RICHMOND — Corey Mosley stood over his father’s grave on the last Thursday in July and stared down at the horizontal headstone. In a week, Mosley and the rest of the University of Virginia football players would have to report for training camp, and the fifth-year senior safety looked forward to that day.
On the field, the only consequences he has to deal with are the ones brought on by his own decisions.
But here, in the veterans’ section of a cemetery on the north side of town, Mosley was reminded of the limits of his control. At 22, he already has lost a father and a father figure. His relationship with his mother is frayed. He has a home, but it is not stationary.
“That event shaped me as a person,” Mosley said of his father’s death almost 15 years ago. “It really did change me. As a little kid, to experience something like that, you’re not the same. I had a heavy weight on me. I didn’t even feel comfortable playing on the playground. I just looked at people with all this animosity. I didn’t trust anybody.
“I guess at that time I was just looking for someone to blame. I felt robbed, like somebody took my father away from me. I was just a fatherless boy, that’s all I knew. I didn’t get to say, ‘Hey Dad, look what I did,’ and all that. It really did make me mad. I just had this anger in me. I’ve been carrying that anger with me for a long time.”
Six days after Corey Mosley turned 8 in November 1996, his father, David, went to the store and never came back.
Corey was too young then to hear the details — that his father’s Jeep had been robbed and he had been shot in the back of the head — but he understood the reality of the situation: His father, 25, a member of the National Guard who worked security for a local bank, was dead.
Corey still can picture the day his father was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery; he relives it each time he visits his father’s grave. Corey didn’t cry that day, but he remembers being consumed by rage.
Immune to counseling, that fury owned Corey for much of his childhood, even after a friend’s mother suggested Corey try football as an outlet. Small but strong for his age, he flourished in an environment in which his anger was an asset.
Former Virginia coach Al Groh used to ask Mosley why he was always so defensive. His teammates wondered why Mosley always hit so hard, even during practice. No matter what anyone said to Mosley, he always had a sharp response.
None of them knew at the time that Mosley had no father, that he and his mother were on shaky terms since she remarried and started a new family when Mosley was 10 or that whenever he returned home to Richmond, he stayed with one of his paternal uncles — Patrick, Mark or Rudy — or with his girlfriend.
“So many kids try to use the way they grew up as an excuse for their actions, and I just told him, ‘You know right from wrong,’ ” Virginia safeties coach Anthony Poindexter said. “We all have our issues in our past with how we’ve grown up or what we’ve been around. But what am I going to do to affect my own life? I can control today.”
Mosley was forced to sit out the spring game during his freshman year after talking back to teachers and coaches, the player said.
“I used to hate being told what to do,” Mosley said. “I never really had nobody to tell me what to do since my father was gone. I had to make a lot of decisions and choices on my own, so my mind was used to that. So I got up here and it was: ‘These people don’t like me, man. They disrespecting me.’ I took it more personal than that they were trying to help me. It took me a while to understand that.”
Nine months ago, James Patrick Mosley, Corey’s uncle who went by his middle name, was buried next to Corey’s father at Forest Lawn. On Nov. 12, 2010, Patrick was fatally shot in the parking lot outside of his townhouse. He was 38, the father of four. Five, if you include Corey.
After Corey’s father was killed, Patrick took a more prominent role in Corey’s life. Though Corey continued to live with his mother, he said Patrick provided him financial and emotional support. At nearly all of his football games, Corey looked into the crowd and saw his uncle.
Nov. 13 was Senior Day for the Virginia football team, and Corey planned to have Patrick, Mark and his girlfriend, Dreneisha Carrington, walk with him onto the field during the pregame ceremony.
When Corey returned from breakfast that morning, he had several missed calls on his cellphone. He called Mark, who had tried to reach him the most. Mark, who never rode to games alone, said he was on his way. Corey’s stomach dropped.
When Mark arrived in Charlottesville, he and Poindexter drove Corey from the hotel where the team was staying to Virginia’s training center, where Cavaliers Coach Mike London and several of Corey’s other family members were gathered.
“It felt like bad memories relived again,” Corey said. “I looked at Patrick like he was my father. He was my father. . . . He showed me how to be a man.”
Corey played on Senior Day against Maryland, but not with his typical vigor. He drove to Richmond that night and missed Virginia’s next game.
When they buried Patrick next to David, Corey did not cry. He was furious all over again.
Corey took the field for Virginia’s season finale at Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers lost and Corey played okay, but that’s not really the point. Football — the lone component in his life that never has changed — helped him find some semblance of normalcy.
Without football, Corey, who grew up around drugs and gangs, said he would “probably be locked up somewhere, not doing nothing with my life.” He certainly wouldn’t be at Virginia.
But by the time Patrick died, Corey had come around to the benefits of relying upon others. He accepted empathy from his coaches and teammates, let them share their own stories of tragedy and perseverance.
And a funny thing happened as a result: The anger began to subside.
“He’s got a good heart to him,” Poindexter said. “He’s just one of those kids that have got to trust you before he’s gonna let you see any kind of side to him, any kind of emotional side of him.”
Mark Mosley has been in counseling since he lost his second brother to homicide. It’s helped some, but Corey’s impact has been just as significant.
“He said: ‘Mark, we have to keep going on. I have to keep going on. I have things I have to do. I’ve got to accomplish some things that I still haven’t finished yet,’ ” Mark Mosley said. “He’s lost his biological father. He’s lost a father figure. His relationship with his mother is strained to the point where he really doesn’t have a place to live. If you want to break it down truthfully, he really doesn’t have a home. To hear him speak in that way, it inspired me a great deal.”
During Virginia’s spring game in April, Corey Mosley kept looking into the stands at the spot where Patrick used to sit, and each time he felt alone. He’s not sure what to expect during games this fall.
But Corey knows he’s not truly alone. He can still hear his uncle’s voice, and he hopes Patrick can still hear his. When he visited the cemetery in May, he told his father and his father figure the good news: After failing a psychology class required to graduate last fall, he earned a B in it during the spring semester.
In December, Corey will become the first Mosley to graduate from college. Until and after then, he’ll keep moving forward, no longer an angry man.
“Everybody thinks my primary goal is to go to the NFL,” Mosley said. “That’s a goal of mine, but my biggest goal in life I would like to achieve is, really, I just want to have the family life that I never had growing up. Not having those things growing up, man, it really affects you. I still to this day wonder why I made it.”