Sophomore safety Alexis Moreland leads young Saluki secondary

By Gus Bode

When the ball is in the air, besides worrying about catching the ball, opposing receivers also have something else to worry about – Alexis Moreland.

Moreland, a starting safety on the SIU football team, has been making his name known across the Gateway Conference as not only a solid defender, but also as a ferocious hitter.

The sophomore came to Carbondale last fall expecting to sit back and work on making himself a better player, but instead he was thrown to the lions during SIU’s gut-wrenching 1-10 campaign.

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“I expected to redshirt, get bigger and stronger and, like Coach Kill said, opportunity happened; I had to step in,” Moreland said. “I think I did a pretty good job stepping in. Now I’m at the position I’m in.”

Apparently others felt the same way. Moreland was named to the All-Gateway Newcomer Team and was also named to the preseason All-Gateway First Team in only his second season.

Moreland said the honors are nice, but he doesn’t put much emphasis on them.

“It has its place, but you always strive to be better,” Moreland said.

He started seven games last season and finished with 76 tackles, second highest on the team behind only current Baltimore Ravens linebacker Bart Scott.

Now, with the Salukis sitting at 3-3 and fresh off of an upset win over No. 8 Western Illinois, Moreland and his 58 tackles are leading a defense that is on the rise.

In addition to replacing Scott as the leading tackler on SIU, Moreland has also replaced him as one of the hardest hitters on the Saluki defense.

Moreland describes himself as a hard-working, relentless player and said he grew up idolizing safeties such as Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater, who had those same qualities. It doesn’t hurt that they were also known as big-time hitters.

“I love contact,” Moreland said. “If you don’t like contact, you can’t play football.”

The SIU coaches are excited about the future with Moreland and feel he has barely scratched the surface of his talent.

“He really has a good presence of the game,” said defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel. “He’s got a good sense of what needs to be done on a football field. He plays hard and he’s improving and I think when we look at leadership in the secondary.

“He’s the person that we start with off the bat because he brings a lot of different things to the table.”

It is traits like these that have helped turn Moreland into one of the leaders of the Saluki defense, despite being only a sophomore.

Moreland plays free safety, which is like the quarterback of the defense. Playing that position alone puts a lot of responsibility on him since it is the free safety that calls out the plays to the other defensive backs.

Fellow sophomore defensive back and roommate Chris Gadson said he is impressed with the way Moreland has been able to lead the defense.

“He’s got a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but he hasn’t folded under the pressure,” Gadson said. “He’s done pretty good.”

Sawvel agrees that Moreland has done a good job of leading the secondary and said his work ethic and overall knowledge of the game make him a natural leader.

“He’s a stabilizer because a lot of guys feel comfortable with him,” Sawvel said. “They know he’ll make the right call, they know that he’ll be in the right spot and they know that he can tackle.”

Besides being a leader on the field for the Salukis, Moreland has also taken more of a leadership role off the field as well.

“Off the field, you kind of lead by example,” Moreland said. “What you do, sometimes people follow.”

Some of the younger players look up to Moreland even though he is just a year older than they are.

Freshman safety Jay Upthegrove said Moreland helped him a lot when he first got here helping him learn the system and helping him adjust to SIU.

“For myself I try to watch him, learn from him and what he does,” Upthegrove said. “Especially what he does right, so I can get it right.”

Coming out of Sarasota Riverview High School in Florida, Moreland was initially recruited by Division I-A schools such as Northwestern and Auburn, but they eventually cooled off on him and left him wondering what his next step would be.

That was when SIU and head coach Jerry Kill entered the picture.

Moreland said he felt more comfortable with the Salukis’ coaching staff and that is why he chose to leave Florida for the Midwest.

He described his high school as a “nice little powerhouse in Florida,” which made last season’s struggles a new experience for Moreland.

However, he said Kill told him things would be rough early on, but he wasn’t scared off by the challenge.

“Coach Kill told me it’ll be a struggle in the beginning, but he’ll get things turned around and he needed my help,” Moreland said. “I told him I’d be there to help him do this.”

The Salukis are glad he chose not to back down from the challenge and look to him to become one of the cornerstones of the resurgent program.

“I trust him on and off the football field,” Gadson said. “I trust him with my life.”

Reporter Jens Deju can be reached at [email protected]

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