According to the University of New Mexico Admissions website, the estimated cost for a full-time student during the current academic year is $27,471. Subtract room and board for someone who lives locally in Albuquerque, and the annual cost drops to $16,555. Multiply that annual amount by four, and a prospective student needs anywhere from $66,220 to $109,884 to complete a four-year degree.
For Cody Moon, those costs were not within his financial means as he prepared to graduate high school. The Albuquerque, New Mexico native from Volcano Vista High School hoped a Division I school would come along and offer him a full-ride scholarship to play football at the next level.
As none materialized, Moon was ready to give up playing.
The local Mountain West Conference school made him a Preferred Walk-On (PWO) offer. Moon seized the opportunity entering the 2020 season but gave himself an ultimatum.
“When I made the decision to play college football (at UNM), I told myself that I would give (it) one year to earn a scholarship because I know I couldn’t afford school for all four years,” said Moon on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Football Podcast.
Why was the Volcano Vista standout forced to start college football as a non-scholarship athlete?
Two factors come into play.
First, Moon’s football background includes playing many different positions, making it difficult for prospective schools to properly evaluate his film and know where he fits best.
Moon started out as a wide receiver, donning the number 88 in honor of Demaryius Thomas, the late, great wide receiver who starred with the Denver Broncos last decade.
Then, Moon moved to the defensive side of the ball to play in the secondary. In the middle of his junior season, he switched positions again, becoming a defensive end and playing there until graduation.
His first snaps at linebacker did not come until he put on a Lobo uniform.
The second factor in his lack of scholarship offers is weight. By the time his recruiting was taking shape in his junior and senior seasons, Moon played defensive end and was being recruited at that position. The NCSA College Recruiting guidelines provide the average size of a Division I FBS defensive lineman at 6’3 and 270 lbs. The guidelines do not differentiate between defensive tackles and ends, although one would assume the average for a defensive end would likely be in the 240-250 lbs range.
Despite having the valued height of 6’3, Moon only weighed 195 lbs coming out of high school.
UNM moved Moon to linebacker once he stepped on campus (the average weight for a Division I FBS linebacker is 223 lbs). After redshirting the 2020 season, Moon’s hard work paid off in reaching his goal: earning a scholarship in fall camp before the start of the 2021 season.
“I just made (that) the whole goal in the back of my mind, and I made it happen,” he said. “You got to work at it every day, and you got to outwork your competition every day. I feel like that’s kind of been my mentality. My whole life, I’ve never really been credited for what I earned …, and so I’ve always kind of just been the type of guy to work with my head down, and when the credit comes, it comes, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
It didn’t hurt that Moon had the opportunity to play for and learn from Rocky Long, the former SDSU head coach who was the defensive coordinator for the Lobos for all three of Moon’s years.
“Coach Long was a great idol to me,” Moon said. “He taught me so much about the game I probably would have never learned if he was never in my life coaching me at UNM.”
What were some of the things coach Long taught him?
“Coach Long always preached at practice and in film to run to the ball even if I had no shot at making the play. If coach Long saw me not running to the ball, then it was a problem … having that mentality put me in position to make a lot more plays.”
Moon rotated in at outside linebacker for all 12 games in 2021, totaling 44 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He took a giant leap in 2022 after earning the starting right outside linebacker position starting in week 3 for the remainder of the season.
Utilizing speed and finesse, Moon became the first Lobo to lead the team in tackles (105), tackles for loss (9.5), and sacks (4.5) since 2011. He finished fourth among all Mountain West players in tackles and earned Honorable Mention All-Conference.
“I feel like I am pretty strong for my weight, but (I am) going (up) against 300+lb. o-lineman and so overpowering these guys isn’t always what I’m going to be able to do, so I use my speed to get around and make plays,” Moon explained.
His Pro Football Focus grades improved from 2021 to 2022 in overall defense, run defense. and tackling. His 6.7% missed tackle rate was better than any San Diego State defender, with more than 75 snaps played in 2022. Cooper McDonald led the Aztecs at 8.9%.
In the Week 12 matchup against the Aztecs, Moon recorded 13 tackles (second highest in a game for his career) and one tackle for loss as he flew around the field looking to bring down any offensive player in his vicinity.
“Once I learned the whole scheme and not just what my assignment is every play, I felt like I was able to play a whole lot faster,” responded Moon when asked about his improvement in Long’s 3-3-5 defense.
Decision to transfer and commit to SDSU
After his stellar 2022 season, Moon announced on Twitter on December 20th that he was entering the transfer portal with two years of playing eligibility remaining.
— Cody Moon (@moon_man505) December 20, 2022
“I felt like I needed to find a program that could develop me a little bit further in order to reach the goals that I want to reach, which is playing at the next level,” Moon said about his decision. “I kind of felt like I hit my peak at UNM, and that’s what led to the transfer portal. I didn’t want to have another year equal to last year. I want to keep going up because like I said, my goal is to play at the next level. So I don’t want to stay where I was at last year. I want to keep going up.”
On the same day Moon announced his decision to transfer, SDSU offered him a scholarship. Nine days later, Moon was an Aztec. Despite talking to a few other FBS and FCS schools, Moon said he was locked into SDSU throughout the process.
— Cody Moon (@moon_man505) December 29, 2022
“I have always said that if I had to play at any other school, I would want to play at San Diego State,” Moon relayed. “(SDSU) wants to be the aggressor on the football field, and they want to just show their dominance just like I want to show my dominance on the football field, and so I have a respect for them knowing that that’s what they were taught.”
“It feels great to be going into a winning culture (and) the same defensive scheme that I came from,” he added, noting his transition should go very well.
Outlook for 2023 and beyond
Moon will be moving to San Diego next week and enrolling in classes for the start of the spring semester. This will allow him to take part in winter conditioning under the tutelage of coach Adam Hall, SDSU’s director of strength and conditioning.
“I’m focused on gaining weight,” he answered when asked his primary goal as he steps on campus. “That’s been one of my main focuses since college, really my whole life playing football. I’ve always needed to gain weight. I’m going to try to at least play next season around 215 to 220, so that means I need to get to about 225 to 230 before the season because I always lose a couple of pounds during the season.”
On the field, the Aztecs need to replace both starting outside linebackers (Caden McDonald and Michael Shawcroft) and their most experienced backup linebacker (Seyddrick Lakalaka), who started and played extensive snaps at outside linebacker over his five-year career.
Moon is expected to fill one of those two starting outside linebacker spots. In UNM’s 3-3-5 defense, Long employed outside linebackers without rotating based on how the offense was aligned.
Coach Mattix’s 3-3-5 defense utilizes SAM and WILL outside linebackers that rotate based on the strong and weak sides of the opponent’s formation. Typically, the SAM lines up on the line of scrimmage and plays a larger pass rush role, while the WILL lines up off the ball.
Moon played on both sides in his two years as a Lobo but solely manned the right outside linebacker role once he became a permanent starter.
“Early in the season this year and all last season, I was playing both left and right side, so I don’t think that’ll be a problem for me to switch over like that,” Moon affirmed.
Cooper McDonald, who split time in 2022 as a starter at SAM and backup at WILL for the Aztecs, is expected to step in as the replacement starter for his brother at SAM. That would likely place Moon with the unenviable task of replacing the versatile and tough Shawcroft at WILL.
Moon feels comfortable playing either role but believes WILL is better suited to allow him to use his speed to the defense’s advantage.
“If I do play strictly SAM, I feel like it will limit a little bit of what I feel like I’ve been able to show off in college,” he said. “(Coach Mattix) said that he’s willing to just do whatever the three linebackers are most comfortable with.”
Whatever position or role Moon ends up with at the start of the 2023 season, expect him to bring the same work ethic and tenacity that earned him a scholarship after only one season as a walk-on at the FBS level.
As he likes to say it, he goes out on every play to “dive head first into the funk and whatever happens, happens.”
Put that on a NIL shirt!