Catching Up With Corey
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #5

When asked about his impressions of the NFL after one year of playing as a rookie for the Buffalo Bills, Corey Moore doesn't hesitate.

"It's a business, and you have to approach it that way," he said in a recent interview with the TSL Extra. "I learned a lot in my first year, and I went through some tough times and some good times, not just personally, but also with the team. It's definitely a business, and you have to approach it that way."

In just three sentences (two of which are nearly identical), he has summed up his entire first year of life in the NFL. There have been some ups and downs, but all in all, he made progress in switching from the defensive end position that he played so well at Virginia Tech to the linebacker position he now occupies for the Bills.

Even with the bumps in the road, you'll have to forgive Moore if it all seems a little too good to be true. You're talking about a guy who never even planned on being here.

"I was one of those guys that never really thought about playing in the NFL," Moore said, "and it was never really a dream of mine. Even last year, I was set to go to law school, I had applied to law school and had taken the LSAT's (Law School Admission Test)."

Never really thought about it? We're talking about a guy who led the Big East with 13.5 sacks as a redshirt junior in 1998, making All-Big East first team defense. He followed that up with a stellar senior season, racking up 17 sacks and numerous awards, including national trophies like the Lombardi Award (top defensive lineman) and the Nagurski Award (top defensive player).

"I think the summer before my senior year, that's when I really thought that the opportunity would be there for me, but I never banked on it," Moore admits when pressed. "My goal was to go out and have a great senior year and help the team get where it wanted to be. So I never really thought about it, but it occurred to me during that summer that it might be a possibility."

With his senior year performance, he made the most of his "possibility," and the next thing he knew, the young man from Brownsville, Tennessee was being drafted in the third round (89th overall) by the Bills and was being touted by many as the "steal of the draft."

He was also facing the same tough transition that former Tech defensive end and current Baltimore Ravens linebacker Cornell Brown faced just three years before: making the change from down lineman in college to linebacker in the NFL. Much like Brown, Moore seems to have made the transition.

"It was kind of an adjustment where I was used to playing down, and rushing up the field all the time. So I had to get in a mode of standing up, expanding my vision, being able to see the whole field, then being able to understand the pass defense aspects of it, like dropping into different zones.

"It was rough at first, because I had so much thrown at me at the beginning of training camp, but I think as we got into the preseason ball games, and I actually played a significant amount of time, it became more comfortable to me. Going into the season, the coaches gained a lot of confidence in me. I ended up starting the third game of the season, because the guy in front of me got injured, and that's when I went down with my injury."

Ah, the injury. Shortly into his first start, Moore suffered a dreaded "high ankle sprain," and it was a vicious one, keeping him out for seven games, just when he was starting to get rolling. That's when the "business" aspect of pro football made him a little uncomfortable.

"You never know when your head could be on the chopping block or whatever," he says succinctly. "Going through the injury, and not being able to play, not really feeling like you're contributing to the team, that can really get you down. Especially being a rookie, being away from home, and being single. Plus, I had never been injured where I had to miss a lot of time, so that was tough. That was real tough for me."

But Moore weathered the injury, and after he returned, he started three more games before the season ended. He started four games for the year and had 12 tackles on the season, plus a sack and a fumble recovery.

"I still think I have a lot of work to do," he adds, "and a lot to learn. Being able to start and get some significant playing time coming back off the injury helped a lot, but I've still got a lot to learn. I think I can play better."

So far, so good. He is learning the position, and he enjoys his teammates (the Bills roster includes former Hokies Keion Carpenter and Billy Conaty). "Obviously, you hear things about other places where the veteran guys aren't so cool with the rookies, but that was never the case in Buffalo. We had a good group of veteran guys. I met a lot of people, enjoyed being around my teammates, and had fun doing what I was doing."

The Hokie Connection

It's obvious that a large part of Corey Moore's heart still resides in Blacksburg, Virginia. He arrived at Virginia Tech in the fall of 1996 as a smallish defensive end (6-0, 215), and it was there that the coaches, including strength and conditioning coach Mike Gentry, molded him into the force he would become.

At Haywood High School in Brownsville, Moore played fullback, tight end, and linebacker. He was a finalist for the "Mr. Football" title in Tennessee as a senior. He signed a letter of intent to attend Mississippi and was looking forward to playing in the SEC. But the Rebels went through a coaching change, and Moore backed out of his letter of intent and attended Holmes Junior College in Mississippi instead.

After one year at Holmes (where he carried a 3.9 GPA), Moore was offered a scholarship to Virginia Tech. Tech defensive line Coach Charlie Wiles, who had known Moore since Moore was in high school, convinced Tech head coach Frank Beamer to give Moore a shot. Moore made the most of that opportunity.

"Coach Wiles and I, along with Coach Gentry, as well as some other guys in the program helped develop me into a player, and we made believers out of not only Coach Beamer and Coach Foster, but everybody," Moore recalls of his time at Tech.

It was at Virginia Tech where the small defensive end with no pro aspirations was developed into an NFL player. "Our style of play at Tech, the way the coaches attack practice, the way Coach Gentry prepared you mentally and physically in the weight room no professional football team gets after it like we did at Virginia Tech," he marvels. "You're pushed to the limit at Tech. The coaches do a good job of getting the most out of the players who are there."

And if you want Corey Moore to open up, just ask him about the Hokies. Moore still calls Blacksburg "home" and refers to the Virginia Tech football team as "we." He would much rather talk about the Hokies than himself.

A simple question about whether or not he followed the Hokies during the 2000 season leads to the following speech:

"I followed them all the way through. Ronyell Whitaker and Larry Austin are two of my best friends at Tech. I have a great relationship with the coaches, too, so I kept up with them.

"I've got to admit, I thought they did better than I expected, especially with them being so young on defense. But that goes back to what I said about the coaches getting the most out of the players. It also says a lot for the type of people who are in the program.

"You look at guys like Chad Beasley and David Pugh, those guys have played with myself, and the Engelbergers, and the Carl Bradleys and Ike Charltons and Jamel Smiths, and some of those guys that knew how to win. So those guys being able to play with us and seeing and understanding how we worked our butts off to be where we wanted to be. They pass that on to some of those young guys.

"Lamar Cobb and Cols Colas, I thought as the year went on, those guys got better. I think you add Derrius Monroe to the mix this year and then (Nathaniel) Adibi, it's going to be scary. You've got Larry Austin back at corner, and Ronyell who I thought had an outstanding year last year, and then Ben Taylor speaks for himself. He just makes plays, and then you get a healthy (Jake) Houseright back. Those guys are scary. All of those guys are athletic, and they can play.

"The guys were flying around, making plays, and having fun doing it. That's important. And offensively, you've got Lee Suggs back, and everybody's talking about the losses on the offensive line, but that's happened before. Guys are just going to have to step up, and I think they will.

"And then you look at a senior like Andre Davis, who's been here, and Emmett Johnson, a senior who has played a lot. Those guys know there's no Vick to carry the team this year, so somebody's going to have to step up. It will be interesting to see what happens at the quarterback position, but we've had to overcome that.

"One player on defense that I was thoroughly impressed with last year was Jim Davis. He reminded me of watching Cornell Brown play, and he's got that Courtney Brown (former defensive lineman at Penn State) build to him. You've got to throw him into the mix, too. I was down at the Gator Bowl and watched this kid play, and he took over when he was in the game, in my opinion."

Whew! Anybody else on the Virginia Tech roster that you want to mention, Corey?

"The coaches have said some good things about Richard Johnson, and the players have said some good things about him, so I'm anxious to see him play, too," Moore adds.

Looking Down the Road

Moore's plans for applying what he learned in his first year in the NFL and continuing to improve are simple. "Basically, just to keep myself in shape year-round, and don't worry about injuries. Take better care of my body and be prepared mentally and physically for what amounts to a 20-game season, if you include the preseason."

Moore says that being able to play and continue his career is a blessing, and after his time in the NFL is over, he still plans on going back to law school and practicing law (his undergraduate degree from Tech is in Finance.) If he can play six years in the NFL, he says, he will be ready to move on.

He is making enough money to easily pay for law school when the time comes. According to Moore, his original contract, which still has two years left on it, was a three-year contract at $1.7 million. He says that it varies every year, due to the NFL's minimum salary going up, "So after three years, it could be worth $2.59 million, I think."

In any event, it's more than enough. "I'm not a big spender, and I save and invest a lot of money, being a Finance guy."

He has family spread throughout Tennessee. His mother still lives in Brownsville, and he has family in Nashville and Memphis, as well. Recently, he bought his mother a new house.

Of his young NFL career, Moore says, "It makes me proud because I'm a family-oriented guy. I saw my mom work to raise four kids by herself. I was always motivated by that. I was motivated by not having a father figure in the house. And having a mom who instilled discipline and made sure that I was on the right track. Those are the things that motivated me."

His days at Holmes Junior College seem like a long time ago now, but life in the NFL has not caused Corey Moore to lose his perspective.

"Looking back, and seeing where I have come from, and knowing that I made my mom proud, and made my family proud, it makes me feel good. Having people come into my life like Coach Beamer, and especially Coach Wiles, whom I've known since tenth grade, sometimes it brings tears to my eyes to see where I've come from. I always thought that I would be a positive person and do good things in the community."

He pauses.

"I never really thought about playing professional football. With me, I've always said it's not about the amount of money that I make, but it's about making a difference in people's lives. And to be in a position to do that makes me feel good."

 

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