Moss Blends Books With Baseball

Righthander awarded prestigious scholarship

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Sit down with Benton Moss and you could get to know a couple of different people. Tall and skinny, Moss is the son of high school sweethearts and part of the fifth generation to live in the family's farmhouse, just a few miles from the border of Halifax and Nash counties in eastern North Carolina.

A righthanded pitcher, Moss is the star of the Rocky Mount High baseball team. He is also an exceptional student as he is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program, a prestigious path in academics that demands diligence and intelligence in two years of coursework. When baseball and academics aren't taking up the hours in Moss' day, he plays the guitar and saxophone, musical endeavors that he took up since he started playing the piano 10 years ago.

When he speaks, Moss is articulate. There is never an awkward silence in his conversations and he always expresses interest and energy, no matter the subject. Athlete and scholar, Moss is a well-rounded individual who is, quite simply, the total package.

The Scholar

The Morehead-Cain Scholarship was the first merit scholarship program to be established in the United States, fittingly, at the country's first public university—the University of North Carolina. It began in 1945 and was inspired by Oxford University's famed Rhodes Scholarship. Those awarded the Morehead-Cain receive full funding for their time at UNC. Tuition, student fees, housing, meals, books, a laptop, travel and supplies are all paid for. In exchange, the students enroll in summer enrichment programs, which are also fully funded. The program is divided into four themes over four summers: outdoor leadership, public service, international research and private enterprise. The Morehead-Cain does more than pay for an education. It helps shape some of the great minds that have passed through Chapel Hill.

Moss and the scholarship are like his parents. They are a perfect fit, though Moss admits he wasn't all-in at first. He applied to the program, but learned more as things progressed.

"At the time, I was thinking I had a baseball scholarship and I didn't really understand what the scholarship was," Moss said. "The more I read about it and talked to my parents, the more I realized it's not just a scholarship or about money. It's a total experience."

Moss applied for the scholarship and his high school put forth its recommendation. Because of his energy and candor, it's very easy to hold a conversation with Moss. UNC head coach Mike Fox is well aware of that after going through the recruiting process with him.

"That's a big part of the process, when you come up for the interviews and how you present yourself," Fox said. "Very early on he was really at ease. There was never any down time or any lull in talking to Benton Moss. We knew he was really going to woo the committee when he talked to them."

At first, Moss was content with knowing that if he didn't advance, he had at least given it his best effort. But he advanced and it became evident what the scholarship could mean to him.

"I started to realize it was a really big deal," Moss said. "The pressure started to build and I was really anxious."

Moss had an incredible experience during the final interviews, a weekend spent at UNC meeting other candidates and committee members. After that, it was a waiting game.

On March 3, Rocky Mount had a home game against Louisburg High. That same day, Moss was expecting to learn whether he had been awarded the scholarship. He texted his friends, telling them not to text him for news and turned his phone off so he could focus on the game. He hit a home run that evening, possibly a little foreshadowing. Moss drove back to his family farm and parked his car behind the house where no one was around and waited to check his email.

"I just sat there for like 15 minutes," Moss said. "Finally, I opened it and all I saw was 'Congratulations'."

Moss' path to winning the Morehead-Cain scholarship began before kindergarten. His family—which also includes two younger sisters—lives just a few miles across the line in Halifax County. His father, Tom, and mother, Ashley, both work in Rocky Mount, about 20 miles to the south. Halifax County schools are about 20 miles from the Moss farm, but in the opposite direction. It would take about 100 miles of driving to drop the kids off at school, go to work, pick the kids up and go home. Pair that with the fact that Halifax County schools did not measure up to the family's standards—Tom Moss has pre-veterinary, horticulture and landscape architecture degrees while Ashley Moss majored in education—and the Mosses had plenty of reasons to investigate other options.

Tom and Ashley Moss applied for their eldest child to be enrolled in Nash County schools. Their request was accepted and now they are reaping the benefits.

Rocky Mount High offers the I.B. Diploma Programme, an academic curriculum that is highly respected by universities around the world. It features rigorous courses and requirements that are taught over the course of two years. Moss is nearing the completion of this challenging journey and has turned into a brilliant mind.

Just a couple of the requirements for the I.B. Diploma are to take a foreign language and write an extended essay on a topic of your choice. Moss is fluent in French and read two novels by Japanese authors and compared their presentations of faith.

Moss' interests lie heavily in finance, a potential field of study when he enters UNC, but he is keeping a broad outlook.

"I'm really interested in finance and investments," Moss said. "Right now I'm reading a book by Benjamin Graham called 'The Intelligent Investor.' At the same time, we're doing some really interesting things in chemistry. I'm torn between a pre-med track and a career in medicine or something like economics where you're looking at global markets and investments."

The Athlete

To stop with Moss' academic accomplishments would be a great story in itself, but you wouldn't find it in this publication if he weren't a skilled baseball player. Physical vigor also is one of the characteristics sought in Morehead-Cain scholars.

Skinny but projectable at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Moss has a fastball that sits 88-91 mph and has touched 93. He used to have a slow, loopy curveball but ditched his old grip and learned a new one from Kyle Smith, a righthander from Florida. He's now throwing a spike curveball that sits in the mid-70s with sharper break. Moss' stuff is modest, but his mental game and work ethic give him an edge. At the 2010 Under Armour All-America Game, he looked to be at his best, just a couple of weeks after he was at his worst. At the East Coast Pro Showcase in Lakeland, Fla., Moss' fastball was in the mid-80s and everything seemed off.

"My mechanics were flawed," Moss said. "They were terrible. My sync and timing were out of place. I had my worst outing at the place I needed to be my best."

He worked with scouts at the event to get his delivery in order and dedicated himself to better fitness. Moss says he doesn't easily gain muscle so he tries to be as strong as possible, pound for pound. His talent, work ethic and mental strength have UNC coaches excited.

"He's got a high ceiling," Fox said. "He has a chance to be really good. The jump from high school is a big one. He's so smart, you hope his learning curve is going to be shortened."

While Moss figured to be a high school prospect that would end up at college before winning the scholarship, he's still taking a serious and mature approach to the draft.

"My dad and I have talked about it a lot," Moss said. "He told me, 'If you get drafted you have to be a man about it. They're going to tell you exactly what they think you're worth.'"

Moss will begin is Morehead-Cain experience by spending a summer month hiking in the Rocky Mountains, cut off from his normal comforts in life. No electronics, no communication, no showers. From there, he will enter school and continue balancing his life of academics and baseball. People in his life are anxious to sit back and watch his character continue to grow and succeed.

"It's going to be special," Fox said. "Benton is the whole package. He's a special young man."

What he majors in at UNC or what he does for the rest of his summer enrichment program remains to be seen. The only thing that can be easily predicted is that he won't fail at anything because he didn't try.

"I think I was just blessed with a really hard work ethic," Moss said. "I'm getting less sleep than I should, but it doesn't really bother me. You get used to it. I just want to do everything that I'm capable of."