Above Photo of Justin Moore by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON-This past July, Justin Moore was back at Trinity Christian Academy, his high school alma mater, still unsure of his next steps after entering the transfer portal the previous spring following three years at the University of Connecticut.
It was there, on the campus where he became a star defensive end, played one season under NFL Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, and garnered numerous D-I college offers coming out of high school, that the 6-foot-4 defensive end ran into Mark Carey. Carey, UMHB’s defensive line coach, was in Addison, Texas on that summer day, evaluating a potential recruit.
Moore and Carey struck up a conversation, and two weeks later, Moore took a campus visit to UMHB. Though he had known of UMHB’s previous success on the gridiron, he was impressed by the facilities and commitment to excellence seen while touring the campus and football program. So much so, that a day after his visit, he committed to The Cru.
“[Coach Carey] was going to look at a guy at my high school, and I happened to run into him there,” Moore recalled in a recent conversation with True To The Cru. “We got to talking, and you could tell that he is a man who loved football and who respected my love for the game as well.”
It was that respect, more than anything else, perhaps, that helped Moore arrive at his decision so promptly.
“There’s a lot of coaches who don’t appreciate the amount of effort you put into your sport,” Moore added. “They see you as a four-tackle guy or a two-sack guy. But Coach Carey, and the staff members here, they care about you.”
Heading into Saturday’s road tilt at Texas Lutheran in American Southwest Conference play, Moore has 10.0 total tackles, the most amongst any newcomer on the Crusader defense. Two of those tackles have gone for lost yards by the opposing offense, and ultimately, Moore has solidified himself as a contributor within the defensive line rotation.
What has been seen through the season’s first four games from Moore–the ability to fit in as a newcomer and make a steady impact–dates back to his days as a star at Trinity Christian. It was there that work ethic became of utmost importance for an athlete who had focused primarily on baseball leading up to high school.
That is certainly a byproduct of spending a full year learning from one of the most accomplished linebackers in NFL history. Singletary, who played for former UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg at Baylor when Fredenburg served as the Bears’ defensive coordinator, played 11 years for the Chicago Bears. In that span, he was a Super Bowl Champion, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and 10-time Pro Bowl Selection. He has been inducted into both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.
“Every player can admit they have their moments where they question or are confused about what’s going on,” Moore said. “But when it comes to a guy like that, it’s hard to question what he says. You can’t question his work ethic in preparing us for the next game. You can’t question his love for the team. We were bought in, and especially since he was so charismatic and infamous for the way his eyes look on the field, how locked in he is. He’s that same way as a coach too.”
Singletary’s two years at TCA yielded just one victory, coming in Moore’s senior season in 2018. But the knowledge that the Hall of Famer imparted on Moore and others in the program was invaluable, especially as Moore looked to continue his career at the collegiate level.
“I’ve never met anybody who knows more about football than him, but I’ve also never met anyone who is more serious about the littlest things that can change a game,” Moore added. “We used to have a drill where we’d quite literally shuffle for 20 minutes straight.
“For him it wasn’t just about shuffling for 20 minutes. It’s about where each of your steps is going during that shuffle, and what you’re looking at during that time. There’s a lot of small things in the game of football that not a lot of people know and understand.”
By the time he left TCA, 247Sports listed him as a three-star recruit and the 96th-best strongside defensive end in the Class of 2019. Offers from programs such as Texas Tech, Louisiana Tech, Houston, Princeton, Columbia, and Air Force rolled in for a talented player whose high school resume also included being named to the National Junior Honor Society.
But it ended up being UConn that won out in the recruiting process. At that point, the Huskies were making a concentrated effort to bring in players from the state of Texas. When Moore arrived on campus in Storrs, Connecticut, the climate was a rude awakening, especially since he had brought along just two pairs of sweatpants and two hoodies, which were no match for the northeastern weather.
“I realized that would only get me through one day, and then on top of the two sweatpants you have to have a coat, and a raincoat because it rains almost every day,” Moore said with a laugh. “And being a Texas kid, I had to adjust to snow not being a once-a-year kind of thing. Walking to class everyday, you’ll get inches of snow for months.”
Those kinds of frequent weather conditions forced somewhere around 80 percent of UConn’s practices to be held indoors. Naturally, that provided a much different experience for Moore, considering the temperature rarely dipped below 50 degrees at any point during the football season throughout his time growing up in Texas. But UConn’s coaching staff, like many others at northern schools, did what it could to give players the feel of the environment they would be playing in on Saturday, even in an indoor setting.
“I remember we were going to play UCF the second week of September,” Moore recalls. “While there were some guys from Texas, Florida and Georgia, there were also a lot from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. They had never been used to that before.
“So they turn it up to 85 degrees and you see guys sweating and just not understanding what’s going on. And there were guys like me, who had grown up in that weather, and we were like, ‘This is pretty comfortable.’ It was just interesting to see how much weather can alter a football game.”
While the wind, snow, and rain had its challenges, perhaps Moore’s biggest adjustment came in the attention to detail that was not always necessary to have success in high school. Throughout his time at TCA, standing at 6-foot-3, weighing 240 pounds, and having a strong first step was enough to cause havoc for an opposing offense. But when he arrived in Storrs, he was, surprisingly, the third-smallest player in the defensive line room.
“A lot of times, because I’m a bigger person, I used to be able to lean on the fact that I was larger than most of my competition, or faster than them,” Moore said. “But my high school coaches would tell me that there were things that may not seem important now but the skills I’m working on at that moment will be skills that I will need moving forward.
“The ignorant high school me thought, ‘Whatever, I’m big and strong and I’ll get over it.’ But when you get to that first practice [at UConn] you kind of want to send a thank you text to your coaches saying, ‘I appreciate everything you’ve done and I’m sorry I didn’t listen.’”
When a Nov. 23, 2019 matchup rolled around against East Carolina at home, Moore’s number was called for the first time. The freshman assisted on a tackle and saw game action the following week against Temple in the season finale. The Covid pandemic canceled the entirety of the 2020 campaign, and then in 2021, he appeared in games against Fresno State, Wyoming, and Houston.
In his time at UConn, Moore was not a leading tackler or a starter on the defensive line. But he fulfilled a dream; a dream that less than two percent of high school football players accomplish.
“To this day, I’ll always remember my first snaps,” Moore said. “It’s a different feeling, knowing that CBS News reporters were behind you, and seeing thousands of fans lining up just to watch you play a game.
“Even though the score wasn’t all that great, I got to go to play at Clemson one game, be on the field. and that atmosphere is something you’ll never forget, hearing 80,000 people screaming over even a two-yard gain. That alone is an experience I’ll never forget. It was a good piece of accomplishment for me to know that it was something I was capable of doing. It’s a dream for every kid to be able to do that.”
It is those types of experiences that have shaped Justin Moore’s football journey. And it is far from over. A coaching change led to him entering the transfer portal in the spring of 2022, and over a year later, the first chapter of his time in Belton is being written.
Having been born in Philadelphia, and an Eagles fan his entire life, Moore grew up admiring running back Brian Westbrook and safety Brian Dawkins. Certainly a portion of that was the talent both displayed, making key plays that led Philly to victory. But beyond that, it was the passion they played with, Moore says. “When you watch guys on the field, you can tell the ones who love the game and play with passion,” he adds.
He aims to have the same mentality each time he steps onto the field, and doing it alongside a group that shares the same perspective makes it all the more worth it. Moore has meshed well with the Crusader defensive front in his first season in Belton.
“This group made it especially easy to fit in and join as a unit,” Moore noted of coming to UMHB as a transfer. “For the defensive line specifically, just because that’s where I am, I think of every one of those guys as a brother I’ll have for life.
“That plays a big role in how we perform on the field. Because whether we’re in practice or games, there’s always somebody like Trey Witcher, who has started here for multiple years, and will coach me up in a sense. He’s been right by my side through this whole thing, whether I have a question or a joke. Those guys are there to listen. It’s just been a fun experience to become part of this team.”