Editor's note: When Houston and Detroit take the field on Thanksgiving, it will be a reunion for the Bassfield Boys: Texans’ A.J. Moore and Cornell Armstrong and Lions’ C.J. Moore, who are from a tiny Mississippi town of less than 300 people.
HOUSTON -- On Sept. 1, there was a celebration during a Jefferson Davis County High School football meeting when coach Lance Mancuso and his staff found out cornerback Cornell Armstrong had signed with the Houston Texans, one day after being released by the Miami Dolphins.
There were cheers not just because one of Mancuso’s former players had signed with another NFL team, but because he was joining one of his best friends and fellow Bassfield High School alum A.J. Moore, a safety.
“The Bassfield Boys are back together again,” Mancuso said.
The pair grew up five minutes away from each other in Bassfield, Mississippi, which has a population of around 300. The county -- Jefferson Davis County, outside of Hattiesburg -- is home to roughly 12,000 people. From this small area came Armstrong, A.J. Moore and his twin brother, C.J. Moore, who plays safety for the Detroit Lions. Armstrong became the first person from Bassfield to be drafted, when he was taken by Miami in the sixth round in 2018. (The Moore brothers were undrafted free agents.)
“It’s a blessing and it’s definitely beating the odds,” C.J. Moore said. “They say only one of this many people can go to the NFL, but we showed that it’s possible.”
Armstrong was waived by the Texans on Sept. 10 to make room for third-string quarterback Alex McGough, but he re-signed to the team’s practice squad later in the week. When Armstrong was claimed by Houston, he said it felt like an answered prayer to be going to the team that A.J. was on.
“Just knowing that I didn’t have to truly start over and just having that person that can just show me around, show me all the places to eat, and stuff like that [helped],” Armstrong said. “It helped me get into the playbook faster. I just go over to his house every day after practice and we just watch film together. It’s truly a blessing to have someone who can work with you and understand you.”
Armstrong is still staying at the team hotel, but he and A.J. spend a lot of time together at A.J.’s house. Just as he did when they were growing up.
“They have grown up so close,” Alvin Moore Sr. said. “Whenever you saw one, you saw the other ones. Cornell has been over to our house ever since he was a little boy. ... Everything I did with the twins, Cornell was right there doing it also with them. They are so close that they call each other brothers.”
Bassfield is such a small town, A.J. says, that there’s no red light -- just a four-way stop. There is one restaurant in the town, Ward’s, unless you count the chicken served at J&J’s Market. J&J’s is a gas station, one of three in the town. The trio’s graduating class was around 50 people, and two years ago, Bassfield High School had to be combined with Prentiss High School because of declining enrollment.
Because Bassfield is so small, it's not one of the main stops for college recruiters. A.J., C.J. and Armstrong had to go to camps and combines to be seen, A.J. said.
“But mostly all the places we went to, after running the 40[-yard dash], we kind of got everybody’s attention. The twins chose to play together at Ole Miss. Armstrong played at Southern Miss.
“Hard work is just what we were about at Bassfield, and that’s what got us here,” A.J. said.
Over the summer, with all three enjoying a break between OTAs and training camp, they came back to Bassfield. While they were there, they decided they wanted to host a barbecue. The older sisters of Armstrong and the Moore twins, as well as their parents, planned and hosted the event. A.J. said the goal was to celebrate and spend time with the people they had grown up with. The whole town came.
"These are just hard-working country kids that just strive every day to be the best that they can possibly be." Lance Mancuso, Jefferson Davis County High School football coach
When they can’t all get together because of the NFL schedule, the three, plus best friends Curtis Mikell and Kameron Williams, constantly stay in touch. The five -- who call themselves COD, after the Call of Duty video game they still play all the time -- not only have a group chat over text, but they have one on Instagram as well where they send each other funny videos. Mikell, who played cornerback at Southern Miss, spent time with the Rams during training camp in 2018. Williams was a wide receiver at Southwest Mississippi Community College.
And at the end of the day, after Armstrong, C.J. and A.J. are done at the facility and done watching film and Mikell and Williams are done at work, the five continue to hang out on their PS4s.
“Usually, we just talk about each other’s day. Curtis and Kameron, they ask about how practice is going,” A.J. said. “We’re asking about what’s going on with their work. Just talking about being back at home. ‘When are we going to meet up again?’ And we play the game all day, too. So when we leave practice, we’re all meeting up on the game on the headsets. So, it’s like we’re together every day, just not physically."
Armstrong and A.J. are planning to move into the same apartment complex, but right now the pair play the games together at A.J’s place.
“I brought my TV out of my room and put it right there, pretty much beside me," A.J. said. "And we’re just playing. And we’re used to doing that all the time. We used to sleep over at each other’s cribs and we used to just stay up all night.”
C.J. said he believes the success that he, A.J. and Armstrong have had “gave younger athletes from my town hope.”
“It’s just a testament to the type of young men that we have in our county,” Mancuso said. "We’re a low-income, 100 percent free lunch for all of our kids. And these are just hard-working country kids that just strive every day to be the best that they can possibly be.
“These guys are just a shining example and hope for everybody in this county. We’re so proud of them. Our players now look up to them tremendously. In this day and age, it just gives them such positive role models to look to, and it gives them hope that regardless of where you’re from, that you have that chance and that opportunity if you’re obviously talented enough and willing to do the right things in life to give yourself the best shot.”
ESPN Detroit Lions reporter Michael Rothstein contributed to this story.