Feb. 4, 2017
Wiley Ballard | The Good Word
“D-Mo has the whole city of Atlanta on fire right now.”
That’s how Georgia Tech defensive end KeShun Freeman described the last month of Derrick Moore and his work for the Atlanta Falcons.
Moore’s first inspirational talk was in a cramped locker room, surrounded only by teammates and coaches at his NAIA school in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
His most recent oration? A slightly larger audience. Try the 5.5 million Super Bowl-crazed citizens of Metro Atlanta on for size. Before each of the Atlanta’s playoff games, Moore has teamed up with the Atlanta Falcons video department to create inspirational content intended to energize a rabid fan base.
Between his time as a tailback for the Northeastern State Riverhawks and as a larger-than-life embodiment of the Falcons’ “Rise Up” creed, Derrick Moore and his spoken word turned hundreds of Yellow Jackets loose before they’ve taken the field at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
With over 1.5 million combined views across a handful of YouTube performances, Moore’s knack for energizing the Georgia Tech locker room has become almost as revered as the stadium’s namesake itself. But how?
Moore, affectionately referred to as D-Mo by the Georgia Tech community, serves as the athletics department’s director of student-athlete leadership development. The role provides enrichment, encouragement and support to players and staff alike, both in football and all other phases of life. Moore champions Tech’s iconic Total Person Program calling it an “instrumental tool” that teaches the fundamentals of life: how to communicate, how to take on a project and how to deliver at the highest level.
On gameday, Moore uses his instrument of choice, a gifted and inimitably commanding voice, to raise the pregame energy to a deafening pitch.
When trying to pinpoint the genesis of his motivational talents, Moore points to his days as a youth under the hot South Georgia sun and his first coach, Coach Hall.
“He was a father figure to me who inspired me with his words,” Moore said. “He taught me toughness. I became a motivational speaker because of his inspiration.”
Although Moore can’t recall Hall’s first name (“he was always `Coach Hall!'”), he credits his mentor with one of his most potent pieces of ammunition: “We gon’ fight `til we can’t fight no more.”
Yes, that’s right. The motto that has spanned generations of Yellow Jackets from the days of Calvin Johnson and Tashard Choice to the 2014 Orange Bowl championship run to last year’s season-ending four-game winning streak was first delivered during a middle school practice in Albany, Georgia – perhaps the most seminal moment in pee-wee football since the formation of Pop Warner’s first youth program.
Another constant in Moore’s Georgia Tech tenure has been the undeniably powerful, but selectively utilized, sledgehammer. Freeman, a rising senior, claims he has only seen the sledgehammer two or three times in his Tech career but will never forget the night he saw its full powers on display against No. 7 Florida State in 2015.
“When we opened our eyes [after a time for prayer], he had the sledgehammer and he started running side-to-side,” Freeman explains while rising up in his chair in an attempt to mimic Moore’s broad shoulders and fiery intensity. “It just does something to you. I’m not usually a big vocal person but that makes me scream and jump around.”
By night’s end, more than 50,000 fans joined Freeman in the screaming and jumping as the Yellow Jackets pulled off one of the most iconic finishes in program history: a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown — The Miracle on Techwood Drive.
This past September, Freeman was named to the prestigious Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, an honor bestowed on only 25 student-athletes who balance academics with athletics while donating their time to helping others. Following Georgia Tech’s TaxSlayer Bowl victory, Freeman flew to New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl to be recognized with the other recipients.
While the honorees traded stories, North Carolina Central’s Carl Jones made mention of Georgia Tech’s famed pregame speaker and the `We ain’t dead yet’ creed. Through nothing more than an online clip, Jones testified to his fellow student-athletes: “It did something to me.” A crowd began to gather as Freeman began sharing video after video, performance after performance. His peers, hailing from Texas, Minnesota, Hawai’i and beyond, were mesmerized. They couldn’t get enough of Georgia Tech’s Derrick Moore.
Now on the eve of the Super Bowl, D-Mo’s voice again echoes across a national stage as the spokesman for the Falcons’ historic playoff run. His trio of Brotherhood installments have totaled more than four million combined views over the past month. Moore describes the opportunity as coming full circle.
“They wanted me to be the voice and face of this Brotherhood theme that Coach [Dan] Quinn is so passionate about. It was an honor to be asked to do that. I love the Falcons organization. I am indebted to the Falcons because they gave me my first job leaving college.”
Correct. This isn’t the first time Derrick Moore had been selected by his hometown NFL team.
Playing in front of only 1,500 fans, a 24-year-old Derrick Moore rushed for roughly 1,500 yards as a senior at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Okla. At that point, Moore wondered “I don’t know how in the world the scouts were going to find me here.’
But someone said, `if you can play, they’ll find you.”
After every NFL team attended Moore’s pro day, the university president opted to throw a campus-wide party in honor of his impending selection in the NFL Draft. Only the sprite 24-year-old running back’s name wasn’t called.
“I was rejected to be a first-rounder. Mel Kiper was on TV talking at the time – and that guy still looks the same by the way, I need to drink the water he’s drinking,” he laughs heartily. “Either the Eagles or Steelers, I was thinking are going to take me in the late first round. They got to that 28th pick, didn’t pick me and I slipped.”
Distraught and embarrassed given the university’s pomp and circumstance, Moore sat disconsolate in his dorm room during the draft’s later rounds. His roommate, Chauncey Leverette, was a source of comfort through the agonizing hours. And then the phone rang.
It was Moore’s mother. “The Atlanta Falcons are taking you in the eighth round!”
As relieving as it was, Moore was confounded as to why it was his own mother delivering the news. She went on to explain that Atlanta had Moore listed on their board, but without a phone number to contact him, they improvised. They successfully tracked down Moore’s childhood home in Albany and obtained a phone number. As soon as she got the news, Moore’s mother shrieked, “Oh my God! I can tell you exactly how to get to him.”
Almost a quarter of a century later, Moore was the Falcons top selection after viewing his tape at Georgia Tech. Although he jokingly insists that the Falcons probably still have his mother’s number. “That’s probably how they got me this time!”
All kidding aside, Moore relishes the opportunities he has been given.
“I don’t think there’s a greater city or more progressive city than the city of Atlanta. If you put those three things together, the city of Atlanta, Georgia Tech and the Falcons, then you’ve got something extraordinary,” he asserts. “And I’ve had the great privilege to be a part of all three of them.”
With Super Bowl LI looming on Sunday at 6:30 p.m., Moore delivers a prediction as confident, bold and concise as any speech he’s ever given.