LEGEND: After Spontaneously Attending Marshall Track Practice, Randy Moss Won Two Conference Titles And Then "Kind Of Disappeared"

Robert Laberge. Getty Images.

[The Athletic]

"Mark Gochenour felt pretty good about himself. The top sprinter on Marshall’s men’s track and field team, Gochenour long had his eyes on the Southern Conference championship. Spring 1997 was set to be his time. The conference championship was the team’s last indoor meet.

With one week left, a football player appeared at practice.

[…] On Monday, coaches showed [Randy Moss] some drills and proper techniques for the starting blocks. Gochenour could see Moss had the explosiveness. On Wednesday, Small told Moss the bus to Johnson City, Tenn., would leave at 8 a.m. Thursday. If he didn’t show up, the bus would leave without him.

At 7:55 a.m. Thursday, Moss came around the corner. Small celebrated. Everyone in the conference knew he was coming, which brought a greater sense of anticipation and attention to the event.

'It felt like we were traveling with Michael Jordan,' Small says.

Moss showed up, lined up and did exactly what he did on the football field: He won. After qualifying in two preliminary runs, Moss won conference championships in the 55-meters at 6.32 seconds and the 200-meters at 21.15 seconds, the latter of which was just 0.02 seconds away from the conference record.

"[…] With his time, Moss qualified for the NCAA championships, but he didn’t go. He raced his race and he was done.

'We were going to bring him to Atlanta, but he kind of disappeared,' Small says."


Randy Moss was nicknamed "The Freak" for good reason. In a feature that just resurfaced from last year, about a quarter century after he arrived on Marshall's campus and shocked the world with his talents on the gridiron, a fascinating subplot to his time with the Thundering Herd emerged. I know this feature is a little dated and not sure if this is old news to some elder sports followers. If so, forgive my ignorance of obscure collegiate track and field in the late 90s. I was pretty young and only had a soft awareness of Moss' prowess as a football player.

I think many of us who follow the NFL have become familiar with Moss' story over the years. An altercation prior to attending college saw him lose out on the chance to play at Notre Dame. Then, more off-field issues caused him to transfer from Florida State to Marshall, where he had one more opportunity to (pun intended here) get on track. Let's just say he took full advantage. Moss had 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 54 TDs in his two seasons with the Thundering Herd before making the leap to the NFL, where he proceeded to become one of the best wide receivers ever. He ranks fourth all-time in receiving yards and second in TD grabs behind only Jerry Rice. Not bad company to keep. 

I highly recommend reading the rest of this Athletic feature for some of Moss' football stories from his college teammates, like when he hurdled a 5-foot-11 DB in practice who was standing "completely straight up." Also watch these highlights:

This story about Marshall track, though, is such a classic Randy Moss thing to do. Mark Gochenour. Poor guy. Worked his ass off, was a damn fine athlete in his own right and believed it was finally his time for glory. The Freak shows up for one damn practice to learn the very basics of how to get out of the starting blocks (maybe he had a couple practices thereafter, it's unclear). Hilariously, Moss doesn't even start off well in any of the races he runs, and still manages to dominate the competition. Moss was the epitome of being "built different" even when he was in the NFL, so I can only imagine what he must've looked like to college track and field folks who weren't even competing at the highest NCAA level.


I have no doubt that if Moss hadn't snubbed the NCAA championships and worked for even a week or two on the finer details of sprinting, he'd have won any event he competed in with ease. Oh well. Having to settle for two conference championships in track and a national title in I-AA football was a decent legacy to leave behind at Marshall I suppose.

Gochenour's point about Moss having the potential to be an Olympian is another component of this that's fun to unpack. I tend to wonder how certain athletes would translate to other sports if they weren't so committed to their chosen professional one. You rarely get a crossover athlete like Deion Sanders. Moss could've played damn near anything and succeeded…and in case you weren't aware, before Moss focused on football, he was on a hell of a trajectory as a basketball player. Moss teamed up with future NBA star Jason Williams to dominate in high school. If you're to believe Wikipedia and a now-dead USA TODAY link, Moss' per-game averages were as follows: 30.2 points, 13.7 boards, 3.1 assists, 5.1 steals and 3.8 blocks. DON'T HURT 'EM, RANDY!! 

Twitter @MattFitz_gerald