Bad news never had good timing.
The last Tuesday in August was as routine for Malachi Moore as any other day since he had arrived at Boston College. A freshman just getting adjusted, he had finished summer school. Training camp was coming to the last of its howling dog days. The Sept. 1 season opener against Miami was in everyone’s sights. Moore was working on his morning weight lifting.
Then, he got a call to see defensive line coach Jeff Comissiong in his office. Moore’s father was on the phone.
There was no other way for Boris Moore to tell his son.
His mother, Karen, had a stroke.
She was only 48.
“At that moment, I wasn’t really thinking that something like that would happen,” Malachi said.
He was on a plane home to New Jersey the next day. They went to the hospital to see her as a family. She passed away that Thursday.
“It was tough,” Boris Moore said. “It was certainly unexpected. And you can imagine any 18-year-old boy, the relationship with their mom. Every boy, every kid wants their mom. Even as a grown man, there are times when I just want to call my mother.
“For Karen to be taken away so suddenly, and at this point in life, when he was going through so much transition — he was entering college, he was a Division 1 football player, all the demands that go along with football at a D-1 school, not to mention the academics at BC — it was difficult.”
Malachi stayed home that weekend. He and his father watched the Miami game on TV. He didn’t wait long to head back to Chestnut Hill, though. His mother was the one who got him into football, the one who took two trips to BC with him, the one who fell in love with the school the same way he did. He wanted to be there.
“A lot of people don’t understand how I’m handling it,” Malachi said. “It’s hard, I’m not going to lie. It’s probably one of the hardest, most stressful years of my life. My mother loved football. She actually was the one who got me into football.”
She is on her son’s mind and in his heart, if not in his presence. When he runs onto the field, Malachi draws a cross in the air with his fingers and points to the sky to remember her. He has her birthdate — “3-4-64” — written on his gloves. She was with him last Saturday, when he found out four hours before kickoff against Florida State that he’d get his first taste of Atlantic Coast Conference football.
He embraced the moment.
“My mother’s death gives me strength,” Malachi said. “I think about her all the time, nonstop, especially when I’m on the field. That gives me strength.”
The only reason Moore traveled with the team to Tallahassee was in case of an emergency. He had been on the scout team the five weeks before that.
His responsibilities were simple — lift weights and get lots of protein.
Kickoff was at 5:30 p.m. At about 1, Comissiong told him he wanted to meet. A nerve injury in Mehdi Abdesmad’s neck made it impossible for him to play. Comissiong told Moore he’d be suiting up.
“I was tweaking out,” Moore said. “I’m not going to lie.”
His nerves were jumping. The first thing Moore did was call his father. Malachi is an overthinker, and his mind was a mosh pit. Florida State football. 85,000 fans. First college game. Boris just wanted to settle him down.
“I told him to go get it,” Boris said. “I said, ‘You’re stomping with the big dogs now.’ I said, ‘There are going to be 85,000 people there and you can shut them up.’ ”
Before they got off the phone, Malachi threw it out there, more wishful thinking than anything else.
He said, “Dad, what if I get a sack?”
He took the field extra early. He took in Doak Campbell Stadium. Walked the grass at Bobby Bowden Field. The nerves eventually thawed.
“It was just a dream come true,” he said. “I was too happy to be nervous. It was pretty much just go-time from there. I really didn’t have a choice.”
He played above his age. His moment came just before the end of the first quarter. On third and 4, Seminoles quarterback EJ Manuel dropped back, then drifted out of the pocket. Before he could look up Moore was in his face.
He wrestled Manuel to the ground for his first career sack — just BC’s fifth of the season. The Seminoles were forced to punt. It was one of only two Florida State drives that didn’t end in a touchdown in the first half of the 51-7 beating.
It was the kind of play coach Frank Spaziani knew Moore could make, even if he wasn’t expecting it so soon.
“He made the play because he’s an athlete,” Spaziani said. “He was in the right spot and then he was just a football player. He was doing his job, the guy came over and he went and sacked him. That’s the stuff he has.”
Moore had grabbed plenty of quarterbacks in his lifetime. This time, he was grabbing an opportunity.
“When you get called on,” he said, “you just go get it.”
The love bug caught Karen and Boris in college. They met during their first semester as freshmen.
“August of 1982,” Boris said.
She went to Spellman. He went to Morehouse. She pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha. He pledged Omega Psi Phi.
They tied the knot in 1988 and started a family not long after. First a daughter, Vanessa, then a son, Malachi.
As young parents, they made sure to keep their kids busy. That meant weekends were always full. Indoor soccer, tee ball, baseball, basketball, football.
The genes were there. Boris, at 6 feet 2 inches, played football for Morehouse. His father, Sherman Moore, was 6-6. Karen was 6-1, a basketball player in high school. Her father, Willie Campbell, was 6-7, drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1967 and had a short stint in the NBA before going on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.
“We just got the genes,” Boris said.
Vanessa took after her mother. She sprouted to 6-2 and is about to start her senior season as a center on Georgetown’s basketball team. Malachi followed his father’s footsteps.
“Football would always seem to be his sport,” Boris said. “He always looked so natural on the field.”
When Malachi was invited to a three-day camp at Boston College in the summer of 2011, Karen was his buddy on the road.
The campus, she thought, was gorgeous. The academics couldn’t have been more impressive. The environment was one in which she could see her son.
“She fell in love with the campus like I did,” Malachi said.
BC made him an offer at the end of the camp. He made his official visit in December.
“You go someplace and you just know this is where you belong, where your son belongs, that’s the feeling we got,” Boris said.
Call to action
Spaziani saw early on that Moore would be a player. He had the physical presence (6-6, 240 pounds). He had the track record (60 tackles, 14 sacks, and five forced fumbles his senior year at Pope John XXIII High School in New Jersey). But Spaziani wanted to protect Moore’s potential.
They had a conversation about redshirting Moore. It wasn’t easy for either of them.
“It wasn’t clear-cut,” Spaziani said. “We thought we could get something out of him.”
The decision made sense. They both knew it.
Moore was big, but not ACC big. He didn’t even start lifting weights until the spring of 2011. He didn’t start playing defensive end until his senior year at Pope John. His experience at the position amounted to a grand total of nine games.
But for Moore, it was his first time sitting out. A father talking to a frustrated son, Boris just tried to take the sting off. Boris told him to take the year, grind it out on the scout team, get beaten up by veteran maulers like Eagles captain Emmett Cleary, and learn from it.
“It was about him getting stronger,” Boris said. “He was going to be a beast come next year. I was trying to say all the right things.”
Malachi lifted weights. He took protein every day. He worked hard on the scout team.
“Up until Florida State, that was the plan,” he said.
The injuries that decimated the Eagles’ depth chart before the season even started forced Spaziani to play nine freshmen during the Eagles’ 1-5 start. Spaziani wanted many of his freshmen to sit out a year and develop.
“Things never go as planned in life in general,” Malachi said.
With his defensive line depleted, Spaziani had to crack the glass case and burn Moore’s redshirt eligibility.
“It was a no-brainer,” Spaziani said. “It was just like, ‘Let’s go.’ Necessity is the root of innovation, or something like that.”
The defense has leaned on the freshmen more than anticipated. The Eagles have paid for their lack of experience. But those players have willingly walked on coals.
“Those guys usually bring exactly what you expect — youth and enthusiasm and excitement,” Spaziani said. “They’re happy to get going and get playing.”
Strong support system
Boris’s phone blew up. Co-workers. Friends. People from Pope John. They were all watching. They all saw Malachi make his mark as a college football player.
When he finally talked to his son, they were emotional.
“It was just a lot of memories about her and him and all the work he put it,” Boris said.
He told Malachi, “If you ever doubt yourself, just look back to that sack. You can play with these kids.”
When his mother died, Malachi didn’t want to wallow. He wanted to get back on campus.
“He wanted to be in this support system and he wanted to be with his teammates,” Spaziani said. “It’s obviously a personal decision, but that says a lot to our players and the coaches and certainly the BC community. Our players respected that.”
When he looked at the young players who had to learn on the fly, linebacker Steele Divitto said Moore stood out.
“How he’s responded and how he’s come back really shows he’s a team player,” said Divitto. “He was thrown into the fire pretty quickly and he responded.”
Boris said there was no other place his son would have rather been.
“The locker room, the team is his family,” he said. “The camaraderie of the team is important to him. Just being with his teammates, I think he found comfort in the locker room with his teammates. That’s his solace, being with his teammates in the locker room every day. That’s like a blanket for him.”
The moments immediately after the game belong to parents and players. The field is clear. The scoreboard is clear. The smell of combat is the only lingering trace of a game. The stadium is empty. The face-painted fans abandoned the stands for the parking lot, winners louder than the losers.
The players click-clack through the tunnel, holding their helmets by the facemask, sweaty, grass-stained, blood-soaked messes. The parents wait at the side, giving the same look they did when their children were just boys, even though they know they’ve grown into men.
That moment never changes.
“I’m sure he would love to be able to see his mom,” Boris said. “Obviously, I wish she was there with me. That was always the time that we shared together.
“After the game, you go meet your boy. They come out, they’re exhausted, they’ve given their all. You just see them. They’re not Malachi Moore the football player. He’s just my son. I’m sure if he could walk out of the locker room and see her, that would be wonderful.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.