Junior-college jocks often are academic misfits.
Elite defensive ends usually weigh north of 250.
Former All-Americans typically cling to their glory days.
Corey Moore defied those norms. Still does.
But the most decorated player from Virginia Tech's most successful football season hasn't completely discarded his maroon-and-orange past. His e-mail prefix ends with 56, the Hokies jersey number he wore from 1997-99.
" Jevon Kearse was the freak of the NFL," Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "Corey Moore was the freak of college football at that time. He was undersized, but nobody could block him. … He could out-physical you at the point of attack, and he could run by you at the point of attack. …
"I've been here 23 years and he's arguably the best player in college football in my time. It would be hard to name another player who had more impact on the game than what Corey Moore had that season."
It was 1999, Moore's senior year. The Hokies authored their first perfect regular season since 1918 and finished No. 2 in the polls after losing the national-title game to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
Graced with speed — he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.38 seconds — uncommon to his position, the 6-foot, 212-pound Moore was a unanimous first-team All-American and received the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player. He also was the team's principal leader, never bashful about speaking his mind in the locker room or to the media.
But a decade later, Moore wants little to do with football or the spotlight. He's pursuing a doctorate in higher education administration at Michigan State, where he works as an adviser and recruiter of minority and first-generation college students.
"Actually, I try not to think about (football) much, and I don't, because the years have passed me by, and my time there is gone," Moore said. "Surprisingly, I still run across some Virginia Tech fans, and even some of my students who Google me, and they want to talk about it. …
"That's 10 years ago. I'm at a different point in my life. I'm trying to be a good father, finish my education and help my students. … I'm spiritually grounded and I'm letting God guide my steps. None of that other stuff matters to me. … I was blessed to have a great opportunity at Virginia Tech."
Moore never expected the opportunity.
As a fullback, tight end and linebacker at Haywood High School in Brownsville, Tenn., he committed to play for the University of Mississippi. But in November 1994, less than two months before Moore was to sign a letter-of-intent, the NCAA found the Rebels guilty of major rules infractions, banned them from postseason for two years and slashed their scholarship allotment.
Moore considered bailing on football — "it really wasn't that important to me," he said — and accepting an academic scholarship from Morehouse College in Atlanta. But he gave the game one last chance and enrolled at Holmes Junior College in Mississippi.
After a season at linebacker, Moore heard from a familiar voice. As the defensive coordinator at Murray State in Kentucky, Charley Wiles had recruited Haywood High, and when Wiles moved to Virginia Tech as defensive-line coach after the 1995 season, he remembered the player whom many considered too short and too light.
The Hokies offered Moore a scholarship based solely on Wiles' recommendation.
But "I didn't think I was going to play there," Moore said. "I didn't think I could play there. That was totally off par for me because I'm a very, very confident person. I was just trying to be realistic."
Play he did.
After redshirting in 1996, Moore became a dependable reserve as a sophomore and an irreplaceable starter the following two years. His 35 career sacks rank third in school history behind Bruce Smith's 46 and Cornell Brown's 36 — Smith and Brown played four seasons to Moore's three.
"He just got better and better," Wiles said. "He always had that me-against-the-world mentality, being a smaller, undersized defensive lineman. He's very, very smart, very good football IQ, very coachable, but he kind of willed himself into the player that he got to be."
Moore set a Big East record with 17 sacks in 1999, and coaches named him the conference's best defender for the second consecutive season. He won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman — offensive or defensive.
Larry Coker, the coach of Texas-San Antonio's start-up program, was Miami's offensive coordinator from 1995-2000. He went 0-3 against Moore.
"You didn't handle him," said Coker, who as head coach led Miami to the 2001 national title. "You had to have help with that guy because he was one of these guys you just can't block. You knew it on Sunday when you watched the tape before you played them the next Saturday. … He would just disrupt your whole offense."
Moore's signature performance came in the third game of 1999, a nationally televised 31-11 victory over Clemson. He dominated the Thursday-night contest with two sacks, four tackles for losses, five hurries and his lone collegiate touchdown — a 32-yard, fourth-quarter fumble return that erased any Tigers' hopes.
"We had heard it all week," Moore said. "We were overrated, we weren't tested. Going into that game we felt it was an opportunity to showcase to the nation that hey, 'We're gonna be right up there the entire year.'
"I put a lot of pressure on myself. I was really, really afraid of letting a lot of people down because I felt like my junior year I did OK, but for whatever reason people thought I did great. I had questions about myself, about whether I could top that or even produce at the same level. I know for me Clemson was a big, big confidence booster."
Led by Moore, fellow end John Engelberger, linebacker Ben Taylor, safety Cory Bird and cornerback Ike Charlton, the Hokies ranked first nationally in scoring defense, third in total defense, third in rushing defense and seventh in passing defense.
Ironically, those teammates enjoyed longer NFL careers than did Moore. A third-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills in 2000, he played nine games as a rookie and one the following season with the Miami Dolphins.
That was all.
"There was little difference between him and Dwight Freeney in my opinion," Foster said, referring to the Syracuse end who became a Pro Bowler for the Indianapolis Colts. "Corey probably got drafted in the wrong situation.
"(Buffalo) wanted to make him a linebacker and took him away from what he did best, which was put his hand on the ground and get off on the ball. We'd have made him a linebacker if he'd had those skills.
"I know this. He felt like he let a lot of people down because he didn't make the NFL. But I told him, 'Not everybody's going to be an NFL player, but they can't take away from you what you meant to this program and what a great college football player you were. You weren't just great. You were the best.' "
Foster has long used a lunchpail to symbolize his defense's working-man attitude. The only Hokie he allowed to leave the program with the lunchpail was Darryl Tapp, an end from 2002-05.
"But I should have given one to Corey," Foster said.
In drills, "Corey would make the rest of the defensive line look slow," said Carl Bradley, a Northern Virginia teacher who started alongside Moore at tackle. "He was just so explosive off the ball. When you looked into Corey's eyes, you saw what we worked for every day."
Moore deflects the praise and insists he's content. He earned a master's in student-affairs administration from Michigan State, worked briefly at Ohio State before starting his doctoral studies and is immersed in raising his 14-year-old son, Gabriel.
He disputes chatter that he's estranged from Virginia Tech and cites his visit to a spring-practice session in April as evidence. John Ballein, the Hokies' football operations director, is lobbying Moore to return for this season's homecoming game against Boston College, when Tech plans to reunite the '99 team and honor Moore's No. 56.
Moore sounds amenable.
"I didn't think I deserved any accolades," he said. "I just played with a good group of guys that loved to play football and loved to be around each other. … That was a special group of guys, and I would like to reconnect."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times