By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the 2012 season ended, closing the final chapter in Steve Greer’s college career, Kwontie Moore had every reason to believe he’d take over at middle linebacker for the University of Virginia football team.
It never happened. Henry Coley, who started eight games at outside linebacker in 2012, moved to the middle in ’13 and won the starting job.
Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play for the Cavaliers in 2012, went into his sophomore season as Coley’s backup. By that October, however, he’d fallen off the depth chart, and he appeared in only two games all season. Early in his UVa career, he even practiced occasionally with the scout-team offense.
“It’s definitely a humbling experience, but overall you just have to adjust and you just gotta keep working hard,” Moore, a rising senior, said after a recent practice. “Keep your head down, and you’ve got to play for the team. That’s what it’s all about. Figuring out where you fit on the team and being able to play.”
Moore, a Norfolk Christian graduate, has reinvented himself as a defensive lineman. In 2014, he played in 10 games, with one start at tackle, and finished the season with eight tackles, including two sacks.
This spring, Moore has been practicing with the first-team defense, at end, when the Cavaliers line up in the 4-3, their base scheme. In passing situations, when defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta inserts a fifth defensive back, Moore slides inside to tackle.
“He’s kind of our jack of all trades right now,” said Jappy Oliver, who’s heading into his second season as Virginia’s defensive line coach.
UVa’s annual Orange-Blue spring game is Saturday at Scott Stadium. Admission is free for the game, which starts at 6 p.m.
The Wahoos’ starting ends in 2014 were Eli Harold and Mike Moore (no relation to Kwontie). Harold left UVa after the season to pursue at NFL career, and Mike Moore is recovering from shoulder injury this spring.
Another rising senior, Trent Corney, has been the other first-team defensive end this spring.
To effectively rotate between end and tackle, as Mike Moore did last season, a lineman must “be multiple,” Oliver said. “You gotta be ready to play the run inside, and then hopefully he gives us another gear when they’re throwing the ball.”
The hybrid role, Kwontie Moore said, is one for which he’s prepared.
“Being a defensive lineman, you have to know every position, just in case something happens,” he said.
Mike Moore, who had three sacks in 2014, will be a full-time end in the fall, Oliver said, and will be asked to fill some of the pass-rushing void created by the departures of Harold and Max Valles, who combined for 16 sacks last season. An outside linebacker in the 4-3, Valles usually played end in passing situations.
Harold and Valles were known for their speed and quickness. Mike Moore relies more on power, but Oliver is confident the son of former UVa great Shawn Moore will be an effective pass-rusher.
“Absolutely,” Oliver said. “One thing about Mike, he’s smart. He doesn’t like to stay blocked, and he uses his hands very well. So, what he lacks in one area he’ll make up in the other.”
Kwontie Moore was one of four players from Norfolk Christian to join UVa’s program in the summer of 2012, along with Mario Nixon, Courtnye Wynn and Wilfred Wahee. Head coach Mike London dismissed Wynn from the team the next spring. Nixon remains at UVa as a student, but he had to give up football after a series of injuries.
“It’s just me and Wil,” Moore said.
An anthropology major who hopes to graduate in December, Moore played on the defensive line in the eighth and ninth grades, and that helped his transition when he changed positions at UVa, though he had to learn new techniques up front.
His body has changed too. When he played linebacker at Virginia, the 6-2 Moore weighed about 250 pounds. He’s now around 275, and he’s been bigger.
“At first I was at 285, and now I’m trying to get to 270,” he said.
Moore’s improved fitness and conditioning reflects his commitment to the team, Oliver said.
“Just his whole attitude,” Oliver said. “He knows he’s about to become a senior, so he’s taken on that leadership role. He’s lost weight. He’s still a big man. He’s a thick, big-boned guy. But he’s still lighter than he was when [Oliver] first came here, so he’s taken that role seriously.”
With Valles and Harold gone, Moore has an opportunity he might not have had if they’d returned to school this year. He’s eager to make the most of it.
“The bottom line is production,” he said. “That’s it. We play against a lot of good competition this year, and all of us just gotta come together and play and play as one.”
SHORT-HANDED: Score will be kept Saturday night, and London hopes to hold a game-like scrimmage. The team’s numbers are low this spring, however, because of injuries, and the Orange-Blue game’s format might be adjusted, depending on the availability of players.
Among those who won’t participate Saturday are offensive linemen Sadiq Olanrewaju, Jack McDonald and Jay Whitmire, defensive end Mike Moore, defensive tackle Donte Wilkins, linebacker Caanan Brown and safety Wilfred Wahee.
EQUIPMENT SALE: Game-worn UVa football jerseys and helmets will be on sale at Scott Stadium before the spring game Saturday. Also available will be cheer uniforms and pom poms.
The equipment can be purchased behind the scoreboard at the pergola end of Scott Stadium, beginning at 4 p.m.
Helmets are $100 each and game jerseys $20 each. Cheer uniforms are $35 and pom poms $10. Jerseys and helmets are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Cash and credit cards will be accepted, but no checks.
Also, an autographed carbon fiber Virginia football helmet signed by Eli Harold will be raffled off before the spring game. Raffle tickets are $5 for one and $10 for three.