Dec. 14, 2012
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the final second ticked off the clock Nov. 24 at Lane Stadium, site of UVa’s regular-season finale, Steve Greer’s college football career officially ended, 376 tackles after it had begun.
Everyone knew that day was coming, of course, and that the Cavaliers wouldn’t have their All-ACC middle linebacker forever. To start preparing for life after Greer, linebackers coach Vincent Brown had given Kwontie Moore an assignment back in August.
“My message to Kwontie from the very beginning of camp was that he had to immerse himself in what we were doing, even though he wasn’t playing for us,” Brown recalled Friday. “He had to learn and prepare as though he was going to play, so when we went into spring [in 2013] it wouldn’t be new for him.
“I asked him to pattern his study habits after Steve and really try to grab an understanding of what the position was going to require of him. And the interesting thing is, I think the kid really tried to do it. A lot of freshmen that aren’t really playing, they just kind of sit back and do whatever their role is in the kicking game and don’t really learn [their position].”
Not so with Moore. During Sunday practices, Brown said, he’d often put No. 34 in for Greer with the first-team defense, to see how Moore was progressing.
“Kwontie has a lot of potential,” Greer said late in the season. “He’s a bigger guy, and I think he’s hungry to get better, which I think is really important … [By working] with Coach Brown, I think he has the potential to be a really, really good linebacker.”
Moore, a graduate of Norfolk Christian, was one of nine true freshmen to play for the Wahoos this fall. Most of Moore’s playing time came on special teams, in part because UVa rarely could afford to have Greer, a fifth-year senior, on the sideline. When spring practice starts, however, Moore is likely to be No. 1 on the depth chart at middle linebacker.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Moore said Thursday during a break from studying for final exams.
Greer led the `Hoos with 122 tackles this season. Moore watched him closely. He saw the countless hours that Greer spent in film study and in the weight room, and he saw how Greer carried himself on the field.
“One of the biggest things I learned was the fact that he was direct,” Moore said. “He knew how to take control. He didn’t speak it. He wasn’t loud about it or anything like that. He knew the things he had to do, and that if he wasn’t there, then the play might just go for a touchdown.”
Henry Coley was Greer’s understudy in the middle for most of the 2011 season. But in the offseason the coaching staff moved Coley to strong-side linebacker, where he started UVa’s first eight games this fall.
Coley, a rising junior from Virginia Beach, could slide back to the middle in 2013, Brown said. No matter where Coley lines up, though, Moore is likely to play a major role for a defense will return seven starters.
“I think he’ll be ready,” said Brown, a former NFL linebacker.
A chiseled 250-pounder, the 6-2 Moore already looks the part of a big-time `backer. He was one of the most heralded members of the recruiting class that enrolled at UVa in July.
“He brings the athleticism and the size, and football is important to him too,” Brown said. “He’s very passionate about wanting to do well, and that means a lot. Some guys kind of go through the motions, but he wants to be very good.”
Of the four Norfolk Christian graduates who signed with UVa in February, Moore was the only one who didn’t redshirt this season. (The others are tight end Mario Nixon, safety Wilfred Wahee and defensive end Courtnye Wynn, Moore’s roommate.)
“I’m glad I played,” Moore said. “I have no problems with how many reps I got or anything like that. The coaches chose me to go on special teams, and I’m perfectly fine with that. Whatever I can do to support the team.”
Moore played on Virginia’s kickoff, kickoff return and punt return units. He appeared in all 12 games for the Cavaliers (4-8) and was credited with four tackles. Statistically, Moore had little impact, but he believes he’s better for the experience. Had he worked primarily with the scout team, Moore would not have been able to observe Greer so closely.
“I wanted to be behind Steve and learn his tactics and learn how he took over the defense,” Moore said, “basically how he was the leader and how everyone respected him. He had the defense on his back, pretty much.”
Moore saw some time at middle linebacker late in Virginia’s opener, against Richmond, and the experience showed him how much he had to learn.
“I obviously was a little off,” he recalled a smile. “College is a totally different level, and I feel as though the speed of the game was much more intense.”
Brown said: “We put him in against Richmond, and it was like he was just running around out there. But it’ll slow down for him.”
In high school, Moore rarely faced athletes as physically imposing as he was. Before Moore left for UVa, however, Norfolk Christian coach Heath Gibbs gave him some advice.
“My coach told me, `Don’t be discouraged and think that you’re going to be the best as soon as you get there, because there’s thousands of you out there, a thousand athletes of your height, your weight, your skill level and everything. Now what it comes down to is the mental game,’ ” Moore said.
Brown’s message is similar. “He wants me to learn the game of football,” Moore said. And so Moore has been studying film in the offseason — as Greer did so diligently — and training with Evan Marcus, UVa’s strength-and-conditioning coach for football.
“I’m just doing it on my own to get better,” said Moore, who turned 19 this week. “As Coach E always says, `What you should do now for this offseason is expect to get better. Don’t think about anything else. The way you eat, the way you think about football and the way you work out, that’s how you’re going to get better,’ and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Since the season ended, Moore has seen defensive coordinator Jim Reid and defensive line coach Jeff Hanson, as well as two other assistants, dismissed in a staff shakeup. Such changes are unsettling to players, but Moore remains focused on preparing for next season.
“You just gotta live with it and adjust to it and go from there,” he said.
Among the other true freshmen who played for Virginia this season were defensive ends Eli Harold and Mike Moore (no relation), linebacker Demeitre Brim and defensive backs Maurice Canady and Anthony Cooper. Collectively, they have the talent to form the foundation of a stellar defense.
“I feel as though we can be the future [of the program], and the future looks good,” Kwontie Moore said. “We just gotta work hard and get better and see where it goes from there.”