Cregg Moss was an undersized lineman who caused big problems for Science Hill opponents in the mid-1950s while playing for Niles “Mule” Brown and Jack Green. He was an All-Conference guard who played in the Bristol Shrine Club’s Tennessee-Virginia All-Star game in August after his senior year.
Don Blackburn started at center beside Moss at Science Hill.
“Cregg wasn’t a really big fellow and he really wasn’t that strong of a guy, but he was very quick and had great technique,” Blackburn said. “He was good with traps and as a pulling guard. He’d pop a big guy and get him out of the way, and Larry Ledford would hit the hole. Cregg’s movement was what made him so good. It’s hard to believe what a good lineman he was.”
Moss and Blackburn recall a tough loss at Dobyns-Bennett in the final game of their careers ending on a positive note. Moss moved to Johnson City from Kingsport in the ninth grade and Blackburn had spent time working a church camp in Kingsport. So they approached D-B’s fieldhouse after the hard-fought loss to greet familiar faces.
“Coach Green and Coach (Snake) Evans came up with two or three schemes for that game … and everybody just lined up and ran through a hole,” Moss said. “It worked well for a long time. We had ’em six to nothing until about 10 minutes to go. Of course, they won.”
Indeed, Alex Wiliams’ Indians concluded a 9-0 season that night, but he apparently wasn’t giddy afterward.
“We walked up and their coach, Williams, just glared at us,” Blackburn said. “So we stood at the door and waved at them and left. We’d really outplayed them and I guess that’s what made him mad.”
Moss’s toughness was a popular topic. He collapsed during an August practice in an era when water breaks were “taboo” and practices might last four hours.
“I went in the fieldhouse and he was stretched out on the bench with wet towels on him,” Blackburn said. “Cregg was heaving and his chest was going up and down, and he wouldn’t respond. I was scared, and remember standing there praying to myself. … He was on the practice field the next day.”
Three or four guys drinking alcohol were giving Moss and Blackburn a hard time at a football game their first year after high school.
“I wasn’t afraid or anything, but trying to be careful,” Blackburn said. “But Cregg got into it and took one of them on, and the others kind of backed off. He was brave. …
“After high school I remember watching a Buccaneers practice at the University and watching Larry Ledford take off out of the backfield. I thought, ‘Boy, this is so rough. How’d I ever play?’ And about that time I look over and there’s Cregg out there holding his own. I couldn’t believe it. I was 170 pounds. He was probably 155.”
Moss went through two camps with ETSU.
“Coach Green took Raymond James and I out to the University for spring practice when we were seniors in high school, and that was an experience,” Moss said. “They had those ole Korean veterans at that time, and big guys, but we survived – barely. I played two springs at the University, and I had no business being at either one of them. … I had a concussion the first spring when I’s still in high school, and woke up in the hospital and had lost a day or so.”
Moss got into coaching while he was at ETSU. He coached South Side Elementary School in the Parks and Rec league. Future Hilltoppers Charlie Bailey, then a fifth grader, was on his first team.
“Everybody would get them a helmet or something in a box,” Moss said. “There wasn’t one thing – nothing – that fit. It’s a wonder everybody didn’t die.
“I had an ole ’53 Willys, and I’d pack those kids full in that car, which is crazy, and we’d drive over to the Rec and jump in there in those boxes and get that junk and put it on and go play football. That’s when I first met Charlie Bailey, and I’ve cherished him ever since.”
Moss was a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach under Snake Evans and Tommy Hundley (1970-79). He fondly remembers coaching players like Doug Farst, Ronnie Garland, Mike Evans, Brian Truett and Jeff Watts.
“Cregg was a conscientious guy who studied a lot and did a lot of film work and he related to the kids good,” says then-offensive coordinator Keith Lyle. “Little Bob Evans left after I’d been there three seasons and Cregg had coached in Clewiston, Fla., with Tom Roberts. Snake hired him because Snake said ‘Cregg would come by there every summer and talk to him about football.’”
Moss enjoyed working with the late, great Roberts (1966-70), the 235-pound tackle he’d played beside in high school.
“Tom Roberts was a big part of my life,” Moss said.
The emotion is palpable when Roberts’ name surfaces, as well as when Moss discusses Coach Green’s summation of the determined Moss’s career.
“I have a hard time talking about this stuff,” Moss said after a pause. “Coach Green wrote in my annual, and he said, ‘If I had a field full like you …’ That meant a lot to me.
“I would’ve liked to have been 6-8 and 250, but I was pretty much of a runt. But I loved every bit of my time playing for the Hilltoppers.”
Blackburn said it was an honor playing alongside Moss.
“When you were out there sweating and dirty and tired,” Blackburn said, “you liked looking over and seeing Cregg.”