Rondale Moore exclusive: 1am quarterback calls, record-breaking debut, Ohio State heroics, chasing perfection

Which team will land Rondale Moore’s talents at the 2021 NFL Draft? (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via AP)

1am in the morning, and the light in 18-year-old Rondale Moore’s mind is still beaming. It resembles a self-designed dimmer as opposed to a straight on-off function, for that allows him to slip into standby mode while never quite having to fully switch off.

Working on overtime is something of a norm for the freshman, whose proactiveness prompts a late night phone call to his Purdue quarterback David Blough. The kind of call Blough would become accustomed to over the next few months.

He has a playbook question. One that could probably wait until the morning, but why waste precious time? The ‘first guy in, last guy out’ cliche doesn’t apply to Moore, because he never leaves, not really.

“I basically got every script that was in the office before camp so I could write down what everyone had on the play and I could basically learn it faster and then when I got in meetings it wouldn’t be the first time of seeing it, it would just be like a reminder and I would get to practice and not think and I could just go play,” Moore tells Sky Sports.

“So I got the script and there was some stuff on there I didn’t know, so I would go through the whole sheet and anything I didn’t know I would call David and ask him about it. That’s how that kind of happened and at camp it pretty much lasts all day so I was up late anyway.”

“My family still look at me as little Rondale”

Hours of chiselling his football brain overnight evolved into the birth of a star overnight as Moore went on to announce himself with a school-record 313 all-purpose yards on his Boilermakers debut in a 31-27 defeat to Northwestern, his day consisting of 11 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, two carries for 79 yards rushing that included a 76-yard burst to the house, and 125 kickoff return yards.

Not long afterwards it was Moore receiving the post-12pm calls from teammates looking to pick his brains about a particular concept or play.

A blockbuster curtain-raiser elicited an explosion in recognition among the Boilermakers of West Lafayette, Indiana, who marvelled over the potential emergence of Purdue’s next Drew Brees-calibre paladin. But while life changed, Moore didn’t.

“My inner circle stayed the same and thankfully my family continued to be hard on me about school and working hard and the importance of both,” he explains. “I think the biggest difference was from everybody outside and what I mean by that is classmates, people around the town, obviously I gained some followers on social media.

“It’s pretty cool because as a kid you see other people do it that are considered ‘superstars’ or whatever and then when you’re actually in those shoes you have to be very careful with what you say and what you do and know there’s always an eye on you so it’s just important to be diligent about how you handle your business.

“It could be pressure for some guys but for guys such as myself luckily I was raised by the right people and in the right home and correct situation. It’s pretty cool to say the least. It’s a lot more crazy to my family because they still look at me as little Rondale but to me it’s pretty cool.”

Moore on his rise to stardom following his Purdue debut

‘Little Rondale’ continued to rack up the airtime as his scintillating freshman year manifested the signs of an NFL artist in-waiting.

This time it is 3am on October 21, 2018 and Moore is picking up the phone to call wide receiver coach JaMarcus Shephard, with whom he proceeds to break down a block he had missed just hours earlier as Purdue recorded a famous 49-20 victory over Ohio State, during which he torched the Buckeyes with 12 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns.

He was already back in the lab.

“Against Ohio State we obviously stormed the field, it was a late night and I always watch the games after on our EXOS, I was watching the game after and I knew he (Shephard) was up so I gave him a call like ‘yo this play…’ and we just talked about it,” he explains.

“JaMarcus Shephard was big for me. I mean that on the field, off the field, we always got the chance to chop it up during meetings, after meetings and on the field.

“Coach Shep was probably the biggest influence for me at Purdue simply because he understood my story, I knew a little about him and his background and what he came from, I had the pleasure of meeting his family, we were pretty close and he would always ride with me and let me know the right side of maneuvering throughout life.”

Moore escapes Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via AP)

Moore escapes Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via AP)

The Ohio State game brought up a fifth 100-yard receiving outing across his first seven games of the season, with Moore well on his way towards becoming the face of the Purdue programme.

He reflects on it as his greatest college memory, but for more than simply what happened on the field. It was on that night when Moore first met Boilermakers super-fan Tyler Trent, whose courage and positivity had been inspirational throughout his well-publicised battle with terminal bone cancer up until his passing at the age of 20 in January 2019.

“‘Fighter’ in one word,” said Moore. “I think that night was really special for him and his family, our programme, our university and for the players. To get that upset and for him to be in the stands on our side was a cool experience.

“We’d obviously had a chance to go back and forth on Twitter and eventually we got to meet at the Ohio State game and we exchanged numbers and from the day then until he passed away we’d text frequently and he’d send me encouraging quotes or bible inscriptions. He was just really encouraging and a strong guy and he always kept his faith first.

“Regardless of the situation he continued to fight and tried his best not to show it. That’s something I’ll definitely take away from him, continuing to fight on.”

“The odds have never been in my favour”

With every game came increased notoriety as a self-effacing Moore dropped pockets of gold dust on anyone and everyone, dismantling defensive schemes on his way to seven 100-yard receiving games, season tallies of 103 catches for 1,164 yards and 12 touchdowns and four Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards.

His presence soon evoked a level of anticipation similar to that of fielders taking two or three steps back upon the sight of a known heavy-hitter in baseball.

He promised an electricity, an aura of expectation that genius was in the offing, jinking beyond bodies flailing at his mercy and shredding double-teams with the speed recently flaunted at his Pro Day by an unofficial 4.29 40-yard dash (tied-second fastest among all prospects).

No longer were there mercy rules in place to contain him.

“In little league I was playing for the Raiders in Indiana and I was scoring probably a minimum five times a game,” he recalls. “Usually when I got to about eight they (the refs) basically told the coach I couldn’t carry the ball anymore and I played quarterback so I was either throwing a bomb or handing it off wide zone.”

Moore in action against Illinois in October 2018 (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via AP)

Moore in action against Illinois in October 2018 (Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via AP)

His elusiveness as a ball carrier had a violence to it reflective of a man whose hypnotic feet and handles excelled on the basketball court at New Albany High School, where he helped drive a state championship-winning campaign during his sophomore year alongside best friend and now-Boston Celtics guard Romeo Langford.

Moore complemented elite acceleration by disguising routes with his eyes to sell double moves, he was trucking defenders, he was dividing his contributions between jet sweeps, slants and deep assignments. Beneath the lightning speed were refined intricacies.

“Versatile is the No 1 word,” says Moore, when asked how he would evaluate his game. “I think my strength helps with my ability to break tackles, twitchy, very aware of what’s going on, instinctive, tough, all of those sort of things I would describe myself as a player.

“I was comfortable in the slot, on the outside, I knew our offense like the back of my hand so I was able to understand what’s going on.

“I think my versatility makes me a unique player and I possess a skill set that enables me to be successful so entertaining can definitely be a word, exciting I’ve heard but all those sort of things go into my game.”

While Moore attacked the leverage of defenders, he also shrugged off flapping arms with the yards after contact reminiscent of a running back, his versatility eventually being recognised by the Paul Hornung award and First-Team All-American honours as an all-purpose back. He cared, but at the same time, he didn’t.

“I’m not really big on individual awards,” he said. “I had a goal of winning a Big 10 championship. I’m grateful for that award no doubt about it but it was always trying to win a Big 10 Championship for me.”

Moore continued to feed his stock by opening the 2019 campaign with 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Nevada, followed by 13 catches for 220 yards and a score in a victory over Vanderbilt. But two games later his progress was halted when he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury against Minnesota.

“You work so hard, and I was having a good season, statistically better than I had in 2018,” he said. “I put the work in after that summer to get better and I wanted to go show it with my teammates and it was just frustrating to go down and not be able to help your teammates.

“Freak injury, not something that was caused because of something irresponsible my end like lack of sleep or what I’m putting in my body. I think it does kind of humble you and let you know where you are and make you value the little things and make sure you’re taking care of the little things on the back end.”

The setback would combine with his appearance in just three games in 2020, having initially opted out, in drawing questions among analysts over a limited sample size in comparison to other receivers in his class. That being said, most would argue his 2018 film depicted everything a team would need to know about what Rondale Moore will offer them.

Negatives are in short supply when it comes to scouting reports on Moore, among those being the stature he so often defies but admits played a part in him stepping away from the court and transferring to Trinity High School to focus on football.

He doesn’t pay much attention to comments regarding his height, instead allowing his athleticism to do the talking. That was the case earlier in the pre-Draft process as Moore bet EXOS Speed and Strength Coach Brent Callaway that he could produce a 42-inch vertical jump. Needless to say, he’s $100 up.

“We were doing a speed session, I don’t know how we got onto the topic of vertical but basically he said he had nobody jump over 40 something, maybe it was 41 and I was like ‘I can do that’, he was like ‘no way’,” he explains.

“I said ‘bet me’ so he bets me 100 bucks and gives me three attempts. My first two I missed but I’m up there, I just missed the little thing and then the third attempt I got it. I’ve still got the 100 bucks, I don’t really spend too much money.”

The literal definition of one betting on himself.

“No doubt, I’m 5’7″, 185 pounds, the odds have never been in my favour so definitely important to have confidence in myself and just bet on myself in every situation,” he added.

For anybody that foolishly thought that might have been a fluke, Moore later backed it up with a 42.5-inch vertical leap at his Pro Day. As with Devonta Smith’s slim frame, Moore’s size won’t stop him from being a menace at the next level.

“Perfection is what we’re all chasing”

When he’s not playing video games, it’s all business for Moore.

A strictly-regimented devotion to looking after his body dates back to middle school when he began to ask himself how he would define success and what it would take to get there, Moore admitting he has been doing push-ups and sit-ups on a daily basis from as early as he can remember.

Such was the tendency to test his physical limits that he learned how to back-flip, often getting told off by his mum for doing it on the edge of the bed.

“I’m just really athletic to be honest and I’m sure I could probably be a gymnast,” he said. “I can do basically every flip, whether that be a fall or getting on a spring floor and going to tumble. Me and my brother can actually flip. A little bit of it is pretty raw, self-taught, kinda.”

Moore waits for the kickoff against TCU in 2019 (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via AP)

Moore waits for the kickoff against TCU in 2019 (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via AP)

His progressive mindset translated to the academic side of college as Moore took on 21 credit hours each fall followed by 27 in his final semester in order to graduate inside three years.

“Getting my degree before I pursued my career in the NFL was my plan ever since I was a 17-year-old in high school and it was huge for my mother and my family so getting that down was a big accomplishment and something I’m really proud of.

“Purdue has been great for me. I actually got the chance to intern with a staffing firm in Indy, Seth Morales was the CEO and he spoke to us all, I asked if he had a position, sent my resume in and I got to work with the sales side and marketing side so even like that little relationship I got the chance to connect with some other guys, business owners and it wasn’t even that I was asking for a favour but more so knowledge and advice moving forward.”

He would be up at 7am, work out 8am, attend class from 9am to noon, eat and relax in a two-hour period before transitioning into special teams meetings, practice, extra work with the quarterback, time in the training room and a recovery massage followed by homework, watching films and using the remaining hours of the day to catch up with family and friends.

And that’s without including those 1am calls to David Blough.

“For me it was crazy because before I got to college I was frequently talking to my friends, we always had time to play video games. And then we got to college and my friends would call me like ‘what are you doing?’ and I’d be like ‘I’m in the locker room’, ‘I just got out of practice’, ‘I just got in’.

“Eventually you get to a point where you’re so physically and mentally drained like ‘I don’t even wanna go out and do this or that’ so fortunately for me I’m not a big social butterfly so it wasn’t really hard adjusting and luckily I had circle that understood what I was trying to accomplish and what it took so no hard feelings anyway.”

Moore holds off Nebraska linebacker Will Honas (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Moore holds off Nebraska linebacker Will Honas (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Moore, like so many others in his position, made the kind of sacrifices that don’t show up on evaluations and player profiles.

He is referred to by some as a perfectionist. While it’s a term that can occasionally be construed as self-applied pressure capable of hindering growth, Moore insists he is in no position to lower his standards. He’s hunting greatness.

“I think perfection is what we’re all chasing and in order to obtain that you’ve got to work,” he said. “For me right now I’m 20-years-old, I don’t really need a balance of this and trying to be easy on myself, I don’t think now is the time to let off the gas pedal so for me it’s all work, it’s all I know. Whenever something goes bad or I don’t do something as well as I’m supposed to do it I’m pretty hard on myself.”

He is asked for his ‘why?’. The reason he has dedicated himself to the game, the reason he is on the phone to teammates in the middle of the night. The answer?

His mother, Super Bowls and a gold jacket.

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