Jeremy Moussa introduced himself to the college football world with a 279-yard, 2 touchdown performance on the road at North Carolina last Saturday in the midst of chaos surrounding the Florida A&M football team.
The Vanderbilt graduate transfer, making his first-ever Division I start, went throw-for-throw with heralded freshman UNC quarterback Drake Maye for the better part of three quarters in a gusty 56-24 loss on national television that gained the respect of those who watched the underdog and undermanned Rattlers compete with a team missing 20 players due to eligibility issues yet to be completely resolved.
Head coach Willie Simmons, after the game, told the assembled press that Moussa — named starter ahead of veteran Resean McKay days leading up the Week Zero opener — was “no longer a secret.”
While Moussa’s exploits displayed against a Power 5 defense may have been relatively unexpected by those who watched live on the ACC Network, Tar Heels coach Mack Brown or even Simmons himself, Daniel Algattas, football coach at San Bernardino Valley College, knows all too well about what season opening acts look like.
Three Octobers ago, Moussa, then SBVC quarterback, broke several school records in a performance for the ages. Versus the Santa Ana Dons, Moussa threw for 636 yards and seven touchdowns in a 80-48 win.
Despite the circumstances being different back then, Moussa — similar to the present-day Florida A&M experience — was able to excel in a situation playing on a new team with teammates he’d yet to develop chemistry with.
“I would say just in general for anybody, anywhere that’s pretty unheard of,” Algattas told HBCU Sports in a phone interview about Moussa throwing for better than 700 yards that night after further examination of the game film. “I think with what he brought to the table, he was able to get himself and his teammates ready much quicker than other teams at this level.”
The next week, said Algattas, the offense under Moussa “slowed down a bit.”
The unit was only able to muster 400 passing because of “a lot of drops,” the coach said.
Moussa led that team to a 9-2 record and a conference title in 2019. He finished with 3,179 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, and nine interceptions before breaking his ankle.
It was a season that those who followed his decorated career at Eleanor Roosevelt High School — where he threw for 7,000 yards and broke every record — figured would be routine after he committed to Hawaii as a 17-year-old.
But Moussa never got the extended opportunity to showcase that potential after a season in which he appeared in two games for the Warriors. After the stop at San Bernardino Valley College, Moussa played sparingly over the 2020 and 2021 seasons at Vanderbilt. His SEC career high in passing yards was 24 achieved in a 45-6 loss versus Mississippi State in mop-up duty.
Betting on himself
Before stints at Hawaii and Vanderbilt, Moussa would go back to the old high school in Eastvale, toss around the football and talk to his head coach Tommy Leach about a college career that, up until his breakout game against UNC, hadn’t gone as planned.
Leach, who explained he often measures other quarterbacks up to the standard Moussa set, encouraged the youngster to stick with it. In one conversation, the veteran coach attempted to convince a frustrated Moussa to stay at Hawaii.
“For him personally, he’s always had a level head … I tried to talk him out of leaving Hawaii,” said Leach. “I was like, ‘Hey man, stuff happens.’ I said, stick it out.”
Remaining at Hawaii obviously didn’t happen. Moussa, described as a “coach’s and teacher’s dream” due to his work ethic in the classroom and on the football field, wanted to bet on himself and take a chance elsewhere.
Though it took nearly three years for Moussa to finally get his shot to start at Division I, Leach — just like everyone who witnessed a practice or was on hand for a game — had an unwavering belief that the best was yet to come.
“We all believe it starts with believing in the quarterback,” he said. “And if you don’t believe after watching him Saturday night (versus UNC), then nothing else will make you believe.”
Amid turmoil still surrounding the Rattlers program, Moussa once again be front and center in another ESPN nationally televised game against Deion Sanders and Jackson State on Sunday in the Orange Blossom Classic. For the second consecutive season, the outcome likely will decide the SWAC East and berth in the Celebration Bowl.
A Rattler fanbase that was uncertain about the quarterback position heading into the year now has newfound confidence that Moussa can lead them past the favored Tigers and beyond.
This chance, these types of games, is something the one-time backup FBS quarterback has prepared for.
“I’m just playing the game, you know, doing what I’m coached to do,” said Moussa. “I’ve played a lot of football. I’ve prepared for this moment since I’ve been in college … credit to all my coaches for teaching me the game.
“But I’ve always prepared like I’m the starter. I think I showed that I can play at this level and play well.”