Syracuse left tackle Mark Baniewicz could look at the bright
side, a testament to man's optimistic nature considering that
not a half hour earlier his smoldering hulk of a nationally
ranked football team had been stripped and sold for parts by
Virginia Tech, 62-0. "You know, Corey Moore really wasn't a
factor tonight," Baniewicz said in the aftermath of last
Saturday's carnage. "When he gets one-on-one on guys, he's
tough. But we really can't say anything about tonight [because]
he really didn't make a lot of plays."
There someone goes again, judging Moore by the numbers, in this
case three assisted tackles, the first time in his past eight
games that Moore didn't have a sack. There is a microscope on
Moore, and not simply because, relatively speaking, you need one
to pick him out among the giants on the line. The most
disruptive defensive end in the country is just six feet
tall--there are bigger people on chorus lines, never mind
defensive lines--and a mere 225 pounds. That may be a robust
size for a sports-and-entertainment lawyer, a career Moore is
considering when his football playing days are over, but it's
tiny by major-college standards.
Nevertheless, Moore will have options after the season--NFL or
LSAT--and whether he is an early-round draft choice or takes the
law boards seems of no immediate importance, because he is happy
being two people. There is the Corey Moore who clocked a 4.38 in
the 40-yard dash, a preposterously fast time for a lineman, and
the Corey Moore who has already earned his degree in finance and
is currently at work on his second degree. He is equally proud
of his accomplishments on and off the field, because they have
forced football to think outside the box, about him and his team.
Virginia Tech, after all, is challenging conventional wisdom,
too. The 6-0 Hokies are ranked fourth in the nation, trailing
only Florida State, Penn State and Nebraska. If you were going
to play the Sesame Street game of which of these things is not
like the other, Virginia Tech jumps out, even though, like the
rest, it has been to a bowl game in each of the past six years
and is among the 10 winningest Division I-A teams since 1993.
Trouble is, Blacksburg, Va., is simply not one of those
glittering addresses of Saturday's America. This is not Lincoln
or Ann Arbor or South Bend. There is no Swamp, no Big House, no
Death Valley, nothing Between the Hedges--just Lane Stadium,
"Home of the Fighting Gobblers," a nickname that has lapsed into
October 24, 1999
The Hokies do block more kicks than anyone--62 in the 1990s--but
Kick Blocking Tech doesn't have the cachet of, say, Linebacker
U. The school's Marching Virginian band does have a signature
move, forming an outline of Virginia, with two tubas marking
Blacksburg's location in the southwest part of the state, while
playing Carry Me Back. Still, while this is entertaining and
geographically enlightening, it isn't exactly like writing a
script "Ohio" or tootling Hail to the Victors.
Virginia Tech is low profile in other ways as well. Although
mainstays on ESPN, the Hokies have never played a regular-season
Saturday game televised coast-to-coast on ABC, CBS or NBC. The
lack of frontline boola-boola, however, has made it the thinking
fan's favorite, a team for cognoscenti such as Jack Ebling of
the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal, who unwaveringly gave Tech
its first-ever first-place vote in the AP preseason poll. "I
wasn't drinking," Ebling says. "I didn't throw a dart." He
recalled Virginia Tech's 31-point win over Alabama in the Music
City Bowl last year, considered the defense (now ranked No. 1 in
the nation), heard nice things about redshirt freshman
quarterback Michael Vick (who completed 8 of 16 passes for 135
yards against Syracuse after completing 11 of 12 for 248 yards
and four touchdowns and rushing for 68 more yards and another
score in one half against Rutgers the previous week), perused a
comfy schedule and decided that the Hokies had a swell chance to
play for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl.
Even that probably wouldn't get Virginia Tech the key to college
football's executive washroom--Florida and Florida State is the
only school to propel itself into the ranks of perennial powers
in the past 20 years--though the Hokies would sure appreciate
the attention. "Very few programs have the ability to change
their status; you are what you are," says coach Frank Beamer,
who boldly predicted when he was hired 13 years ago that the
Hokies would one day compete for a national title. "But becoming
a member of the Big East [in 1991] was a big deal. That gave us
a chance. We were one team that had the ability to change the
status of our program, and we're in the middle of that right
now. The last three recruiting classes have been our best. If
this continues for another six years, Virginia Tech might be
automatically associated with all the top programs."
The blue-chippers might be converging on Blacksburg in the new
millennium, but four years ago Moore couldn't have found the
place with a map. He had been recruited out of Haywood High in
Brownsville, Tenn., but had hardly been fawned over, not
surprising for a pip-squeak lineman. Moore signed with
Mississippi but had his scholarship withdrawn after Ole Miss was
forced to forfeit 24 scholarships over two seasons when it was
put on NCAA probation in 1995. He wound up marking time for a
year at Holmes Community College in Mississippi before being
recruited again by Hokies defensive line coach Charley Wiles,
who had taken a stab at Moore while he was a recruiter at Murray
State. Wiles had to sell Moore on Tech. He also had to sell
Beamer on Moore. "When [Wiles] started talking about a 200-pound
defensive end," Beamer says, "I wasn't sure if I had the right
guy on my staff."
Moore certainly had room to grow, and he did. He is an inch
taller than he was in August 1996, 25 pounds heavier, stronger
(his bench press has increased from 320 to 410), more explosive
(he added more than half a foot to his vertical leap) and
markedly quicker, lowering a 4.75 time in the 40 into
running-back territory. "I remember early on showing him a
teaching tape of Cornell Brown [the Baltimore Ravens' linebacker
who was an All-America defensive end at Virginia Tech]," Wiles
said. "Corey's looking at it, and he says, 'I can do that. I can
play that position.'"
Moore plays it with a freakish blend of strength and speed--"As
strong as an ox, and he runs like a scalded dog," New Orleans
Saints scout Tom Marino says--which is complemented by bulging,
Mike Singletary eyes and a tongue dipped in acid. As the
designated "stud end" in Tech's attacking scheme, Moore is
positioned to the wide side of the field, where he keeps up a
constant stream of chatter. "I'll use my opponents' names or
call them Fat Ass, and I'll tell them, 'Fat Ass, I'll be coming
at you all day,'" says Moore, who usually lines up far outside
the tackle. "A lot of them get intimidated. A lot of them change
their technique. They get all out of whack looking for me, and
they start jumping out of their stance. That makes it easier for
me because they have no leverage. Fat guys are leaners anyway.
Lungers. They try to get physical, but they're off balance, and
I can run by them, and they fall on their face. They hear about
that from me, too."
His quick tongue and equally quick analytical mind are what
prompted his high school history teacher, Tom Silvia, to suggest
a career in law. The jury on Moore as a player, however, is
still out. Moments after the Hokies thrashed Virginia 31-7 on
Oct. 2, Cavaliers guard Noel LaMontagne said, "We've seen better
defensive ends, and we're going to see better defensive ends."
Even with the added perspective of 24 hours LaMontagne, while
acknowledging Moore's influence on the game--four tackles,
including a sack--contended that John Engelberger, Virginia
Tech's other defensive end, was the Hokies' best lineman.
LaMontagne might get an argument from Clemson, which was beaten
31-11 by the Hokies in a game that saw Moore set the standard by
which every college defensive player should be judged in 1999.
After inducing three illegal-procedure penalties and two holding
penalties, Moore broke open a close game in the final four
minutes by hurrying Tigers quarterback Brandon Streeter into an
interception that was returned for a touchdown and then forcing
a fumble and lugging the ball 32 yards himself for another
score. "You don't see many six-footers around that can change
the game the way Corey can," Beamer says of Moore, who also had
two sacks against Clemson. "In his anticipation of the snap he
gains a half step, and then there's no one fast enough to catch
him. If you use one guy on him, you can't block him. I don't
know if it makes any difference if it's a pro guy or a college
guy. I don't think there's an offensive tackle anywhere who can
block [him] on a consistent basis."
NFL scouts are more measured in their praise, and not simply
because some of their estimates put Moore at about 5'11", 213
pounds. Moore's build and speed suggest a smallish pro
linebacker or even a strong safety. Then again, taking him out
of a three-point stance and moving him off the line would be
like denying Maurice Greene starting blocks.
"You've got to find places for players like this," says Ted
Sundquist, Denver Broncos director of college scouting. "But is
he a defensive end? Not for us, he's not. We go by a set of
parameters for certain positions, and while obviously those
aren't hard and fast, you wouldn't put a 5'11", 210-pound
offensive tackle out there, either. Now, is this guy a
first-round talent? His production on the field says yes." Still
another observer, an NFC general manager, demurs. "Unless he can
walk on water," he said, "I don't know how [Moore] can be a
The defensive end shrugs at the deconstruction of Corey Moore.
He considers himself simply a football player, one who can find
a path to the ball from wherever he is asked to start. He will
cross that NFL defensive coordinator when he gets to him. Right
now he has unfinished business: two labor-relations courses and
one in human-resources management that he is taking toward a
second degree in management, and five more Big East games.
"We're going to run the table in the conference," Moore says, a
likelihood considering that the only remaining game against a
nationally ranked opponent, Miami, is at Blacksburg on Nov. 13.
If the Hokies can avoid the inexplicable meltdowns that have
retarded the program's progress--they were shocked by Temple
last year and by Miami of Ohio in 1997--and if the entrails of
the inscrutable Bowl Championship Series ratings are read in
their favor, an uncommon defensive end might help America hop on
the Virginia Tech bandwagon.
Just follow the tubas.
The most disruptive defensive end in the country is just six
feet tall. There are bigger people on some chorus lines.
"Few programs have the ability to change their status," says
Beamer. "We're in the middle of doing that now."