The first play of last Saturday’s season-opening win over UTEP could have been designed for anyone wearing burnt orange.
It could’ve been a run play for Keaontay Ingram. Or a dump-off to tight end Cade Brewer. Sam Ehlinger could have taken it himself around the left end. But the play was called for wide receiver Joshua Moore.
It was an undeniable success. First-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich looked like a genius. Moore caught Ehlinger’s rocket in stride on a slant route and went 78 yards for a touchdown. Asked when he knew that would be the first play, “I say Tuesday,” Moore said.
In all reality, that buildup to that moment started July 5, 2019.
UTEP is v good at social distancing from Josh Moore pic.twitter.com/4PMHKzXgQg
— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) September 13, 2020
Moore was arrested that day in downtown Austin after police saw him chamber a round in a 9 mm pistol that he had removed from his waistband. His actions were caught on camera, according to the arrest affidavit. Moore pleaded no contest to a Class A misdemeanor charge, he forfeited the gun and paid a $200 fine.
The real trouble began when he got back to campus. Longhorns coach Tom Herman suspended him for the entire 2019 season, although the coach only said publicly that UT would “let the legal process play out.” Moore knew where he stood. On extremely shaky ground.
Herman didn’t dismiss Moore from the team outright. But the receiver wasn’t just in the coach’s doghouse, either. This was somewhere else, a place where only Moore would decide if he would return.
“The whole time I wasn’t playing, I would shake his hand as many times as I could,” Moore said this week. “I wasn’t playing, but I was still here. And I was thankful for that. I’m thankful that he didn’t dismiss me.
“I got what I deserved,” Moore added. “I mean, it is what it is, honestly. But I’ve learned from the situation. Like I said, I got what I deserved. That was my punishment. I did my punishment and now I’m back.”
Some fans are furious about the football team’s recent foray into social justice issues. And that’s OK. Remember, these are 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds coming of age and discovering their voice at a place that’s designed to welcome open dialogue. This summer wasn’t the first time UT students made their voices heard, nor will it be the last.
But college athletes make mistakes, too. Moore wasn’t the first one to carry a weapon, nor will he be the last.
Herman was reflective this week when asked about his approach to off-the-field police matters. Why did this situation with Moore work? “It worked because he didn’t let anybody down,” Herman said. “Let’s call it what it is. It worked because of him and his commitment to doing better, being better.
“But if you’re asking why me, and the decision I made, I don’t know,” the coach added. “I think in this big business, millions of fans, millions of dollars, sometimes we forget as coaches why we got into this. I know I wouldn’t be sitting here if coaches in my life didn’t give me second chances.”
Herman said college athletes make mistakes. As an educator and father figure to many of these players, Herman knows each situation truly is different. “You have to assess and evaluate are they truly contrite,” he said. “Are they truly apologetic? Are they truly committed to change?”
This couldn’t have gone over well in Yoakum, Moore’s hometown. Moore and his twin brother Jordan were high school stars. Jordan Moore signed with Texas A&M but then transferred to Houston. Their older brother Quintin was 20 when he took his own life in 2013, an episode they do not speak much about publicly.
“I would consider us close by coach-to-family standards,” Herman said. “Mom, Michelyn, she’s been through some shit, now. To have what has happened in her life and her son’s life is unthinkable for most. She kept her chin up, kept her chin held high, and did the best job she could to raise the twins.”
Football binds the family together. For Joshua, knowing that he was on the cusp of losing his scholarship was the ultimate wake-up call.
“That year-and-a-half was a long, long, long year and a half being away from doing what I love, which is playing football,” Moore said. “To be honest, man, every game that I did not play in last year, I cried.
“Me being who I am, I love football, I grew up around football. Coming here was my dream and just to know that I almost threw that away, it hurt me,” he continued. “So I was disappointed in myself at first. But I also learned that I’m a strong individual. I learned I have an awesome support system. I learned that some of my friends weren’t really my friends. I took a lot away from it. I’m thankful they happen. Just I’m glad to be back, man.”
What’s the most important takeaway? “Not to take this stuff for granted,” he said.
Moore finished the opener with six catches for 127 yards, both team highs, and one touchdown. Texas’ receiving corps would get a major boost if he keeps that up all season.
But it bears repeating. Moore is the one who got himself back on that field by sticking with Texas when he could have easily gone elsewhere.
“My respect for (Herman) has gone through the roof,” Moore said. “I definitely don’t regret coming here. I definitely don’t regret the day they started recruiting me. I thank him for the opportunity just to be here with him, being coached by him every day. It means a lot.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.