Bound and determined
Written in deep red along the sides of the Nikes he dons while working out is the name of Darryl Moorer’s goal. The left shoe boasts the word “Florida” while the right complements it with “Gators.”
While the words on the sides of his shoes serve as a reminder of where he wants to go, it is those penned on the backs of them that tell him how to get there. The back of his left shoe reads “hard.” That word serves as the first half of a phrase that Moorer adopted as a kind of personal motto. The remainder of his approach to life and football reveals itself on the back of his right shoe where the strokes of red ink form the word “work.”
“He’s a hard worker, always,” Moorer’s senior teammate Brian Taylor says of him. “He always does extra and tries to make himself better than the next person.”
“Darryl’s a hard worker,” Demopolis head coach Tom Causey says of the senior defensive back.
That work ethic has become a trademark of the low-key Moorer. Moreover, it has proven itself among his greatest assets during a tumultuous two years.
“I’d probably have to say my great-grandmama instilled that in me when I was young,” Moorer says of the determination that has served him well in his young 17 years.
On this day, that work ethic acts as a partner while the senior curls a barbell in front of a mirror in the weight room at Memorial Stadium. His teammates are a little more than 100 yards away, practicing in the rain as they prepare for a second-round playoff matchup with Shelby County.
But No. 2 cannot be with them as he would like. A knee injury suffered near the end of the summer has relegated Moorer to watching football rather than playing it.
“Darryl is a good kid,” Causey says. “He’s had some tough breaks.”
Friday night’s contest in Shelby County will mark the 23rd consecutive game the senior has missed. Moorer lost his junior season to a shoulder injury.
“He could be one of the top players if he can stay healthy,” Taylor says. “He can cover. He can play cornerback at the (SEC) level.”
Taylor and Moorer know one another well. They’ve played together for years and even attended football camps together over the summer.
That is where Moorer began to find himself on the radar of colleges despite having missed the previous season.
At the Rivals camp, Moorer found himself matched up with Rossville, Ga.’s MIchael Bowman. The four-star wideout is rated in Rivals.com’s Top 20 at the position and has verbally committed to play for the Crimson Tide.
But on this summer day, Bowman had his hands full with Moorer. That fact served as Moorer’s first indication that his talent gave him a chance at playing at the next level.
“Just knowing he was one of the best in the nation, I knew what I could do,” Moorer says.
Moorer carried that success into a Mississippi State camp weeks later, where he began to pursue his newly affirmed goal. In Starkville, Miss., he jumped 34 inches in the vertical, turned in a 4.57 in the 40-yard dash and bench-pressed 185 pounds 21 times. Then he stepped onto the field, where coaches told him he displayed sound technique.
“We go to one-on-one,” Moorer says. “I picked one (pass) and allowed (no catches).”
After his strong showing, Moorer approached one of the MSU assistants about the possibility of playing for the Bulldogs.
“I asked him if there was any way I could walk on, because I wanted to play at Mississippi State,” Moorer says. The response he received came as a bit of a surprise to Moorer, who was told to forget the prospect of walking on. Instead, Moorer says, the coach told him he was in line for a potential scholarship offer.
However, his lack of game experience became an issue, so the coach instructed him to play the first few games of the season and send some film of himself.
With Mississippi State squarely in his focus, Moorer proceeded with his summer. He had one camp remaining before Demopolis kicked off its season with Wetumpka.
That final camp of the summer for Moorer was three weeks later at the University of Alabama. There, Moorer began to show himself worthy of collegiate consideration again. In Tuscaloosa, he faced a bevy of talented high school receivers, including Fayette County wideout Colton Poe.
“We went together like three times,” Moorer says of his work against Poe. “He had a little bit more speed than me, so I knew what I had to do.”
Moorer, who bested Poe at the camp, knew he would see the receiver again when Demopolis travelled to Fayette on Sept. 12. But, that meeting never took place.
Moorer inured his knee in Tuscaloosa at the same camp that was intended to help his future prospects as a college player.
“First off,” Moorer says of coming to grips with the injury, “all I kept thinking was ‘What are we going to do? We already lost (the other projected senior starting cornerback) Tyler (McAlpine), and now I’m gone.'”
The next several weeks were tough on Moorer, who had been taking a math class in summer school just to ensure he would have enough credits in the subject to qualify under NCAA regulations.
“I didn’t miss a day going to summer school,” Moorer says. “It feels like I did something in vain.”
“After I got hurt, I kept asking myself, ‘Why? Why does this keep happening to me?'” Moorer says. “Then, I realized as a man that if you focus on something more than the Lord, He’ll take it from you.”
So Moorer looked inside of himself and began to reshuffle his priorities as he moved forward with his knee surgery and subsequent rehab.
“Football was my sanctuary,” Moorer says of a game that allowed him to escape the things that concerned him daily. “I knew if I get myself in the zone, I know I can do no wrong on the football field.”
Those concerns are things he doesn’t like to discuss much. Unless asked, he’ll typically provide only short statements alluding to them and turn his attention to another topic of conversation.
“I haven’t ever even seen my daddy,” Moorer says in passing of one of those things that lingers in the back of his mind before again turning his attention back to football.
His mother did not want him to attend the Alabama camp. And there are times when Moorer wishes he had not.
“Darryl’s got an extremely strong mother who cares about her kids,” Causey says of Moorer’s mother.
As Moorer speaks of her, it becomes clearer that she is as much a part of his character and potential as anything else. She also remains the one person from whom the determined senior seeks approval before moving on to the next phase of his life.
“I’ll play again,” Moorer says. “I knew that the whole time. I knew I was going to play again.”
With two years of his young career lost to injury, Moorer has his sights intently focused upon walking on at a junior college before attempting to make the jump to the SEC.
“It feels like I get a little bit faster and a little bit stronger every day,” Moorer, who Tuesday ran for the first time since the surgery to repair his ACL, says.
“He can make it,” Taylor says. “He can fly through junior college. He’ll get attention (from NCAA Division I schools).”
While he knows his career is not over, working out alone while his teammates practice does not sit quite right with Moorer.
“You can see it in his eyes every day, especially on Fridays,” Taylor says of his long-time teammate.
“It’s more when they lose a game,” Moorer says of his teammates. “I believe in my heart, if I would have played, we could have won. It’s frustrating. If there is one game I could go back and play, it’d be that Fayette County game.”
But Moorer cannot go back. He can merely look forward. And that is just what he does as he rattles off as many repetitions as he can in front of the mirror in an otherwise empty weight room. All the while, the red ink on the sides of his Nikes tell where he intends to go and how he intends to get there.