Whatever it takes: The reincarnation of Cal tight end Collin Moore

photo of football player Collin Moore holding a football
Eliana Marcu/Senior Staff

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Football, for most Americans, is intricately woven into the fabric of their lives come fall. Synonymous with the changing of the season, football’s return, for some, is a much-needed reprieve from the humdrum of our daily lives. A 7:30 p.m. Saturday night kickoff is sure to wipe the worries of the real world away, if only for a moment. The first blow of the whistle sets into motion a series of events that happen one after another, ordered and sequenced, tallied and accounted for. Through the chaos of the scrum, a schedule appears, and there is a timeline to be followed. Order, pure order.

For Collin Moore, the carefully woven mesh of the sport almost left him behind. Now in his fifth season with the Bears, the senior tight end was not always favored to last as long as he has. In fact, the former quarterback would likely tell you just the opposite.

“I sucked,” Moore said, laughing with a sincerity that Hollywood couldn’t buy. “That spring, it was tough because I was really bad.”

He is, of course, talking about his first opportunity to play football for the California Golden Bears. Moore, a lightly recruited quarterback, was coming off a knee injury that prevented him from fully joining the Bears in padded practices the summer and fall following his senior year of high school.

Becoming a Bear and then not being able to participate in the sport he had trained his whole life for was disappointing to Moore, to say the least. His knee injury held him back from proving himself to brand-new teammates, whose opinions of him he valued highly.

“I would kind of be the weird kid on the sidelines watching practice, and everyone would wonder, ‘Is he on the team? Is he not on the team?’ ” Moore said.

Standing and watching, waiting for the whistle to blow to let his college career begin.

Moore comes from a long line of football players, making his ties to the sport more tightly woven than most. His grandfather had the opportunity to try out for the Raiders several times but never made it past the practice squad. Moore’s father, Brent, however, spent several years playing for the Green Bay Packers. His uncle played at Louisville, and his brother played at San Diego State. All of them played some form of defense, be it at linebacker or defensive end.

The Moore dinner table was filled with pass rush tips on how to get in the quarterback’s face as quickly as possible. And then there sat Moore, the quarterback in question.

“I wanted to be the pretty boy, of course,” a smirking Moore said. “Younger sibling syndrome, I guess.”

It’s worth noting that Moore’s father agreed with the former statement and laughed at the latter. He claims that Moore spent all of his pregame time “in front of the mirror making sure everything was right.”

Perhaps it was only right that he made sure. Moore played quarterback in the same Pop Warner program Jared Goff had and even wore No. 16 just like the future first overall pick did. Whether or not the number he wore was his choice is up for debate, but he certainly looked the part. Standing at 6’4” and 220 pounds his senior year of high school, Moore looked every bit like what scouts love.

He would get the opportunity to show what he could actually do on the field as well, playing his senior season and attending scouting camps at places such as Harvard, Yale, Lewis and Clark and City College of San Francisco (a powerhouse in the national junior college landscape) — all of which had shown interest in Moore.

Not only did Moore garner attention as an athlete, but he also gained acceptance into several schools with “decent” grades (his mother, Dana, argues that they were far more than “decent”). But getting into good schools without football left Moore with a choice.

“Do I quit football and go to one of these decent academic institutions and leave football behind?” Moore wondered. “Or do I go to City College and kind of risk it all on this football thing?”

Leaving football would mean walking away from a long family legacy, but going to City College meant opening up a whole new world of risks. For a zero-star quarterback, there was a serious choice that had to be made. Luckily, another school came into play: Cal.

“It was in the 11th hour for sure,” his mother said. “I mean, the coaches were getting ready to watch Jared Goff get drafted, and they were saying, ‘Hold tight, don’t commit anywhere because we’re going to be back in four days.’ ”

So, late in April, in the midst of the biggest decision of his life, Moore got his golden opportunity. He was going to Cal.

Adversity is something Moore is comfortable in the face of, but upon enrolling at Cal, he would face a whole new set of challenges. As a grayshirt freshman quarterback who had never thrown a ball at a college practice, he walked into the spring with a sense of determination that would come to define his career. The whistle blew, and he dropped back to throw, arcing his arm back and getting ready to let it fly.

“I mean, he got out there, and he was throwing grounders,” his father said. “I was like, ‘Oh s—.’ ”

At the end of spring camp, head coach Justin Wilcox pulled Moore into his office and politely told him that they’d love to have him help them out, just not as a quarterback, and not in any sort of jersey.

They’d cut him.

“They basically told him he couldn’t play quarterback and that he should get an office job,” his father said.

“I think that spurred him on even angrier,” his mother said. “Like, ‘No, I’m going to stand on the field. I’m going to wear the jersey.’ ”

Moore remembers walking back to his dorm with just one thing on his mind: I need to play football. Upon his return, he was greeted by his then-roommate, an up-and-coming cornerback named Elijah Hicks. After a brief moment of sadness, Moore posited the idea that he might try to play another position, maybe tight end.

Within minutes, Hicks and Moore were in a sandpit, working toward the next step in Moore’s journey.

“What do you have to lose?” his mother offered him. “The worst you’re going to hear is no.”

Luckily for Moore, there wasn’t a second no, and at the end of a football-less summer, Wilcox gave him the call he’d been waiting for. He was invited to return to camp, this time as a tight end.

“I remember getting in a three-point stance for the first time, and I was trying to figure it out. It was like a whirlwind,” Moore said. “Some of the older guys took me in, guys like Ray Hudson, Malik McMorris, Ian Bunting. That was such a great tight end room looking back, and I look up to those guys. Without them, I wouldn’t be playing tight end. I wouldn’t know how to play tight end. I was a joke.”

The brevity breaks up the air for a moment, but Moore remains serious. He recalls his first welcome to a padded practice, where the former quarterback was greeted enthusiastically in the hole by all 6’2” and 252 pounds of linebacker Devante Downs. But the willingness to take on a future NFL linebacker as a scout team tight end is what makes Moore so valuable in the tight end room.

“We, the tight ends, call ourselves ‘dawgs’ — that’s been since the older guys,” he said. “Basically, you do whatever is asked.”

Whether that’s inserting on Downs or eventually catching his first career touchdown in the back of the end zone versus Illinois in the Redbox Bowl, Moore has always been up for the challenge.

“Collin shocked the hell out of me,” his father said, “because he was a protected quarterback his whole career, and now he’s a badass out there. He’s a tight end now; he’s a tough guy.”

His mother credits that toughness to his youth, when even as a 9-year-old with an ACL injury, Moore fought back, refusing to take no as an answer.

“I remember the doctor saying that he should probably lay low, probably won’t be a kid that plays a lot of sports,” his mother said. “I just remember thinking, ‘Absolutely not, I just know with 100% of my heart that this kid is just going to do whatever it takes to get to play.’ ”

It’s that never-say-die attitude that has propelled Moore to where he stands today. Once a banged-up grayshirt backup quarterback, Moore elevated himself to a level of play at a brand-new position that would eventually lead him to a scholarship at the No. 1 public university in the United States.

“The validation of getting that scholarship, I think it’s really important for him,” his father said.

For Moore, just the validation of still being in a locker room after all these years might have been enough.

“Technically, I mean, I’m not even supposed to be here,” the senior said. “I was either going to go to junior college or play Division III. I mean, I even got cut. I was deciding whether to be a normal student. Like, was I going to be a Cal football fan or a Cal football player?”

For most people, being cut from a team hurts. Being cut from a team after performing poorly in your dream position hurts even more. But there’s a difference between being hurt and being done. Moore was not, and is not, done.

“Whatever it takes, he’s going to do it,” his mother said.

A familiar sentiment to a room full of dawgs.

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.