Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For the Birmingham Times
Vernon Moland Jr. provides a voice of experience to younger members of the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (AAMU) football team. A graduate student pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree, he lets freshmen and sophomores know they must perform not only on the field but also in the classroom.
“I remind them, ‘One day you’re going to stop playing this sport, and what you do now in college is going to carry on for the rest of your life. You’ve got to be mindful of that,” he said.
Moland, a senior defensive end who is the product of metro Birmingham’s Minor High School, delivers his message most loudly through his actions—particularly, his 3.5 grade-point average. Moland will be honored as AAMU’s academic all-star at the 77th Magic City Classic (MCC) on Saturday, October 27, at Legion Field, where he and his team will face off against rival Alabama State University (ASU). whose academic all-star honoree is junior running back Ezra Gray.
Moland and Gray both acknowledge that life as a college athlete is a balancing act, one in which athletic responsibilities must be counterbalanced with academic duties.
“You’ve just gotta understand how time management works,” Moland said. “You’ve gotta understand what’s more important. Sometimes, when playing college sports, what’s important can get blurred. Am I supposed to be spending more time trying to get better in football, or should I spend more time getting better in the classroom? You have to learn how to balance it.”
That’s a lesson Moland, a 2017 first-team selection to the All-Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC) team, learned when he played youth football on a field behind Birmingham’s Jackson Elementary School. Like his father before him, his introduction to football came with the West End Panthers.
His dad, Vernon Moland Sr., had a strict no-pass-no-play rule. Simply “passing” classes wasn’t good enough: “In elementary school, if he brought a C home, he couldn’t play,” said Moland Sr. “We instilled that in him, so he would know that academics were going to be first no matter what.
“The coaches and I sat down, and we discussed that,” Moland Sr. added. “That was the bottom line.”
Not everyone in the Moland household agreed.
“His mom, [Sarah Moland, EdD, an AAMU alum and teacher at P.D. Jackson-Olin High School], was kind of upset with me because he brought home a C one time, and I told him he couldn’t play,” Moland Sr. said. “She felt that I was being a little too hardball. My thing was I [also] played football [at AAMU], and I realized that academics are going to take him farther than anything. I think he realized it, too.”
Moland Jr. said, “At first, I didn’t think it was fair. As I grew older, I soon realized that my dad was trying to instill in me to never be satisfied with just good enough.”
Leading On and Off the Field
Ron Bligh, Moland Jr.’s position coach at Minor, has wonderful memories of the father and son.
“[Moland Jr.] is just one of those guys who was a leader on and off the field,” said Bligh, now an assistant coach at Center Point High School. “He held everybody to a high standard. Usually, when we had study hall, he was one of the guys we used as a tutor. That’s the kind of guy he was.
“[Moland Sr.] was one of those guys, too. … Heck, on Friday mornings he’d beat the coaches [to practice] a lot of times. He would give out biscuits to the players. [Moland Jr.] is a great kid on and off the field, and a lot of it has to do with way he was raised.”
The younger Moland transferred to Hoover High School for a year and a half before returning to Minor. As a 10th-grader at Hoover, he failed trigonometry, and the disappointment he saw in his parents was nearly unbearable as he attended summer school to make up the class.
“At the time, I never put real effort into academics like I did in football,” Moland Jr. said. “I always got by because I was smart, but I couldn’t do that at Hoover High School. I soon realized that I had to put the same effort into studying to prepare for a test that I put into practicing and preparing for a game.”
Moland Sr. said his son was really motivated when he got all A’s on his 11th-grade report card: “I told him, ‘You’re the first person [in the family] who ever got a 4.0. I know it might not mean anything to you, but I’m prouder of you for that than for any tackle you’ve made.’ We just instilled that part in him, and he grasped it. He saw how important it was, and he stayed on it.”
As a college recruit, Moland Jr. posted his interest in becoming a lawyer. He’s changed his mind and is now focused on taking over the family business and creating other ventures.
“My dad and I own a Greek and collegiate paraphernalia shop,” he said of Spirit Hub on 19th Street in downtown Ensley. “After graduation, I was going to run that. Business is just more of my passion. I like organizing and financial stuff. It just became more my passion as I got more and more involved in that company.
“As a kid, I used to work in his store. That’s how I got exposed to that industry.”
The son didn’t just follow his father in football and business—he also followed him to The Hill, the nickname for the AAMU campus.
“My whole family went to [AAMU],” Moland Jr. said. “My dad played here. My uncle played here. My cousin was on the 2006 championship team. I was already familiar with [the school]. I took my official visit here. Anthony Lanier II, who was with the Redskins, was my host. I just had a good time and fell in love with AAMU.”
The elder Moland loves that his son has maintained his high academic standards.
“I really appreciate his academics. I’m not kidding,” Moland Sr. said of his son. “I’m prouder of those academics than I am about him making All-SWAC last year.”