When you hear how much NFL players can make over the course of a single season, it’s easy to think of them as universally wealthy. That perception, however, ignores what life was like before reaching the pros. Take, for example, former Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno.
During his time in the NFL, Moreno spent six seasons as a running back, earning more than $20 million in the process. During his childhood, however, he frequently found himself bouncing between homes and sleeping in homeless shelters.
Knowshon Moreno’s rise to prominence
Today, most football fans probably remember Knowshon Moreno from his time with the Denver Broncos. The running back’s rise to prominence, however, started at a much lower level.
In high school, Moreno made a name for himself as both a talented football player and a natural athlete on the track and field team. After graduation, he to the University of Georgia; the running back spent one season as a redshirt freshman before properly joining the Bulldogs squad.
Moreno started the season sharing carries with Thomas Brown but took over the lead role after he suffered an injury; once in the top spot, he never looked back. By the end of the campaign, Moreno had carried the ball 248 times for 1,334 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors and secured a place on the Freshman All-American first team.
While Moreno posted impressive numbers as a freshman, he managed to improve during his sophomore campaign. The running back racked up 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground; he also caught 33 passes for 392 yards and two additional scores. After securing a place on the All-American second team, he entered into the 2009 NFL draft.
Sleeping in homeless shelters during a tough childhood
As mentioned above, Knowshon Moreno started coming into his own during his time at Middletown South in New Jersey. If not for his grandmother, however, he might not have ever set foot on the gridiron.
As Mark Cannizzaro detailed in a 2014 New York Post story, Moreno never had an ideal childhood. His parents, who were teenagers when Knowshon was born, were never married; the boy ended up with his father, bouncing between various residences and homeless shelters. “They never stayed in one place for more than a few weeks at a time,” Cannizzaro explained.
On occasion, though, Moreno would visit his grandmother, Mildred McQueen, who lived on the Jersey Shore. When Knowshon was 11-years old, she decided to take action.
McQueen won custody of her grandson and brought him to live with her in New Jersey. That move changed Moreno’s life; not only did it give him stability, but it allowed him to eventually hit the gridiron at Middletown South, setting his football career in motion.
Knowshon Moreno wasn’t an NFL star, but he still made more than $20 million
Based on his time in college, Knowshon Moreno looked like a surefire NFL star. While the Denver Broncos believed the hype, selecting him 12th overall in 2009, things didn’t pan out as they expected.
Moreno’s time in Denver proved to be a mixed bag. He started off well enough, rushing for 947 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, but tore his ACL in 2011. He then spent half of 2012 in the doghouse before regaining the starting job down the stretch; the running back followed that up with a 1,038-yard, 10-touchdown 2013 campaign as the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl.
In March 2014, Moreno signed a one-year contract with the Miami Dolphins. He only played three games for the club, though, thanks to a dislocated elbow and another torn ACL. That would be his last NFL job.
Although Moreno only spent six seasons in the NFL and never duplicated his success from college, he still earned a decent chunk of change. Based on Spotrac’s financial data, he took home just over $20 million in salary; understandably, most of that came from his initial contract with the Denver Broncos as the 12th overall pick.
While that might not be much in the grand scheme of professional sports, Moreno’s past puts everything in perspective. Compared to growing up homeless, struggling with injuries and ‘only’ making $20 million is barely a blip on the radar.