Eskimos defensive lineman Mike Moore never had to worry about comparisons with his father, Shawn, because they played different positions.
Shawn was a star quarterback on two of the University of Virginia Cavaliers’ greatest teams in 1989 and 1990, earning a No. 1 ranking in both NCAA football polls for three weeks, a share of the ACC title and a then-prestigious Sugar Bowl appearance. He finished his college career with 41 school, ACC and NCAA individual records and was fourth in the 1990 balloting for the Heisman Trophy, which is awarded to the most outstanding player in college football.
Mike, a defensive lineman, also had a good college career with the Cavaliers, but he was on a struggling team that went 15-33 during his four years. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman (most players sit out their first season to acclimate to the college level without it counting toward their four-year eligibility) and 47 of 48 games overall. He totalled 82 defensive tackles and 10 quarterback sacks while starting 23 of UVa’s 24 games during his final two seasons.
“We didn’t win as many games as we wanted to,” Mike said, “but football was fun. The school atmosphere was fine. I loved UVa.”
The careers of father and son headed in different directions once they reached professional football.
Shawn was drafted by the NFL’s Denver Broncos in 1991 and threw 34 passes for 232 yards and ran eight times for 39 yards over three games (no starts) when quarterback John Elway was injured in the ‘92 season. He also served as a backup QB with the Arizona Cardinals during his four years in the NFL before playing 19 CFL games with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (two starts), Calgary Stampeders and Ottawa Rough Riders (one start) during the ‘95 season.
“He said he got traded three times all in one year,” Mike explained. “He said it was crazy. He said it was just too much moving around. He was pretty much retired after that.”
Meanwhile, Mike has established himself as a pro football player capable of preventing the opposing team’s quarterback from putting up the type of numbers his father did in college.
Now in his third season with the Eskimos, the six-foot-four, 269-pound defensive tackle leads the Green-and-Gold with four quarterback sacks and is tied for second-most sacks in the entire CFL entering Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. game with the Toronto Argonauts at The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium.
“I’ve just been looking for opportunities to play every down,” said the 25-year-old Moore, who played eight games with the Ottawa RedBlacks in 2016 and five with the Eskimos (two starts) in 2017. “I finally got an opportunity to do that, and I’m doing what I know I can do.”
Two different injuries limited Moore to seven games (six starts) last year. He missed six games after tearing his hamstring in the season opener at Winnipeg on the first or second play after sitting in the locker room during a 94-minute delay because of a nearby lightning storm and then tore a calf muscle early in a road game at Ottawa on Sept. 22 and finished the season on the six-game injured list.
Undrafted after college, he had a couple of workouts with NFL teams and attended a couple of NFL rookie camps. When no invitations to training camp were forthcoming, he reached out to CFL teams, and the Ottawa RedBlacks were one of the first to reply.
Moore played eight games with Ottawa in 2016 but was released the following year with the intent of keeping an older player instead. Eskimos General Manager and Vice-President of Football Operations Brock Sunderland was still the RedBlacks assistant GM at the time. Sunderland met Mike’s father when he was 11-years-old working as a ball boy for the Hula Bowl All-Star game. They became friends and when Mike was coming out of college, he contacted me to look at him and that is our relationship began.
Upon joining the Eskimos in April 2017, Sunderland contacted Moore, and he’s been here ever since. And that “older player” Ottawa kept in place of Moore was cut even before training camp started.
The Eskimos had a stacked defensive line that suffered a lot of injuries in 2017.
“I just had to wait my time,” Moore said. “I was the young guy. I’ve pretty much just sat back and learned from all of the older guys. I’ve been here with Mondo (defensive nose tackle Almondo Sewell, a five-time CFL all-star) ever since my first year. Mondo has been helping me out.
“Finally, I’ve got my opportunity, and I’m just trying to keep it going.”
Moore is happy to be leading the Eskimos in sacks because the defensive line has a friendly competition about who will get to the most quarterbacks this season and Edmonton has a lot of players capable of doing that. Right now, Sewell has three sacks while defensive ends Kwaku Boateng and Nick Usher plus backup Jesse Joseph all have two each. And injured defensive end Alex Bazzie hasn’t even played a game, although he’s getting closer after being a healthy scratch last week.
“I want to be leading,” Moore said, “but hopefully the team is leading (the CFL). That’s the real goal.
“We all can get there. We all can do it. It makes it easier for yourself and harder for the O-line if you’ve got one guy who can beat a man at any moment on this side and you’ve got another guy who can beat them on the other side. They’re going to have to double-team somebody, and somebody’s coming through.”
The Eskimos defensive line has already feasted against the BC Lions and former Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly in two games this season but managed just three sacks last week against Montreal’s elusive Vernon Adams, Jr.
“One of the main things that we talk about as a D-line is getting to the quarterback,” Moore said. “It really doesn’t matter who we’re playing, what down it is, what quarter, what time is on the clock. We’re hunting for the quarterback.”
He admitted that the D-line’s task last week was different with a running quarterback like Adams last week because “Vernon can get out of there a little bit better than most guys in the league. That’s always going to make it a little different than when you’re playing against a guy like Mike Reilly, who’s going to sit back in the pocket looking for a receiver down the field.
“But we were still calling the pressure that we wanted.”
Expect the heat to be on Toronto QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson this week. The 31-year-old quarterback has run only five times this year.
Moore initially loved playing basketball when he was growing up, but he wasn’t exceptionally tall and knew by middle school that he wanted to play football. He’s been playing on the defensive line since seventh grade.
Did he ever get a chance to play quarterback?
“I was always a pretty big kid, so a lot of teams never gave me an opportunity to play quarterback,” he said. “I was pretty aggressive also, so I knew D-line was pretty much the spot for me.”
He grew up with his mother, Kim Moseley, and three sisters and had to drive himself to school – about 1-1/2 hours each way – for his final three years at DeMatha Catholic High School, a well-known football school in Hyattsville, Maryland. The sacrifice paid off when he received more than 30 NCAA scholarship offers.
His final decision came down to schools like Florida, Notre Dame and Virginia, but he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to “a really big school” and eventually opted for “the family atmosphere” at Virginia, where his father coached the tight ends his first season. His father was fired from the coaching staff the following year, but Mike wasn’t affected by the move.
Moore and his family – wife Stephanie and son MJ (Michael Joseph) – spent their first off-season in Edmonton last winter.
“It’s definitely different, but we enjoyed it, though,” he said.
Stephanie is expecting the couple’s second child next month.
His father was also up here to watch the BC game at The Brick Field in June and may be back for another game in the near future.
- The Eskimos offence will be without starting running back C.J. Gable and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels on Thursday. Both players have been placed on the one-game injured list. While Gable has already rushed for 448 yards, including two 100-yard performances, Daniels has only played the last two games after starting the season on the injured list.
- Meanwhile, veteran defensive halfback Forrest Hightower was placed on the six-game injured list. He’ll be replaced by versatile Tyquwan Glass, who has already played at least three different positions in the secondary, including training camp.
- Second-year running back Shaq Cooper will make his 2019 debut in place of Gable. He rushed for 144 yards and had six catches for 44 yards in two games last season.
- With Daniels out, national receiver Tevaun Smith shifts back to wide receiver instead of sharing a receiver position with Natey Adjei.
- The Eskimos also activated international offensive lineman Travis Bond to play right guard while 2019 second-round draft pick Kyle Saxelid serves as the backup O-lineman. Veteran J’Michael Deane, who was the backup offensive lineman last week, has been released.
- The Esks also activated veteran Nick Taylor as a backup in the secondary and 2019 fifth-round draft pick Shai Ross as a backup receiver.