College Football: Wade Moore returns to football
By Mike London
SALISBURY — The stir created by Wade Moore’s return to football rivals the buzz that accompanied former UNC quarterback Cam Sexton’s arrival at Catawba in 2009.
The Indians are optimistic things will work out better this time. Moore, 24, hasn’t been in a football game since he set records at West Rowan six years ago, but he could make a difference.
“I’m strong as I ever was and as fast as I ever was,” declared Moore, whose 215 muscular pounds totally fill up a blue Catawba uniform.
Moore was a professional baseball player in May, but a lot has occurred since then.
“It’s pretty complicated,” Moore said.
Moore was a two-sport phenom at West.
His 104 runs, 109 hits and 54 steals on the diamond probably are West records. He also was 24-6 with 263 strikeouts as a pitcher — not school records, but high on the list.
Still, just about everyone, including Moore, believed he was better at football.
“Football was my first love and it came natural,” he said. “Football is all about speed and being physical and just wanting it more than the other guy — and that was me.”
He was West’s workhorse tailback as a junior and senior, and he dominated. As a senior, he rushed for 2,225 yards and scored 32 touchdowns.
“I got college football offers and I got some offers to play both sports,” Moore said.
But the more prestigious offers were in baseball, where N.C. State and UNC battled for his signature.
“We loved Wade, but we knew we had no chance,” Catawba football coach Chip Hester said. “Not with ACC schools in the picture early.”
He chose the Wolfpack, but for three years in Raleigh, opportunities proved elusive.
Scouts timed him in the 60-yard dash and were amazed. He looked great in a uniform, but he had no stats. You need numbers if you want to get drafted, he was advised.
He transferred to Catawba for a one-shot season in 2010 and put up staggering numbers, including a .410 batting average, 16 homers and 29 steals in 52 games. He was a Division II All-American.
The Nationals drafted him in the 19th round in 2010 and he excelled in rookie ball in Vermont that summer.
But 2011 brought struggles with health and hitting. He batted .206 in Class A ball.
When you hit.206, you are likely to be released. But Moore was healthy for Spring Training in March and he was a different player.
“I played my best ball since Catawba,” he said.
He played some games with the big league team and when rosters came out, he was promoted to Potomac in the advanced A Carolina League.
“I was with guys I’d come into pro ball with and we expected a big year,” Moore said. “But 95 percent of the team got off to an atrocious start.”
Moore included. The lefty hitter’s batting average was low and he was sitting out against southpaws.
“Emotional roller coaster and very inconsistent performance,” Moore said.
When he hurt a shoulder making a diving catch, it was the beginning of the end.
Moore played his last game on May 16. He needed a week or so to get healthy, but he wanted to do his rehab while staying with his teammates. The other possibility was being sent to Florida to Extended Spring Training.
“I felt like I’d earned the right to rehab with my teammates,” Moore said. “But the same night we had a walkoff win, I got called in to the manager’s office.”
When Moore saw a large group of brass and coaches gathered in that office he knew the news wasn’t good.
He was informed he was being sent to Florida. Moore was not angry, but he was disappointed. He had a decision to make and a five-day window to report to Florida.
“I packed my stuff, got in my car and drove,” Moore said. “I stopped at home.”
Moore’s father, Dick, was having serious health concerns, and Moore wasn’t sure what his next move should be.
“I locked myself in my room like two days and prayed,” Moore said. “Was I really going to walk away from baseball?”
Moore had no backup plan, but it hit him that the key to the rest of his life was a college degree. With a degree, there would be opportunities for him in Rowan County because everyone knows him.
Moore met with academic advisors at Catawba and came away hopeful but uncertain of how he could afford tuition.
He called his staunchest backer with the Nationals, Director of Player Development Doug Harris, and explained what was going on.
The next day Moore was in the Catawba weight room.
“Just trying to get healthier and trying to relieve stress,” Moore said. “And Coach (John) Fitz walks in.”
Fitz is the assistant head coach for Catawba’s football team and works on conditioning with countless Catawba athletes. He knew Moore well from his baseball days. And right behind Fitz came Hester.
“I’ve known Coach Hester forever,” Moore said. “His wife (Trish) was assistant principal when I was at West, and he’s someone I’ve always trusted. He was shocked to see me, but he told me to come into his office to talk. I explained to him I needed a degree but wasn’t sure how to get it.”
Football still hadn’t crossed Moore’s mind at that point.
“But then Coach Hester says maybe he can help,” Moore recalled. “It really caught me off-guard when he asked if I’d considered football. That’s not an opportunity I’d even dreamed about.”
Moore slept on the offer that night, wanting to make a “level-headed decision.”
Then he accepted.
Moore has two semesters of college eligibility remaining in sports other than baseball, but the master plan is for that to translate into two football seasons while he completes his sports management degree.
“I’ll take classes this fall, then do an internship before I finish classwork in the fall of 2013,” Moore said.
Moore already has many internship offers, including one from NASCAR and one from the Carolina Panthers.
Moore said he’s still under contract with the Nationals and keeps Harris up to date.
“He told me if it was two days or two weeks or two years, the door would stay open if I ever wanted to return the Nationals,” Moore said.
Moore has a spring in his step and a smile on his face. He won’t just go through the motions as an unexpected addition at running back. That’s not his way.
“Just a few months ago my back was to the wall,” Moore said. “Now I’ve got a fabulous opportunity. Maybe it was all supposed to happen like this. It’s reaffirmed my faith in the Man Upstairs.”