Each year, Tommy Moffitt and his wife, Jill, host a Christmas party for the LSU strength and conditioning staff at their Riverbend home.
They’ve done it for years — almost since Moffitt arrived as LSU’s head strength coach in 2000. It’s a merry tradition for a dozen burly men and their families. They all converge on the Moffitt home for food, drink, socializing and, on this particular December night, a little weightlifting.
The party in 2005 or 2006 — no one could remember the exact year — featured a weightlifting exhibition by the Moffitts’ two oldest boys, Clay and Aaron. The arena was a small carport attached to the family’s large two-car garage. It housed a makeshift weight room: barbells, dumbbells, a weight rack and bench-press station.
Surrounded by the strength coaches, Clay lifted a barbell from the floor to his waist before thrusting it up to his chest, performing what’s called in the weightlifting world a hang clean.
He was 10 years old.
Everyone clapped and hollered, impressed by such a feat for a kid of such a young age. Tommy was used to it; he had watched Clay work out for several months.
What he never noticed was the younger son working out, too. Aaron watched his older brother pump weights so much that he slowly began to lift himself. He kept it in the shadows, inadvertently hidden from his parents.
Clay slammed the barbell down to that celebratory cheer, and then Aaron walked onto the mat. Before his father could stop him, he hoisted the barbell to his waist, then his chest — a perfect hang clean.
He was 7.
"Everyone goes wild," Tommy remembered.
What story could be more befitting of this weightlifting family?
“We’re really just a normal family,” a smirking Aaron said, trying to sound convincing during an interview.
Indeed, everything in the Moffitt home is normal. It’s beautiful and skillfully decorated, expansive and welcoming.
On this Thursday night, the youngest Moffitt — 12-year-old Brady — is studying for a math test at the kitchen counter, every now and then drifting into the living room. Aaron, now 17, scrolls through his phone while slumped against a plush, white couch. The cabinet across from him is a shrine to Aaron's and Clay’s prep athletic careers.
Everything around and outside the Moffitt home is not so normal. It’s too dark to see, but in the backyard is a one-man football sled, Tommy said, along with a tractor tire for flipping. In that small carport is the weight room.
Jill is the owner of a company, Superfit LLC, that distributes weight-room equipment to local high schools. She couldn’t resist being sucked into her husband’s specialty. After all, one of Tommy’s first birthday gifts to Jill back in the 1990s was a set of Gold’s Gym dumbbells.
She told her mother about the present.
“He gave you what?!” her mother replied.
'It was always a dream'
More than a decade after his weightlifting exhibition in the family carport, Aaron Moffitt plans to sign a letter of intent Wednesday, national signing day, to play football at LSU. Aaron’s commitment to the Tigers last spring brought his father to tears.
“I always thought it would be neat to coach my kids,” Tommy admitted, Aaron to his left on that white couch and wife Jill to his right. “In the back of my mind, it was always a dream.”
Tommy, 54, began preparing himself for this moment as Clay climbed the football ranks at Catholic High — before two ruptured ACLs forced him from one sport (football) and into another (baseball). Clay is a third-year sophomore pitcher at LSU-Eunice.
Aaron took a similar path, juggling baseball and football before an injury — a torn labrum in his shoulder — forced him from one sport (baseball) and into the one in which he could use his 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame to muscle his way into backfields.
His 88 combined tackles — 20 for loss — as a junior and senior at Catholic helped make Aaron one of the nation’s top 50 defensive ends in the 2017 recruiting class. His best offers outside of LSU were from TCU, South Carolina and California.
The family made one thing clear: No one is forcing Aaron to go to LSU. He has chosen this path on his own.
But it's a decision many saw coming. After all, Aaron hasn’t missed an LSU bowl game in 16 years. He spent the past decade in the same section of Tiger Stadium watching games with Ben Miles, son of former coach Les. They would rush the field together, but only after victories — a rule the Miles and Moffitt families agreed on.
He’s LSU through and through, something made more obvious after his only other official visit, to TCU in early December.
Ed Orgeron was stuck in Longhorn country.
He slipped on a Horned Frogs jersey during that trip to Fort Worth, Texas. It felt cool, Aaron admitted. The design was cool, he said. It looked cool.
“But it’s not an LSU jersey,” he smiled.
And so, the father-and-son weightlifting sessions and conditioning tests will soon begin. Aaron will enroll in June to start a new chapter of their relationship.
“It’s starting to come to me that I’m going to have to start running for him and working out for him,” Aaron said.
But he's used to that, right? You know — the tractor tire in the backyard, the weight room in the carport.
“Before,” Tommy answered, “he could quit when he wanted to.”
'I was at peace'
After Les Miles' firing in September, Tommy Moffitt accepted his potential fate: He soon could be fired, too.
“I was at peace with it,” he said. “We’ve been here 17 years and had a good run. If it’s the way it ends, I’m fine with that.”
Jill handled things differently. She pestered her husband nearly every day during the uncertain months of October and November.
“I was like, ‘We need to start thinking about putting the house up for sale,’ ” she said.
“I told her every day,” Tommy said, “ ‘We’re not putting the house up for sale.’ ”
For Aaron, the firings of Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron hit on several levels: his commitment, his father’s job and his best friend. Ben Miles, Les’ second-oldest son, played fullback for Catholic. Aaron and Ben have spent the better part of the past five years together. The two also hung out with Chris Cameron, a Catholic tight end and Cameron’s third-oldest son.
“It wasn’t weird,” Aaron said. “We couldn’t make it weird. I can’t do anything about Coach Cam and Coach Les being let go.”
Aaron admitted to feeling “concerned a lot” about his commitment to the program during that time. His recruiter constantly changed after Miles’ firing. It started with running backs coach Jabbar Juluke, shifted to wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig and then went to Austin Thomas, the program's general manager who received an exemption from the NCAA to recruit in place of 75-year-old defensive line coach Pete Jenkins.
Aaron’s latest recruiter is Steve Ensminger. His commitment was made more secure Nov. 26, the day LSU promoted Ed Orgeron from interim to full-time coach. Orgeron is "adamant," Tommy said, that Aaron will play defensive end, the position his son loves so much.
Tommy realized his job was safe that morning, learning the news through a phone call from Verge Ausberry, LSU’s deputy director of athletics.
“We’ve hired Ed,” Ausberry told him. “And he wants you to stay.”
It became official in January when Moffitt signed a new three-year contract with an $80,000 raise. His new salary ($400,000) puts him among the top five head strength coaches nationally. Three of Moffitt’s former protégés at LSU are among the top 10 nationally: Alabama’s Scott Cochran, South Carolina’s Jeff Dillman and Florida State’s Vic Viloria. They were all there that December night when 7-year-old Aaron cleaned that 20-pound barbell. (Aaron now cleans 330 pounds, by the way.)
All of them remain close friends. They’re on a group text message chain called “Patriot Power” — a reference to the John Curtis Patriots, with whom Moffitt and several of them got their start in the industry.
Moffitt led Curtis’ strength staff, coached the offensive line and headed the wrestling team in the late 1980s and early 1990s. His college roommate at Tennessee Tech was a Curtis graduate — the link between the Tennessee-born Moffitt and Louisiana.
At 270 pounds, Moffitt played tight end, defensive end and linebacker for Tech, a Division I-AA school.
“He wasn’t a fat 270,” Aaron said, having seen video and pictures of his father’s playing days. “Lean, mean fighting machine.”
Jill, a New Orleans girl, met Tommy while he worked at Curtis. Clay was born in Tennessee while Tommy was an assistant strength coach for the Volunteers, and Aaron was born in Miami while Tommy led the Hurricanes strength staff in 1998-99.
Seven years later, Aaron surprised the party with his carport clean. His youth weightlifting only picked up from there.
Aaron began competing at youth weightlifting tournaments with Clay, both training under Gayle Hatch — a Catholic High graduate and member of the USA Strength and Conditioning Hall of Fame who mentored Tommy.
He was the youngest one at the meet, so small that “Coach Hatch had to make a special bar,” Tommy laughed.
Hatch's lifters normally start at age 12. Aaron was 5 years under that.
"You knew he was going to be something special," Hatch said.
Hatch motivated the 7-year-old Aaron in his own ways. For example, he would make up a story to get Aaron going during the weeks of training leading up to a meet.
"I’d say, ‘They got a really big 7-year-old from Texas coming in, so you better be ready,' " Hatch said.
On the day of the meet, Aaron looked around, then turned to Hatch, "Where’s that guy from Texas?"
Replied Hatch: "I think you scared him off."
'It's hard work'
It feels like Aaron Moffitt hears it every day at school: You’re only big and strong, they say, because your dad is the LSU strength coach.
“It’s not (true),” Aaron said. “It’s hard work.”
Tommy never forced his sons into weightlifting. He admitted, though, that he did fill the carport and scatter around the yard weightlifting gear, hoping they would stumble upon them and “do it for fun."
Clay found them around age 8 or 9, Aaron around age 7. Brady is a late bloomer. He began lifting over the summer, Jill said, with other neighborhood kids, all of them gathered in that same carport weight room.
Some things never change — like Tommy’s house rule regarding gifts. In a world of automated everything, the Moffitt children aren’t allowed to have go karts or golf carts.
“He’d never let me get them motorized vehicles. ‘If they can’t push, pull or drag it, they’re not getting it,’ ” Jill said, reciting her husband’s message.
The two older Moffitt boys quickly learned not to tell Dad if they get bored.
“He’d tell you to go ride your bike or flip the tire in the yard,” Aaron remembered.
Aaron and Clay, separated by 3½ years, kept each other plenty busy, beating on each other like brothers do. They grew up in a separate, second-floor wing of the house — plenty of distance from the first-floor master bedroom and living areas.
At times, they brought the fun downstairs, so Jill needed to move her glass coffee table out of the way of the two 200-plus-pound boys wrestling on her carpet.
“There were times I told Tommy, ‘Can you get me a Taser?’ ” Jill said, laughing.
All of that helped Aaron get to this point — a battle-tested football player on the precipice of signing with a Southeastern Conference program.
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Aaron’s high school career at Catholic wasn’t perfect. He suffered through waves of injuries — a dislocated elbow as a freshman while playing with the varsity, a broken thumb that forced him to miss his sophomore season and then that torn labrum in his shoulder. He played through the pain of that injury during his junior season, helping Catholic to the Division I select state championship while rolling up 11 sacks.
“He flipped the switch mentally that he was finishing up that season,” former Catholic coach Dale Weiner said. “He was mentally strong enough to put the pain in the backfield. There were times he was really hurting, but he just refused to get out of the lineup.”
Tommy watched Catholic win that first state title, one of the few games he was able to attend over the years. That has been the toughest part, Tommy said: His LSU football duties kept him from watching most of Aaron’s Friday night games. He couldn’t make many practices, either.
That’s about to change.
“I do not,” Tommy said, “have to miss anymore.”