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Sept. 8, 2003
Jerry Kutz, courtesy of the Osceola
Bobby Bowden was conducting interviews with the media after practice, talking about the need for improvement. The entrance to the practice complex, which is marked by a 12-foot, golden sign with the word “persistence” painted on it, towered above him. Over the years, Florida State players entering or leaving the field have walked beneath that sign, which was placed there because Bowden believes persistence is an important prerequisite for improvement.
If the players want a living, breathing example of the power of persistence, they need look no further than No. 55, junior defensive end Eric Moore, who has made numerous personal sacrifices to improve as a football player and as a person.
When Florida State signed the Parade All-America linebacker back in 2000, most believed he was a “can’t miss” kid. He was huge. He was fast. He was strong. But there were those who had their doubts, claiming Moore would not make it academically.
As the months added up without a passing score, FSU fans began to worry that he would never wear the Garnet and Gold. Moore did not make the required score in time to enter with his class but, eventually, passed the exam and enrolled with the 2001 signees. Now, for the rest of the story.
While Moore was out of football, trying to improve his test score, he found a full-time job with a Pepsi bottling plant in West Palm Beach.
Rather than getting up for two-a-day practices, or classes, that fall he would join the real world work force.
Each morning at 3:30 am, the alarm would ring and Eric would rise to pack his lunch and his things. At 4 am he would catch “The Palm Train”, a shuttle bus that would take him from Pahokee to West Palm Beach in order to clock in by 7 am. (He would later catch rides with co-workers). After a full day of repairing vending equipment, he’d make the trek back to Pahokee, arriving about 8 at night.
But his day did not end there.
Before he’d eat, or shower, or sleep, there was a 30-minute entrance exam study session with a high school teacher, which he paid for with the money he earned. And, four nights a week he’d run or lift weights to stay in shape.
“Pahokee is a small town and we didn’t have that many job opportunities so I had to go to the city to get a good-paying job,” Moore explained. “I had to get out. If I didn’t get out, I don’t think I ever would have made it to FSU. I just wanted to get away from the atmosphere and get around different people. The more you get around different kinds of people, the more you learn about how the world is.”
Moore said it was a struggle but his mother Velma Kelly kept him on task. “She said to me that God did it for a reason, so just keep your head up and you will make it through the situation,” Moore said. “Growing up you have different problems, but if you stay strong you will come through. I made it through and it made me stronger. Working made me appreciate this scholarship.”
Moore said he had a lot of support from his mother. “She kept pushing me and kept telling me it was going to be OK,” Moore said. “I had gotten to the point where I was saying, ‘Man, they aren’t going to let me go to school.’ I had to take my ACT in a classroom by myself and no one could be around but the instructor. They had said that I cheated so they told me I couldn’t be around anyone else when I took my test. I had to be in the room by myself.”
As if it were not bad enough to be called a cheater, the testing service made him take the test in Belle Glade, a rival high school. ?Willingness to sacrifice
While Bowden sat under that persistence sign, he explained what Moore’s path to Tallahassee means to the athlete and to his teammates who learn from him.
“Those are sacrifices he had to make to get here. If he was not persistent he would not be here,” Bowden said. “Most kids have it too easy today. Most don’t realize how lucky they are. Football is a physical, sacrificing game and you must be willing to make sacrifice or you can’t become a good football player. He’s come the hard way, proven he will sacrifice, and that will help him as a football player.”
After recording more than 100 tackles and making all-American teams as a high school junior, Moore was coveted by most colleges. He absolutely dominated the Florida-Georgia All Star game and no force short of the NCAA could block him from his dream of playing college football.
After he sat out one season, FSU asked Moore to move from inside linebacker, his high school position, to defensive end, a position they felt he was more suited to. While the intricacies of the new position did not come quickly, Moore persevered to earn playing time in the final 10 games of his rookie season. The true freshman finished with 15 tackles, including two for loss, and had two quarterback hurries.
Coaches thought Moore was about to become the next great FSU defensive end as the 2002 showdown with Miami approached. Moore had considered signing with the Hurricanes so he was naturally excited about playing in the Orange Bowl as he boarded the plane for the game.
Suddenly, while in a pre-game meeting the night before the game, Moore felt a pain that “felt like it was coming from everywhere.”
“At first I thought it was gas,” he said. “And then it felt like food poisoning.”
It was neither.
“The doctors said I needed to go to the hospital to get it checked out,” he recalled. “They took x-rays and said, ‘We’ve got to take it out now before it ruptures.'”
Moore underwent an appendectomy surgery, while his teammates were a play he may have made away from beating the Hurricanes.
Moore also missed the Notre Dame and Wake Forest games and was not at full strength until the final two games of the season, North Carolina State and Florida, when he recorded a season-best five tackles in back-to-back games. ?Work ethic
Moore had worked at a Dollar General store but never had he had full-time responsibility like he would have at Pepsi, so when he told his mother that he was going to go to work rather than to junior college, she gave him several good pieces of advice.
“If you are going to do something, do it all out,” she told him. “Don’t half-step it. If you are going to make the decision to work, you need to go to work. You be on time and ready to work. You’ve got to be dependable. If you are not dependable, no one will trust?you to do things right. And if you can’t do things right, you are of no help to anybody.”
Moore said the Pepsi job taught him to be dependable and work hard.
“They depended on me to work and do what I had to do and be there late when they needed me,” said Moore, who recorded an important first quarter sack against Maryland. “Just do what regular working people do.”
Her advice served him well at Pepsi and now at FSU.
“I try to be on time and not be late for anything,” said Moore, who wants to pursue a career in computer graphics. “It is like Coach Andrews says: If you are five minutes ahead of time you are on time. If you are one minute ahead of time, you are late.
“I had to work hard to get here. I have to work hard and stay focused to stay here and make sure I get my degree, so I can succeed in life. Every day may not be my best day but I am going to come out here and try to get better at something every day.”
Defensive end coach Jody Allen says the work ethic is deeply ingrained.
“He is the hardest working, most conscientious guy and he does it quietly,” Allen said. “You talk to Academic Advisor Mark Meleney about him, the tutors, and he is always where he needs to be and most of the time he is there early. He is asking for help when he needs it. He is really conscientious about taking care of his business and I think that is what has helped him develop.”
Moore understands that with Georgia Tech, Colorado and Miami coming to Tallahassee in the coming weeks that he and his teammates must work hard together to improve.
“Everybody has to be on the same page and work together in order for us to get better,” he said. “We have to work hard as a group, not as individuals. We have depth and we know we can depend on the person behind us. The stronger we get as a team, the better we will become.”
Leading his way, quietly setting an example, count Eric Moore among this team’s valuable leaders.