Justice Shelton-Mosley is a jack-of-all-trades football player at Harvard, but deep down he fancies himself as a running back.
Give him the ball and watch him create as he navigates open space and bears down on the end zone.
But the Capital Christian High School graduate knows his running back days are gone, and that’s fine with him. As a receiver and special-teams standout for Harvard, Shelton-Mosley has become one of the Football Championship Subdivision’s most electrifying freshmen. He has 829 all-purpose yards – 459 receiving, 190 on punt returns, 179 on kickoff returns and one rushing.
Shelton-Mosley had 270 all-purpose yards in the Crimson’s 24-16 Ivy League victory over Columbia on Saturday. He had eight catches for 131 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown, and an 86-yard punt return, the third longest in school history, for a score. Harvard (8-0) won its 22nd consecutive game.
On Monday, Shelton-Mosley received the STATS FCS National Freshman Player of the Week award and the Ivy League Offensive, Rookie and Co-Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Two weeks ago, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Shelton-Mosley lifted Harvard over Dartmouth 14-13 with a touchdown catch with 38 seconds to play.
“When you’re a running back in high school like I was, it does correlate to other positions,” Shelton-Mosley said Monday morning, taking a break from writing an essay. “It all ties together. And when you get the ball, as a receiver or on special teams, you’re a running back again. I love that. And winning, getting first downs or scoring, it never gets old.”
What also never gets old is this debate: Who’s the greatest back to come out of Sacramento?
829 All-purpose yards by Harvard freshman Justice Shelton-Mosley, a former Capital Christian High School star
Sacramento Bee sports columnist Andy Furillo touched on that topic last week when he caught up with Utah running back Devontae Booker of Grant, and “who’s the best” started a spirited debate on social media. Booker has produced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Utes, becoming the first area back to do so at a major college since Onterrio Smith, also from Grant, at Oregon in the early 2000s.
Those backs bring to mind another athlete with Del Paso Heights roots. James Owens of since-closed Norte Del Rio starred at UCLA in the late 1970s, becoming Bill Walsh’s first draft pick with the 49ers in 1979. Three years later, Gerald Willhite of Cordova, a classic late bloomer, was a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos out of San Jose State.
But Shelton-Mosley is an example of how many backs from Sacramento change positions in college and never break stride.
Vince Delgado set regional rushing records at Christian Brothers in 1983 and played at wide receiver at Cal. Donald Hair broke state rushing touchdown records at McClatchy in 1984 and set Sacramento State scoring and all-purpose yardage marks. James Kidd broke Delgado’s prep records in 1991 at Elk Grove, then moved to wide receiver at Colorado, as did his Valley rival Rae Carruth, who became a first-round pick of the Carolina Panthers.
Damen Wheeler was a 2,000-yard rusher at Valley in 1995 who excelled at cornerback for Colorado and played several years of pro ball. Elk Grove’s Lance Briggs set rushing records in the 1998 Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game, then moved to linebacker at Arizona and retired as a seven-time Pro Bowl pick with the Chicago Bears. Keith Lewis rushed for nearly 2,000 yards at Valley in 1999 before playing safety with Oregon and the 49ers.
When you’re a running back in high school like I was, it does correlate to other positions.
Harvard wide receiver and special-teams standout Justice Shelton-Mosley
Syd Thompson and younger brother Shaqwere terrific running backs at Grant before position switches. Syd started at cornerback for four years at Cal last decade and reached the NFL. Shaq excelled at linebacker at Washington and became a first-round pick of Carolina in April.
Devon Wylie was a blur of a Fly back at Granite Bay who switched to wide receiver at Fresno State and has bounced around the NFL this decade. Jordan Richards helped Folsom to the 2010 CIF State championship as a running back, then switched to safety at Stanford and now plays with the New England Patriots, who drafted him in the second round last spring.
Other former star running backs such as Kevin Willhite and James Montgomery of Cordova, Marc Hicks of Davis and Albert Hollis of Christian Brothers saw their careers end early because of injuries.
“So far, so good,” Shelton-Mosley said of his health. “I know I can only take this game so far. That’s why I’ll graduate with a degree in economics and do things with that. I’ve got a plan beyond football.”