At its surface, Knowshon Moreno’s story as a football player is a cliché.
Talented running back gets drafted as 12th overall pick in the first round. He overcomes a season-ending knee injury one year, then fumbling problems get him banished to the bench for eight games the next. Along the way he’s arrested for DUI while driving a convertible Bentley with license plates reading, “SAUCED.”
Then this year, Moreno went from cautionary tale to delivering his first career 1,000-yard rushing season while helping lead the Broncos into Sunday’s AFC Championship game against the Patriots, with a chance to play the Super Bowl in his home state in two weeks.
Moreno, in fact, had his career game against New England on Nov. 24 when he rushed for 224 yards.
All the clichéd elements are there in Moreno’s story: first-round draft pick is an immature bust then finally finds success. But once you scratch through the surface, at its core Moreno’s story screams: Damn the clichés.
A deeper look into the life of Moreno, who was raised by his maternal grandmother, Mildred McQueen, in the Jersey Bayshore town of Belford, trivializes things like overcoming knee injuries, fumbling problems, a DUI arrest, failing to live up to draft status, labeled “bust’’ and derisively being nicknamed, “No-Show Moreno.’’
What Moreno endured in the first 10 years of his life is enough to make you cry. Tears of sadness first. Then tears of joy.
He was born in The Bronx to teenage parents who were not ready for parenthood. Moreno spent his first 10 years bouncing from seedy apartments to homeless shelters in the city with his father before McQueen, deciding she’d seen enough, took the matter to court and won custody of him, bringing him to the Jersey Shore and saving his life as we know it now.
“Everybody has a story,’’ McQueen told The Post this week. “We all have stories and things that happened to us. It’s how you deal with what happens to you — whether you make something good come out of it or you dwell on it and don’t move on. But you have to keep fighting.
“’Shon realized that what happened to him when he was little, that made it possible for him to overcome anything else that’s happened in his life. And the fact that at this point he can talk about his past without feeling ashamed and be comfortable in his own skin about what happened to him as a child … shows how strong he is.’’
Moreno was born 26 years ago to 16-year-old Varashon McQueen and 17-year-old Freddie Moreno. His first name is a portmanteau derived from his mother’s name and his father’s nickname, “Knowledge.’’
His parents, who didn’t marry, were not fit to raise Moreno. He initially ended up with his father, who never had a sustained place to live. He and Knowshon bounced from place to place — including homeless shelters in upper Manhattan. They never stayed in one place for more than a few weeks at a time.
One of the places he occasionally visited was Mildred McQueen’s Jersey Shore home, staying temporarily when they didn’t have enough money to afford their own place. After a brief visit, it was on to the next stop, until the money ran out, then it was back to a shelter.
Stability was nothing but an elusive idea, something enjoyed by others but only dreamt of by Moreno, as he journeyed from house to house, bed to bed, borough to borough.
This environment did not sit well with McQueen. She could see where things were headed and had visions of a future in which her grandson would be living on the street, homeless, doomed.
Moreno was 11 when McQueen decided to intervene. Fearing her grandson would end up on the street, she went to Bronx family court and won custody of Moreno.
Finally, now, when he made his next trek to Belford, he was going “home,” to a bed he could call his own. A vagabond no more, shelters a thing of the past. McQueen had provided him with that dream called stability.
Moreno now has a relationship with his mother, who lives in New Jersey, but his relationship with his father is more distant.
“I can’t even tell you how proud I am and how much he has grown the last couple years and being put in the position he’s been in,’’ McQueen said. “He had to grow up very fast.’’
Moreno had to grow up very fast in those first 10 nomadic years of his life, and he’s had to grow up fast as a professional football player, too.
The results of both processes elicit a lot of emotion — from Moreno and those closest to him.
You might have seen those infamous tears captured so brilliantly by the CBS cameras in slow motion rolling down Moreno’s cheeks during the national anthem before the Broncos played the Chiefs last month.
The tears became an instant YouTube sensation, but they were far deeper than a fleeting click of a computer mouse.
“I’ve always been that way, high school and in college,” Moreno said. “I guess it’s just my thing, you know? I play with my emotions on my sleeve.”
Those who know Moreno best know exactly where they came from.
When Steve Antonucci, Moreno’s high school football coach at Middletown South, saw the tears, he immediately understood.
“That’s so him,’’ Antonucci told The Post. “He’s always been emotional. I’m sure at that moment he was thinking about how much he appreciates who he is and where he is.’’
As much a rock as Mildred McQueen has been in Moreno’s life, Antonucci is not a distant second.
“I get very emotional about him,’’ Antonucci said. “Knowshon has meant a lot to me. I get emotional a lot when I see him play. I look back and continue to tell myself how fortunate I have been to have had him in my life.’’
The same surely can be said of Moreno in reference to having Antonucci in his life. This is one of the beautiful two-way streets in coaching. As much as Antonucci helped save Moreno’s life, Moreno helped enriched his.
Antonucci recalled the toughest times he had with Moreno was trying to build up a confidence that was so broken he never understood why — until recently.
“I don’t if know he ever really had a male figure pushing him when he was younger, believing in him and giving him positive feedback in that way,’’ Antonucci said. “He never really had a male figure in his life and I guess I became that.’’
When Antonucci only recently learned of Moreno’s early background, it all made sense to him.
“Mildred and the family are very private,’’ Antonucci said. “I knew things weren’t good for him, but I didn’t know much about all the bouncing around in shelters he did when he was younger. I just found out about it. Learning that put so much more in perspective for me in my dealings with him and I understood more why he was so emotional and lacked confidence. It answered questions for me.’’
Antonucci, who describes Moreno “the most humble human being you’ll ever want to meet,’’ deferred all the credit for Moreno becoming who he is today to McQueen.
“She is the sole reason he is who he is,’’ he said. “She did such a tremendous job of raising him and teaching him life and being there for him when she got custody. He could not have found a better person to be his guardian.’’
The result is the man Moreno is today — the man who rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns, caught 60 passes and three TDs and became the franchise’s first 1,000 yard rusher with 500 receiving yards.
Getting benched because of fumbling issues, then being reduced to a scout-team player in practice is a difficult ideal chain of events to deal with emotionally, something Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning understands.
“[That] is definitely a humbling moment for any player that has been a starter and a first-round pick,” Manning said.
Manning just recently learned of Moreno’s “life’s journey,” which prepared him for the difficulties he faced early in his pro career.
At its surface, Knowshon Moreno’s story as a football player is a cliché.