his days at Kilgore was over it wasn’t a matter of IF he would continue playing but WHERE. After meeting with several college coaches Moss made the decision to continue his career at the University of Texas-El Paso. Why UTEP? After all, the Miners were a perineal “bottom ten” program having won only a handful of games in the last decade.

“Coach (Dana Dimel) said he saw me as being one of the ones who would change the culture here,” said Moss. “That fell right in line with what I was looking for. I wanted to be in a place where I could make an impact for the school just like our class did at Jonesboro-Hodge and we did at Kilgore.”

How has his first year as a Division One player faired? Moss, who wears #7 and now weighs 315 pounds, has started every game for the Miners. He has recorded 14 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss and has a sack. More importantly, just like he did at JHHS and at Kilgore, he has helped UTEP change their culture of losing by going 3-2 in the first five games, including being as perfect 2-0 at home.

Moss has now been a part of three programs that while he was there the culture changed from it was ok to lose to where success was demanded and expected. Can one person be responsible for such dramatic changes in fortune?

“It isn’t and never has been just me that brought about the changes,” said Moss. “I like to think though that I have been a part of making our teams better. I work hard to get better personally and to help make our team better.”

“I was fortunate while I was at J-H to have the coaches I did,” continued Moss. “I owe a lot to Terrance Blankenship, Carlos Hicks, James Garsee and Charles Scott who stayed on me to always believe in myself, work hard every day and be ready to overcome any obstacles or adversity that comes. They made a big impression on me and I hope they are pleased to see I listened to what they preached.”

You can rest assured big man, they are not only pleased but very proud of what you have achieved. It’s not just them either. Everyone from Jonesboro and Hodge is.

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