Sept. 21, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Derrick Moore knows the power of words.
It’s something he takes very seriously.
In his ninth year as Georgia Tech Football’s Team Chaplain, the former All-America running back at Northeastern State University and four-year NFL star (he played with the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers, despite being undrafted), masterfully manipulates that power to comfort and motivate Tech student-athletes, who he hopes can follow a path similar to his.
“I had so many positive things happen in college as a result of some great mentors,” said Moore, who is a highly sought-after motivational speaker and author of two self-improvement books (for more, visit his web site, www.derrickmoorespeaking.com). “I thought that the college campus would be a very positive place to return to as a support staff sort. The ministry is something I’ve been involved with since I was in college. Those things help shape me to this day and, certainly, I wanted to go back and give back to 18- to-21-year-olds as I certainly was once upon a time.”
His forum to giving back is via the power of the spoken word.
“I’ve always enjoyed audiences,” said Moore, who began public speaking in the 11th grade and was the keynote speaker at his college graduation ceremony. “Whether it’s speaking to a corporate group or an athletic team or some civic organization, that’s been something that I’ve discovered that really is a gift and I’ve learned how to polish it and use it effectively.”
How effectively? Moore’s voluntary chapel time with the team has become a pre-game ritual for many.
“It’s not mandatory that you come to it, but everybody’s going ready to hear what he says,” said senior cornerback Dominique Reese. “He gets the ball rolling for everybody. Even the coaches get into it.
“He’s very enthusiastic,” Reese added. “Whether he’s talking about football or religion, or anything, he’s going to get you going and will definitely lift you up.”
A couple of Moore’s more impassioned speeches can actually be found on YouTube. Among them are a speech prior to the Yellow Jackets’ game against North Carolina in 2006, a speech he was unaware was being recorded, when he took a sledgehammer to a cement block — “I’ve always been a props-type person,” he said, with a laugh — and one prior to the 2007 opener at Notre Dame. Tech won both, 7-0 at Chapel Hill and 33-3 in South Bend.
Moore’s magic isn’t limited to pre-game, as sometimes, his fervor won’t allow him to just sit idly by during games.
Reese recalled an in-game pep talk to the defense during the second half of the Sept. 11 game at Kansas.
“We were down 28-17, we needed a stop,” he said. “[Moore] got us up. He got the defense going. We went out there and got a stop. You can’t put into the words the effect he has on us as a team.”
The effect is mutual, as the team has deeply touched and impassioned Moore, who can frequently be seen hugging and high-fiving players, yelling encouragement to the unit going on the field then swiveling to give props to the guys coming off.
“I experience knowing their lives in a very confidential way. When you see them succeed on the field or go through great struggle, you’re in it with them,” he said. “My passion comes out on game day because I know the lives and experiences of our student-athletes and you cheer for them so greatly. You want to give those kids as much support as you can possibly give them on game day.”
For Moore, a father of three, being a father figure to the team means being available to offer an ear or a shoulder to lean on after the clock hits 00:00 on Saturday afternoon. That’s never an issue.
“He has an open-door policy,” said Reese. “Any time you can talk to him about anything. That’s just a weight off your shoulders. If you’re dealing with something that maybe you don’t want to talk to the coaches about or don’t want someone to judge you, you can definitely go in there and talk to him and he’ll keep it between you.”
Reese recalled a visit with Moore last season that turned things around for him.
“I had messed up my shoulder in the Miami game early in the year,” he said. “He told me to be patient, and just talked about things. He got me back on the right track and got me back wanting to play football.”
The opportunity to provide hope, as he did with Reese, and inspiration, as he did to the defense during the Kansas game, makes every day with the team a blessing.
“I have the great privilege of being able to mentor them and build relationships away from football,” he said. “I’m there as a support system for the University, for the athletic department. I’m here to help them, to provide spiritual enrichment. That’s something that’s not mandatory. It’s voluntary. But then there’s the life-coaching and developmental coaching that I do in terms of helping them know the differences and embrace the differences between right and wrong and taking hold of the one opportunity that so many others would crave to have, that is to participate at a wonderful university, get one of the best educations out there and certainly to participate in football at the highest level.”
Of course, along the way, Moore can’t resist reminding the guys that there were gridiron glory days in his past as well.
“We knew he was a great player. We’ve seen highlights. He loves showing off his highlights,” said Reese, with a laugh. “He’ll bring it up, especially with the incoming freshmen. He’ll let them know, ‘I was a player, also.’ He’ll tell you, `I’ve been there and I’ve done that, also.'”