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November 10, 2010

HERO'S WELCOME - Corey Moore, one of Tech's greatest defensive players ever, returned to Blacksburg for a football game for the first time in 11 years - much to the delight of Hokie fans

By: Jimmy Robertson

Corey Moore was often harassing quarterbacks, and particularly ones from Clemson, as seen here when he pressured Brandon Streeter in a 1998 game at Clemson.

He brought more attention to Virginia Tech and to the school’s football program than arguably any other player in school history.

Yet Corey Moore shunned attention.

Still does.

However, Moore couldn’t possibly avoid the attention he received when the athletics department and the Hall of Fame selection committee decided to induct him into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame on Oct. 22, and then a day later, retire his jersey in front of thousands of adoring fans. One of the most decorated players in school history, he returned to campus with his family for the Hall of Fame banquet that Friday night and for the Duke game the following Saturday.

His induction wasn’t exactly the smoothest of processes. He received an e-mail from Donna Smith, the secretary in the athletics communications office, saying he’d been selected. But Moore had never heard of Donna Smith, so he simply deleted the e-mail without reading it through in great detail.

“I thought it was a joke,” Moore said. “I get all types of e-mails and stuff like that, so I just automatically deleted it. Then Dave Smith [assistant AD for athletics communications and no relation to Donna] called me. That’s when I realized what was going on.

“I was shocked. It’s a great honor, I guess. I’m not trying to downplay it. But you know me. I never made a fuss over all that individual stuff.”

Moore’s visit to Blacksburg for the Duke game marked his first visit to Lane Stadium for a game since he departed in 1999 – a span of nearly 11 years. He dabbled in the NFL for a while with two different teams (Buffalo and Miami) and then he put his finance degree to use by getting a job in real estate development. He contemplated law school at one point, but eventually decided to get his master’s at Michigan State and got a job there as a student advisor.

Though not intentionally, Moore basically appeared to … well … disappear. Fans constantly asked the coaching staff about Moore and his whereabouts, but the coaches rarely knew. Occasionally, defensive line coach Charley Wiles managed to get Moore on the phone, but other than that, there was little contact. On the occasions when the coaches got in touch with Moore, they repeatedly tried to bring him back to Blacksburg to retire his jersey. But those plans never materialized.

That left Hokie Nation wondering what was the deal.

“People keep asking me that,” Moore said. “I’ve moved on. I have a life and things going on, and it’s not like I live in Roanoke and can drive to Blacksburg any time.

“Would I like to come back more often? Yeah. Blacksburg is a special place to me. I miss it.”

Tech fans love Moore because he reminded them of themselves – tough, gritty, hard working and passionate about football. The only difference was that he possessed running back speed and lineman strength.

No one could have expected him to change the direction of Tech’s program when he arrived out of Holmes Junior College in Mississippi. Most jucos are misfits for various reasons, but Moore, a native of Brownsville, Tenn., only went to junior college after committing to Ole Miss and then seeing his scholarship pulled after the NCAA cut the school’s scholarship allotment for breaking the rules.

Wiles used to work at Murray State and used to recruit Moore’s high school. He sold Moore on Blacksburg and sold Frank Beamer on a 6-foot defensive end.

His 6-foot, 200-pound frame made opposing coaches chuckle. But he got the last laugh when he transformed his body in Mike Gentry’s strength and conditioning program, and that, matched with his fierce passion for the game, made him virtually an unstoppable force.

In 1998, his junior season, he finished with 13.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss on his way to becoming the BIG EAST’s defensive player of the year. He also blocked three kicks and helped Tech knock off Alabama in the Music City Bowl. He earned All-America honors in the process.

His senior season was much of the same. He posted a BIG-EAST record 17 sacks and was the league’s defensive player of the year again. He won the Nagurski Trophy and the Lombardi Award. More importantly, he led the Hokies to the national championship game, where they lost to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.

“Still haven’t watched that game,” Moore said. “I’ll get texts sometimes from friends and teammates saying that it’s on ESPN Classic or something like that. I’ve seen a few clips, but I haven’t watched it.”

Too painful?

“No, I just haven’t watched it,” Moore said. “It’s not painful. They were the better team. They deserved to win.

“To be honest, the 1998 season was more fun. I think we had a better team. People think I’m crazy, but if that whole team had returned, we’d have won it all [in 1999]. In 1999, there was too much pressure. In 1998, I just went out and had fun. No one had any expectations of me. As long as I didn’t screw up, I was fine. But in 1999, I felt the pressure. I didn’t want to be a one-year wonder.”

Moore and some guy named Vick spearheaded Tech’s march to the national championship game in 1999. Moore drew national headlines when he single-handedly dismantled Clemson in the third game of the season. He had five tackles and two sacks, and he also caused a fumble, recovered it and returned it for a touchdown in a 31-11 Tech victory.

During the course of the game, Moore could be seen looking into the ESPN cameras. Then he mouthed something that Tech fans grabbed on to and still say occasionally today.

“Welcome to the Terror Dome, baby,” Moore yelled, referring to Lane Stadium.

One can still catch that on YouTube.

Following the game, Tech’s defensive coaching staff gave him 71 points on their productivity chart – one of the highest point totals ever.

“People bring up that game a lot,” Moore said of his Clemson performance. “I didn’t do anything special.”

Of course, most would disagree, maybe all, but that’s typical Moore – brutally blunt. He never saw himself as a great player, but rather as someone just doing his job. Even today, he doesn’t rehash the old days or his tremendous exploits.

“I honestly don’t miss it,” Moore said of his playing days. “I miss being around Virginia Tech and being around the football program. I still watch these guys every chance I get.

“But I don’t miss playing. The only time I even talk about the old days is when I’m talking with old friends. Me and Larry Austin chat just about every day and sometimes we’ll bring something up. But to be honest, we talk more about the current state of the program. I don’t care to think about that other stuff.”

At one time, Moore contemplated getting into coaching. He loves teaching and he loves helping out. But he admits his connection with football – other than watching it as a fan – is just about over.

“I have no interest in coaching,” he said. “Six or seven years ago, I thought I might give it a try, but there are only a couple of head coaches whom I’d work for.

“Coach Beamer would be at the top of the list. I also like Mark Richt [University of Georgia head coach]. I really respect him as a person and the way he conducts himself and the way he’s handled the adversity this year. I also have a thing for Nick Saban [University of Alabama head coach]. They say he’s hard to work for, but he’d be intriguing to me as well. That’s about it.”

His passion these days is helping young students at Michigan State. He works as an academic advisor and special assistant to the dean for diversity in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences – a job he’s held since 2006. He’s also working toward his doctoral degree in higher, adult and lifelong education.

“I love students,” he said. “I love the college environment and impacting students’ lives. I work with a lot of first-generation college students and a lot of students who aren’t prepared for college. I try to help them with the transition and make their experience the best it can be.”

He’d be great doing something like that here in Blacksburg, too. Tech fans would certainly welcome him back.

He received a standing ovation when he walked out onto the field before the game during the jersey retirement ceremony. And he received plenty of hugs and handshakes, fist bumps and high-fives before, during and after the game.

Judging from the smile on his face, he enjoyed his return home – no matter how much attention he received.