SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — The silver medal keeps him going, all the way to Rio de Janeiro and his 39th birthday during the Olympics this summer.

It took Merrill Moses a long time to come to grips with 2008. Then London happened, and eighth place for the U.S. water polo team brought everything into focus.

"When you go to the Olympic Games and represent Team USA, you're going there to bring home a gold medal," he said. "I tell people in my speech when I talk to kids during camps, for like six months after we won the silver medal, I didn't think I won a silver, I thought I lost a gold.

"I didn't really realize what I accomplished and it really didn't set in fully until 2012, when you realize how fast that all can be taken away and you're not even competing for a medal."

So Moses is back again for his third Olympics, the same cocky kid who rose to prominence playing for Terry Schroeder at Pepperdine some 20 years ago but changed immeasurably by time.

While 6-foot-8 goaltender McQuin Baron waits in the wings, it looks as if Moses will start for the U.S. in Rio. Juggling his responsibilities with the national team and his family at home — Moses and his wife, Laura, have two daughters — he remains as confident as ever.

"I always have had the mentality that if I train harder than everyone and put more into it, I am going to be more prepared, and I think that's where the confidence comes in," Moses said. "As long as I prepare myself properly, I know that I'm going to give it my all, and I've been blessed with this talent and these long arms to be able to play at this level."

Back when Moses was deciding where to go to college, his ability to play the sport at an elite level was in doubt. Schroeder, who also coached Moses with the U.S. water polo team and then hired him as one of his assistants with the Waves, described him as lightly recruited.

On Moses' official visit to Malibu, he told the starter he was coming for his job.

"He didn't make a friend there, but he certainly made a point," Schroeder said.

Moses is still making that point at the end of his 30s, holding his own while facing a barrage of heavy shots from the young wave of 20-somethings that dominate the U.S. roster. And there is more to come in Brazil.

Serbia is the big favorite this summer, with Hungary, Italy, Croatia and Greece also among the expected medal contenders. The U.S. is drawn into Group B with Spain, France, Montenegro, Italy and Croatia.

Schroeder, a former national team captain who coached the previous two U.S. Olympic teams, thinks a podium finish is within reach for the Americans with Moses in goal.

"He has this incredible will that makes him good," Schroeder said in a phone interview. "I mean he's skillful, he's got strong legs, can work as hard as anybody out there in the pool to get himself in shape and be ready when the Olympics come around, and you couple that with the confidence he has, and I think that the team has a chance to win a medal. I think without him, they don't."

Schroeder brought Moses back to Pepperdine in 2012, and they remain as tight as ever. Moses said he thinks of Schroeder like a second father, and the coach said he loves the goaltender and can trust him with anything.

Moses would like to be a head coach one day, but he has no plans to leave his alma mater and wants Schroeder to stay as long as he wishes.

"He's got a lot of knowledge, not only about water polo — about life," Moses said. "He's definitely taught me a lot of things. I love working with him."

Coaching at Pepperdine also gave Moses another place to train while he prepared for the Olympics. Moses, who helped the Waves win the national championship in 1997, practiced with his players occasionally, leading to some friendly trash talk.

"Whenever we see someone scoring on Merrill, everyone, they're really hyped," Pepperdine goaltender Zack Rhodes said. "It's really fun because of the energy he brings. When he blocks you, you know Merrill's yelling at you, like it's all in good fun and then when you score on Merrill, you have to let him know that you scored on him."

Moses' training for the national team also served as an example for the Waves.

"It's inspiring, you can tell he still really wants this," Rhodes said. "It's still something he really cares about."

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap