CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Offensive lineman T.J. Moore says he felt an instant connection with his future teammates and coaches when he made an official visit to Florida in January.
But it wasn’t just the members of the Gators’ football program who made him feel instantly at home in Gainesville.
“Also, I went to a few parties. The parties (were) all right. They made sure I was good, though,” Moore recalled. “… When I was at the parties and I was around the whole school campus, everybody just knew who I was and they were just making sure I was good while I was down there.
“Even some of the people who just attended school to go to school, they knew who I was too. So I really liked that. In the middle of the party, ‘Oh, T.J. Moore. Can I pull you to the side and talk to you?’ They talked to me for a minute, ‘Yeah, this is a great place, make sure you get your degree, walk across that stage. Even if you go to the league before, still come back and get your degree.’ I was surprised, really surprised.”
There was one such conversation in particular that stuck with Moore.
“It was this girl. She was beautiful. She was like, ‘Hey, I think I saw you on Twitter.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you probably did,'” he recalled. “She was like, ‘Yeah, I knew you were going to be down here,’ and she just started to talk to me about school and stuff.”
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Posted by Florida Gators Insiders on Friday, March 31, 2017
Moore, officially listed at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, is an offensive guard from Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, N.C., the same high school that produced former Gators and current Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries.
Rated a 4-star recruit, Moore is one of two offensive linemen the Gators added in their 2017 signing class along with Kadeem Telfort, a 4-star tackle from Miami.
Moore was initially committed to South Carolina and later received a late pursuit from Auburn, but he felt most at home at Florida – be it around those regular students or his future Gators teammates.
“When I went down there, they felt like my teammates already. They feel like my brothers already,” Moore said Friday evening over dinner in Charlotte. “All the other visits nobody really sat down and talked to me about what it’s going to be like, how the mornings are going to be like, how the nights (are) and how you’ve got to decide if you want to go out tonight or study some film and watch plays. I could just see that they were really dedicated and had their heads on the right way also. They had the same kind of mindset I did.”
After committing last summer to South Carolina, Moore decommitted in October. His strongest connection with the Gamecocks early in the recruiting process was former interim head coach Shawn Elliott, who would leave in December to become the head coach at Georgia State.
That furthered his desire to reconsider his football future.
“I just was losing touch with coaches, and Coach Elliott, that’s who I was mainly closest to, he had left,” he said. “… I was still having doubts in my head, ‘Was this the right school for me?'”
As for Auburn, the coaching staff there made its push for Moore in the final month. He feels if they had gotten involved earlier, the Tigers might have had a better chance to sway him, but by then he was already committed to Florida and ready to be a Gator.
There was one last issue to consider, though.
Moore was planning to take an official visit to Auburn in January before then-Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers urged him not to go on that trip. Moore and his family complied, only to see Summers leave that same week to take the offensive line coaching position at Louisville.
“That was an awkward moment for us,” said Travaris Moore, T.J.’s father. “He told us not to take that visit, but he ended up leaving a week later.”
That put at least a little question back in the offensive lineman’s mind, but Florida head coach Jim McElwain reached out to assure Moore that the next offensive line coach — ultimately Brad Davis, from North Texas — would be a good fit.
“Coach Mac had called me (and said), ‘Just making sure everything’s OK, T.J. We’re going to get you a great offensive line coach. Everything didn’t work out (with Summers).’ So he kept his word, he got a great coach and he stayed in touch with me the whole time through it. So everything was good,” Moore said.
During his official visit, the rest of the Florida coaching staff reiterated that assurance and reminded him that they were all still there for him as well.
Davis was announced as the new offensive line coach in February and he and Moore have been talking on the phone since then. They’ll meet in person this week for the first time as Moore and his father plan to visit Gainesville for the Gators’ spring game Friday night.
“I’ve been talking to him a lot,” Moore said. “We’re trying to build a relationship, a bond.”
Meanwhile, Moore will be getting his first true taste of The Swamp this week. He hasn’t seen a game in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium yet, but he did stand inside the stadium on his official visit and imagine what it would be like playing in front of 90,000-plus fans.
“I think it was the second to last night, we went out to the field, I was just looking at the stands, looking at the field imagining how it was when everybody was there, when it was packed,” Moore said. “I can’t wait.”
The following is part of SEC Country’s Recruiting Rewind series:
Q: Having gone through the recruiting process, if you could give one piece of advice to a high school junior about what to expect, what would you tell them?
Moore: “I’d tell him to keep his grades up. That’s the first thing I’d tell him. And after that, I’d say never give up, because there was a few times I was going to give up. And as a junior, don’t worry about scholarships because they’re going to come. Just keep your head (right).”
Q: What was making you want to give up?
Moore: “It just got hard, and my grades had started slipping so I had to work extra hard to get my grades back up and then focus on football. So that was the only thing. Really at the end, everything had worked out pretty good, but at the end of my junior year it was (stressful).”
Q: Which school finished second in the end?
Moore: “I would probably say Auburn.”
Q: What could they have done better to attract you?
Moore: “Offer me before I had committed to Florida because they offered me like at the end. It was like at the end end. I would say if they had probably offered me a few months before and talked to me a little more, then yeah, they probably would have had a better shot.”
Q: What’s the most creative thing a school did to get your attention?
Moore: “N.C. State, they made a cookie cake and had my name all over it, my number. They had a wolf. Yeah, the cookie cake from N.C. State.”
Tonya Duncan, T.J.’s mom: “He was thinking about majoring in criminal justice, so what (Tennessee) did was they had a cop come and take T.J. on a ride around the city. … I thought that was pretty cool.”
Moore: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that. … Yeah, that was the best one.”
Q: What was the biggest rumor that wasn’t true about you during the process?
Moore: “That I had committed back to South Carolina. That came like right when Florida offered me. There was a rumor going around that I had committed back to South Carolina.”
Q: What’s the biggest secret you kept through the process?
Moore: “The biggest secret I kept, um, I don’t think there really was (any) secrets. Everything was just out there.”
Q: What’s the biggest regret you had through it all?
Moore: “My ninth grade year, losing focus with females and not keeping my grades up and slipping off. If I would have kept my grades up my freshman year I probably would have had at least like 50 offers instead of like 23. I know that for a fact.”
Q: Which coach was the hardest to say no to in the end?
Moore: “It was N.C. State. Coach Doeren (head coach Dave Doeren) and Coach Ledford (offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford) were the hardest to say no to because everything was just great. They went really hard, and I turned them down. I felt bad actually because (the offensive line coach from) Auburn had came (to visit at the high school) and N.C. State (assistant Eddie Faulkner) was there, and I remember that day and he was like, ‘Well, it was nice knowing you, T.J.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, hopefully we’ll keep in touch.’ That was the hardest day.”
Q: What school disappointed you the most?
Moore: “The school that disappointed me, Tennessee. Tennessee for sure. Because I was going to commit to them, and then they told me I couldn’t commit. And then once I was going to commit, this (other player) had committed and I didn’t hear nothing else from them.”
Q: Which coach was the nicest that you dealt with, and who was not the nicest?
Moore: “I believe the nicest coach I’ve ever dealt with was Coach (Shawn) Elliott from South Carolina. That was my man. We talked from the first time we met, first time I went to the camp, that’s when we started talking a lot. I just talked to him literally like every week. And the hardest coach I ever had to deal with was probably North Carolina’s offensive line coach. For some reason, me and him just wasn’t on the same page. At the camp and when we started talking, we just wasn’t seeing eye to eye. But my dad, he liked North Carolina a lot. It just wasn’t for me.”
Q: Lastly, if you were in charge of the NCAA, what would you change about the recruiting process?
Moore: “I’ve got to think about that one. … I think kids should try to take their officials before their senior year, and I also believe, sometimes I wish the schools would give us shirts and stuff. And what else would I change? I’d change a lot, honestly. I’ve just got to think about it.”