Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2008 | Moses Moreno never put his Castle Park High football coaches through frustration like this when they groomed his future as an NFL quarterback that included two seasons with the Chargers.

Moreno has been gaining his first taste of coaching as an assistant at San Diego High since last spring, and among his challenges has been preparing a quarterback for the Cavers’ season opener Sept. 12 at home against Hilltop.

“I had one guy I worked with that I was excited about,” Moreno said.

“He’s talented, and he had good repartee with his teammates. You could see the guys looked up to him, and he was imbedded with the quality of leadership.”

But that was last spring, and by the end of the school year the quarterback was academically ineligible for the fall unless he improved his grades in summer school. He enrolled but eventually dropped out.

Moreno went to Plan B, developing a pitcher on the baseball team with a strong arm during summer passing league games. But by the start of fall camp, Plan B’s QB decided not to play football.

All of the sudden, he was working with a third quarterback. The optimism from spring football under new head coach Paul Turner had been tempered. The original roster of 50-some kids at one of the San Diego County high schools with the highest enrollments — sixth with 2,899 students — had dwindled down to the 30s.

Some days Moreno, forever known in Chargers’ lore for coming off the bench in the 1999 season to lead the Bolts to a win over the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium, had to throw the passes in practice.

Funny thing is, though, Moreno still talks on the phone with the ineligible quarterback that disappointed his teammates and coaches. He has expressed concern for him. He told him he has to get his academics in order so he can graduate with his class and move on to the next phase of his life. Hopefully it could include college.

Maybe the kid will listen, maybe he won’t. But if he doesn’t, Moreno has been already drawn into coaching. The kids and their plight, more than the X’s and O’s, are the magnets. Maybe the next player will listen to his advice.

“The dynamics these kids face at an inner-city school is tough, with all the things they deal with away from football,” Moreno said.

“Football can be their outlet for three hours from the things they’re caught up in. Our numbers aren’t where we’d like them, but we have a core group of kids that have got character. They really want it.”

Maybe Turner, Moreno’s Colorado State teammate, knew it would evolve this way when he relied on his college bond with Moreno to convince him to join his staff. It took several phone calls, but Turner finally persuaded Moreno to take some time in the afternoon away from the family construction business.

Moreno’s father had started Able Heating and Conditioning over 30 years ago, and Moses is plenty busy handling bids as a project manager at sites such as Cal State San Marcos, new schools in the South Bay and commercial locations in Orange and Riverside counties.

“I’ve had coaching in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want it to be a casual thing,” Moreno said. “I wasn’t sure I could commit to the time.

But Paul works with his assistant coaches. He set a schedule so we practice a little later in the afternoon.”

Turner, an African-American, wanted Moreno, a Hispanic, for more than his reputation as a 1997 Holiday Bowl Co-MVP for CSU and a draft pick by the Chicago Bears in 1998. Moreno, 33, played two seasons with the Bears and two with the Chargers before a second shoulder surgery for a torn labrum ended his career in 2001.

You might remember Moreno was known around Chargers Park as the backup quarterback that would return to the facility for extra work while crossing paths with Ryan Leaf, the ballyhooed 1998 first-round draft pick now considered a titanic bust. Leaf would be on the way out the door for a round of golf followed by fun on the town.

Turner wanted Moreno for his work ethic and example of success. Another assistant coach is Charles Muhammad, a former Utah running back from Lincoln.

“Paul grew up in Paradise Hills, I’m from Chula Vista and Charles is from Valencia Park,” Moreno said. “Paul wanted the kids to see our definition of making it. He wanted them to see that guys like us — that grew up in the same areas as them, made it to college. Football aside, if we can get these kids into college, then our role as coaches will be a successful one.”

Moreno says he has a couple of tight ends he believes have potential as Division I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) athletes, but getting the right system for a team with a revolving door at quarterback and only 30-some bodies isn’t easy.

Other challenges are as simple as the right equipment. Players have shown up practicing in tennis shoes, forcing Turner to organize fundraisers, among his other coaching duties, so that his players can have football cleats.

But Moreno isn’t regretting his commitment to coach at a high school with kids from some of the toughest neighborhoods in San Diego.

Sometimes an inner-city school has a talent pool to draw upon to make it an area power, but that requires maintaining the school’s tradition with stable coaching staffs and community support. San Diego High hasn’t been one of those schools. The Cavers were 1-8 last year.

“You definitely see the importance of influencing these kids,” Moreno said. “When you’re on the outside looking in, you think these kids are nothing but trouble-makers. They put up a tough façade, but when you spend time with them, you see these are great kids caught up in tough situations.

“It’s a difficult task, but we’re trying to give the kids advice and make a difference. I tell them at some point they have to make the right decisions and do what‘s best for their futures.”

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions and an occasional writer for Chargers.com. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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