The last-second field goal that kept Virginia Tech undefeated was still on its way to the uprights last Saturday night when the Hokies' star defensive end, senior Corey Moore, hoisted his maroon helmet high into the air.
As Shayne Graham's 44-yard kick cleared the crossbar, Moore turned and began to run. Not toward the middle of the field, where most of his teammates were celebrating their 22-20 victory over West Virginia, but toward the tunnel that leads to Mountaineer Field's visitors' locker room.
The run quickly became a sprint. Moore, known for his laser-sharp tongue and relentlessly aggressive play, did not want anyone to see him cry.
But it was too late. Two of his defensive linemates--tackles Carl Bradley and Nathaniel Williams--had followed too close behind.
"I'm not afraid to let people see me cry, but I was the other night," Moore said. "I ran all the way into the locker room and just started crying because I was so happy. Nate and Carl were right behind me, and I know they never would have suspected I'd cry because of the way I am on the field, but I couldn't hold it back."
Moore rarely holds anything back. Although just 6 feet, 212 pounds--smaller than most Division I-A linebackers--he was the Big East's defensive player of the year in 1998, has a conference-best 13 sacks this season (he had 13 1/2 last season), eight more tackles for a loss and is one of four finalists for the 1999 Lombardi Award, which annually goes to the nation's most outstanding college lineman. In other words, he is one of the major reasons the Hokies (8-0) are ranked second in the nation going into Saturday night's game against No. 19 Miami in Blacksburg.
He also has no qualms about telling offensive linemen they are too slow, too fat or too lousy to stop him.
"After the play, he's just nasty. Mean and nasty," said fellow starting defensive end John Engelberger. "I don't say much out there, but Corey, I think it helps him. It's one thing when players run their mouth and can't back it up, but he can."
Even off the field, Moore is brash and forthright. He says what he thinks and never apologizes for what he says, though sometimes for how he says it.
"That's how I've always been," Moore said. "I just don't bite my tongue. I try not to hurt people's feelings, but sometimes I just can't help it."
This season, most of Moore's attacks have been directed at opposing teams rather than particular players.
In recent weeks, he has laid into Penn State ("Why would I compare us to Penn State? We're better than Penn State.") and his once-beloved and home-state Tennessee, whose players and fans, despite an early season loss to Florida, are not happy about the Volunteers being ranked a spot behind the Hokies in both major polls ("Granted, they are the defending national champions, but they had an opportunity earlier in the season to take care of business by beating Florida and they didn't get the job done. So stop crying.")
He has also squelched the idea that he would like to win the Lombardi Award ("That doesn't impress me. I don't care about that.") and has proclaimed that Virginia Tech has the nation's best defense, quarterback, coaching staff and team.
The Hokies never have been ranked higher, but this week the once-beaten Volunteers leapfrogged them for the No. 2 spot in the Bowl Championship Series, which will decide the teams that will play for the national title in the Sugar Bowl. Because of their recent descent in the various computer rankings and strength of schedule rankings that help determined the BCS rankings, the Hokies are constantly facing questions about how good they really are and about the possibility that even if they finish 11-0, they may not get a chance to play for the national title. Similarly, despite the attention Moore has received this season, he regularly hears doubts about his chances of succeeding in the NFL.
"He's an impact player in college football, a true all-American," said former Washington Redskins general manager Charley Casserly. "The question is what position he'll play in the NFL. People really won't be able to determine that until after the season when they can work him out and see if he can backpedal and turn and cover. That will determine if he can play linebacker or safety.
"He'll make a roster because he's a guy who's going to make plays. He'll at least be an impact player on special teams. The problem is when teams draft, they look for the complete football player first. He's not going to be the first guy who was a heck of a college football player who isn't sure where he's going to go in the draft."
Moore leaves it at this: "I'm a football player. I make plays. People who watch me know that. And I feel I can play at the next level, but I'm just going to put that in God's hands."
Born and raised in Brownsville, Tenn., Moore was--like nearly everyone else in the town--a Volunteers fan. He knows the verses of Tennessee's fight song, "Rocky Top," as well as anyone in the state, and he admits to rooting for the Volunteers during their run to last season's national championship. These days, though, he is annoyed with them.
"I'm still a big Tennessee fan, but this year they've been doing a lot of trash-talking about Virginia Tech. I guess it won't stop unless we get a chance to play them [in the Sugar Bowl]. I'd love that."
As a senior at Haywood High School, Moore dabbled at fullback, tight end, linebacker and defensive end for a team that reached the Tennessee Class 6A state final. He recorded a school-record 16 sacks to go with 96 tackles, 6 blocked kicks and 5 fumble recoveries. He also rushed for 624 yards and seven touchdowns, and caught 16 passes for 386 yards and four more scores.
Moore was not heavily recruited by Tennessee because of his size, but he drew intense interest from Mississippi, Mississippi State, Memphis, Vanderbilt and a host of smaller schools. He accepted a scholarship to play linebacker at Mississippi before the school was hit by NCAA sanctions in 1995 that forced it to forfeit 24 scholarships over a two-year span. Moore enrolled at Mississippi, then decided he didn't feel comfortable there. He was relieved that his scholarship was revoked.
Moore immediately enrolled at Holmes Community College in Goodman, Miss., where he played linebacker for one season and continued to stay in touch with Charley Wiles, who had recruited Moore for Murray State. Wiles moved to Virginia Tech in 1996 and persuaded Moore to accompany him to a place--and a school--of which Moore had never heard.
"Coach Wiles had followed me since my sophomore year and he just stayed in touch with me," Moore said. "We have a very special relationship. My mom trusted me with him and trusted him to take care of me, and he's never disappointed her."
And Moore never disappointed Wiles. Moore studied film of former Virginia Tech all-American defensive end Cornell Brown (now with the Baltimore Ravens) and bulked up to his present weight. Moore never hesitated about playing the position--though he said everyone else had recruited him as a linebacker--and after redshirting in 1996, he spent the 1997 season backing up Engelberger.
"I never even thought anything about Corey's size," Wiles said. "It's his speed, power--the combination of that. And it's his determination and will to win. Those are intangibles that some kids just have. I don't think there's any question Corey will find his place in the pros."
Moore had a breakout season in 1998, registering the 13.5 sacks for 111 yards in losses and 67 tackles. Only Brown and Buffalo Bills all-pro Bruce Smith have had more sacks in a season for the Hokies (Smith holds the season record, with 22 in 1983).
Two Degrees In May 1999, he received a degree in finance, fulfilling a promise he made to his maternal grandmother, who died on his 17th birthday in 1994. (He is working on a second degree, in management, which he hopes to finish this spring. And he plans eventually to put both degrees to use by attending law school and becoming a sports agent.)
"When my grandmother died, I was so broken up I couldn't even go to the funeral," said Moore, who never has been to his grandmother's grave site, but did visit her former house two years ago on Mother's Day. "Nobody believed in me like her and my mom. And all she wanted to do was see me go to college . . . and graduate. She saw it. She was looking down on me. I couldn't let her down."
That emotion and sense of resolve have kept Moore from slowing down on the field this season. "He didn't want to be a flash-in-the-pan," Wiles said. "Didn't want to have just one great junior year."
Moore has captivated Hokies fans--and the media--with his quick wit and tell-all style. His eyelids flutter when he thinks, opening slowly to reveal large, telling eyes that many find reminiscent of former Chicago Bears star Mike Singletary's. There isn't a sign in Lane Stadium bearing Moore's name that doesn't depict the 'oo' as a pair of daring eyes.
"I remember my first full practice as a freshman," said the Hokies' starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Michael Vick. "Just looking him in the eyes was very intimidating for me. I dropped back and Corey came in so fast. When he got to me he said, 'This game ain't easy.' That's when I knew I had to improve."
That's probably the mildest thing to come out of Moore's mouth on the field. He laughs when people talk about his fiery nature, and wonders what they would think if they knew his two greatest joys are talking to his mom on the telephone and indulging in her sweet potato pie with vanilla ice cream.
"I think I have a split personality," Moore said, laughing. "Off the field, I'm one of the nicest people you'd ever meet, but on the field--that's my other personality. I'd slap somebody's momma if they walked out on the field and lined up against me. That's my competitive side. To play football right, you have to play with emotion and with passion and you have to mix a little trash talking in there to have fun. To play football right--to live life right--you have to go full-steam ahead, and that's what I do."
CAPTION: Just 6 feet, 212 pounds, Hokies defensive end Corey Moore has 13 sacks. "I just don't bite my tongue. I try not to hurt people's feelings, but sometimes I just can't help it."
CAPTION: Corey Moore says he's a nice guy, but "I'd slap somebody's momma if they walked out on the field and lined up against me."