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Exclusive Book Excerpt

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff


By Mike Harris
Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch
August 2, 2006

Virginia Tech Memorable Stories Of Hokie Football

Chapter 13

Corey Moore was not interviewed for this chapter. He could not be located, despite considerable effort by plenty of people. As much of an enigma as he was a talent, Moore has not been back to Virginia Tech since his playing days ended. The school has tried to have a ceremony to retire his jersey. He has yet to show.

Where is he now?

"I want to say Memphis, but that may not be right," Tech coach Frank Beamer says.

Charley Wiles, the Tech assistant coach in charge of defensive linemen, says Moore called him about two years ago and talked about getting into coaching. Wiles said he'd help, but Moore never got back to him. Reaching Moore, Wiles says, always involves going through a chain of people and leaving messages, some of which are returned.

"Corey was a little bit of a different guy," Wiles says. "He wasn't your typical football player. He was one of those guys who carried a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He wasn't a guy to open up, to let you in easily. He wasn't real trusting. Where that comes from, I don't know."

Moore's route to Tech was a circuitous one, with Wiles at the center. From Brownsville, Tenn., Moore caught Wiles' attention when Wiles was an assistant at Murray State. Moore ended up signing with Mississippi. Wiles ended up going to Tech and joining Beamer's staff.

Before Moore could play for Mississippi, the Rebels got a new coach in Tommy Tuberville. Suddenly, there was no room for Moore. He ended up going to Holmes Community College in Goodman, Miss. A qualifier out of high school, he re-opened his recruiting. That's where Wiles got involved again.

"I knew we needed another end," Wiles recalls. "He played tight end and defensive end in high school. We had a relationship, and we were able to get him."

The Setting

While the need was there for Tech, at 6-0 and barely 200 pounds, Moore wasn't ready to contribute right away. He took a redshirt season, then played as a backup for a year. The following spring, Moore got noticed.

"Corey committed himself," Wiles recalls. "He wanted to be the next great defensive end here. He got bigger; he got really powerful. Two years after he gets here, he's up around 230 pounds. Weight affects different people in different ways. He was able to get bigger and stay as quick as he was, now with more power.

"He came out that spring and we couldn't block him."

Few could. Moore's junior and senior seasons were spectacular. Tech was good in 1998, finishing 8-3 in the regular season before beating Alabama in the inaugural Music City Bowl. Moore was the Big East Conference's defensive player of the year.

"I remember sitting with Corey and Alabama's punter at a luncheon before that bowl," recalls Bill Roth, Tech's longtime play-by-play broadcaster. "Corey said, ‘We're probably going to block one of your punts.' The kid said he'd never had a punt blocked. Corey said, ‘We'll get one.' We got two, one of them by Corey that led to a touchdown.

"He was a kid who always rose to the occasion. I don't know that we've ever had a player, other than Michael Vick, who always seemed to play his best when he had to."

Both Tech and Moore had something to prove in a game against Clemson during Moore's senior season. Tech had a strong 1998 campaign, one that ended with the victory over Alabama on a cold, wet night in the Music City Bowl. Moore's defensive player of the year honor in the Big East garnered him a lot of attention going into the 1999 season as a player to watch nationally. Vick, a redshirt freshman, was scheduled to make his debut in 1999 at quarterback. This was a team that could be special, with a genuine star on offense in Vick, to complement the defensive star, Moore.

But Tech eased into the start of the 1999 season against inferior competition. Two games in, no one really knew any more about the Hokies than they did before the season started. That's why the Clemson game was big. The Tigers were coming off a very disappointing 3-8 season in 1998, and 1999 didn't start too well when they lost their opener at home to Marshall. The next week, Clemson delivered a whipping to a team Tech knew well. The Tigers routed No. 19 Virginia 33-14. Clemson wasn't a national championship contender. It would, however, be a real test.

Game Results

Thursday night games at Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium provide some of the best collegiate football atmosphere anywhere. Television commentators and newspaper columnists say it all the time. A Thursday night early in the 1999 season was a prime example. Tech fans thought something special was developing. The team had rolled to victories over James Madison and Alabama-Birmingham, hardly the type of teams you could gauge a program against.

Now Clemson was in town, a well-respected team from the ACC. This would be a better indicator. The final score, 31-11, was a bit misleading, as Clemson did indeed prove to be a test. With 11:31 to play, the Hokies' lead was just 14-11. Two defensive touchdowns in the final 3:09 created the wide gap in points. Moore literally had his hands in both. He pressured Clemson quarterback Brandon Streeter hard, leading to an interception that Ike Charlton returned for a 34-yard touchdown.

Then Moore took the final steps in the game that would help make him a national name. He bore down on Streeter and then made contact. The ball came loose. Moore's quickness enabled him to get off Streeter and onto the ball. He picked it up and headed for the end zone, trying to complete what radio color commentator Mike Burnop called "the hat trick" -- a sack, a forced fumble, and a touchdown.

In the game, Moore also had two other tackles behind the line. Beamer called him "the disruptor," because he had the ability to take a team completely out of its offense. Wiles talked about Moore "making plays everywhere, from sideline to sideline."

"We just couldn't block him," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said afterward. "He's every bit what he's billed up to be."

Says Beamer: "He just kind of took over that game, particularly in the fourth quarter. It was an unbelievable performance before a national audience, and I know it went a long way toward all the awards and trophies he won. I've never seen a 6-0 guy who was able to take over a game the way he was. He was just so fast coming off that edge."

On the ESPN television broadcast, Lee Corso said, "Give him the Outland Trophy right now." Fellow commentator Kirk Herbstreit said afterward, "That guy is as good as it gets. Right before he made that play (the fumble return for a touchdown), I said, ‘You know, we haven't called Corey Moore's name lately,' and all of a sudden he comes up with two huge plays."

On the radio broadcast, Roth called it the most dominating defensive performance at Tech. His partner Burnop agreed. "The greatest game I've ever seen by a defensive player," he said.

Given the wide viewing audience on a Thursday night, the game helped stamp Tech as a serious contender for the national championship. Meanwhile, Moore made all the highlight reels.

Tech went on to an 11-0 regular-season record before losing to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. Moore collected just about every honor available, becoming the second Tech player to be a unanimous All-American.

Moore, who could be both charming and surly in interviews, caused a stir at the Sugar Bowl with an explosion during a media session, an act some say was contrived to take some of the attention off Vick and some of Tech's other young players.

"He got weird down there, got a little goofy toward the end," Wiles says, "and I don't know exactly why. He was off the hook a little at the bowl game."

Life After Tech

Following his team's defeat at the hands of Tech, Bowden said, "Good players like (Moore) will themselves to make plays in the fourth quarter." Moore, Bowden said, was "a No. 1 draft pick coming after you."

But it didn't quite work out that way. The Buffalo Bills took Moore with the 89th pick in the NFL draft. A year later, he was with the Miami Dolphins, after also being released by Cincinnati. He did more damage in one game as a collegian than he did in his short pro career.

Beamer, Bowden and Wiles all agree that the problem was simple: The pro folks thought Moore was too small to play on the line, so they tried to make him a linebacker. He wasn't a linebacker. He was an end.

"I thought he'd survive up there as an edge rusher because of technique, aggressiveness and things like that," Bowden says. "He probably didn't have a feel for linebacker."

Beamer agrees: "I still believe to this day if the pros had just left him down it would have worked."

Wiles' take?

"I wish they'd given him the opportunity to play down," Wiles says. "I know he could have been just like Dwight Freeney. I saw him go against a lot of good players, one of them being (tight end) Bubba Franks from Miami. No one could block him one-on-one. He'd get off so fast, get under your pads so fast. Corey had never played up before. I think they did him a great disservice by moving him and having him play off the line."

Unsolved Mystery

Locating Moore proved to be a fruitless effort. There were rumors a couple of years ago that he was in law school at Virginia, a claim not surprising since Moore was exceptionally bright, earning a degree in finance. But the rumor was not true. The latest is that he's changed his name and is selling real estate in Memphis.

Theories abound about the reason Moore hasn't returned to Tech. Beamer is among those with a retired jersey. So is Jim Pyne, the first unanimous All-American from the school. Carroll Dale, Bruce Smith and Frank Loria are some of the others.

The school has tried to get Moore back for a ceremony. Some will tell you Moore is mad at the school, though no one seems to know why, if this is indeed true. Others say Moore is embarrassed that he didn't enjoy the same success as a pro that he did as a collegian. Wiles thinks it's a simple matter of Moore just moving on with his life.

"I don't know why he hasn't come back. He's had plenty of opportunities," Wiles says. "I don't know if he thinks he's embarrassed because he didn't go on and have a fantastic NFL career. It doesn't matter to anybody here, to anybody on this staff, that's for sure.

"He was as big in the development of this program as anybody. He came to work every day. He practiced the same way he played. He was a very good student. He gave great effort. He graduated. He did everything we asked him to do.

"Time just rolls on. He's just moved on, maybe. He feels like (his time at Tech is in) the past. I think if he looks back on his career at Virginia Tech, it would put a smile on his face. He met a lot of terrific people. He touched a lot of people. We won a couple of championships. He has a degree. Those are great memories."