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Minnesota running back Ryan Moats has hand in Madden video game design, his second passion

The video game makers at EA Sports, naturally, hear from plenty of people with ideas and an eagerness to help develop their products.

The offer from Ryan Moats, though, was too good to refuse.

Moats has started his sixth year in the NFL, now with Minnesota after previously playing for Philadelphia and Houston. The backup running back is just trying to pick up the playbook and make enough of an impression to stick on the regular season roster. He knows there's nothing guaranteed in this game.

Well, Moats already has a promising start on his life-after-football plan. As a summer intern of sorts with EA Sports, working on the popular Madden football game, Moats has gained valuable experience in the world of video game graphic design.

"It's a second passion of mine, after football," Moats said. "Hopefully one day once I get old and gray in football, I'll have an opportunity to do something in the field."

EA Sports was impressed.

"He's legit. He's not goofing around on his own time," said Chris Erb, the senior director of partnership marketing at the Orlando, Fla.-based company. "He's on a job interview."

EA Sports hadn't used an actual pro athlete before in this capacity, but the possibility was intriguing.

"I begged my way in. I said, 'I'll buy doughnuts. I'll do whatever I have to do,'" Moats said, recalling his rookie-season attempt to land an opportunity there.

For the newest version, Madden 11, that came out this week, Moats put together from scratch the entrance scene for his now-former team the Texans when the players run out of the tunnel and take the field before kickoff. Moats said the plan is to create the one for the Vikings for next year's game.

Moats also helped work on the look of the players' shoes through a modeling process that uses a bunch of actual photographs and a high-tech three-dimensional software program to build the rendering into the fabric of the game.

The Madden series makers pride themselves on authenticity, and the real-life input Moats has from playing the sport has been just as valuable as his creative talent. His time on site, in addition to the telecommuting he did after leaving Orlando, has been mutually beneficial.

"The passion that he has for modeling in general and the industry is really incredible," Erb said. "He's an awesome person. We love just kind of hanging out with him. It's not awkward or anything. He's down with the guys. He goes to barbecues with us."

Moats, a liberal arts major at Louisiana Tech who skipped his senior season and was drafted in the third round by the Eagles in 2005, enjoys the designing more than the actual playing of the video games.

"Just a million things that you can do," he said.

It's not as though he doesn't plop down in front of the console and dive in, however.

"I don't have a lot of spare time right now. I'm always in my playbook," Moats said. "But during the offseason and stuff, my wife has to pull me off of it."

Players often get fired up about their depiction in video games, with updated versions emerging annually. In case any teammates try to lobby Moats for a stronger rating, well, that's beyond his pay grade.

"They have a czar for that, a ratings czar," he said. "He researches. They're really in depth. They try to get as close to reality as possible."

Punter Chris Kluwe was unaware of Moats and his moonlight venture, but as an avid video-game player he perked up when he was told.

"I know it's not as much fun as playing the games, but it's a really cool process," said Kluwe, who has friends in the industry.

Kluwe said he had one fan approach him and tell him he planned to use him as not only his punter, but his kicker and his quarterback when he takes the Vikings in the Madden game.

"I'm like, 'All right. More power to you. Let me know how I do,'" Kluwe said. "One of my friends actually will buy the Madden games and put me in at quarterback to try to get me injured. I'm like, 'Thanks, I appreciate that.'"

Moats filled in for Steve Slaton last season and produced a career game with 126 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Fantasy football players sure knew his name after that. Video game geeks can now see his name in the credits, too.

For now, though, he's still a football player first.

"Just trying to stay on top of it and try to make sure I get better every day," Moats said. "That's the main thing, just trying not to make the same mistake over and over again."