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The Age of Excellence: Matt Moore, male athlete of the decade

SCV Sports: The Decade in Review

Posted: December 30, 2009 10:12 p.m.
Updated: December 31, 2009 4:30 a.m.
Carolina Panthers quarterback and Hart High graduate Matt Moore (3) is introduced before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 6. Carolina Panthers quarterback and Hart High graduate Matt Moore (3) is introduced before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 6.
Carolina Panthers quarterback and Hart High graduate Matt Moore (3) is introduced before an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 6.
Hart's Matt Moore helped lead the Indians to two CIF football championships and was talented enough to get drafted by the Anaheim Angels.    Hart's Matt Moore helped lead the Indians to two CIF football championships and was talented enough to get drafted by the Anaheim Angels.   
Hart's Matt Moore helped lead the Indians to two CIF football championships and was talented enough to get drafted by the Anaheim Angels.   

Hart High’s football team had only the technical preamble of a game clock keeping it from celebrating a third consecutive CIF-Southern Section championship.

With a lopsided 34-11 victory on Dec. 8, 2000, against an overmatched Mira Costa team in a game long decided, one of the Indians’ most acclaimed signal-callers took to the field once more, an orchestrated move by his coaching staff so he could leave the field one last time to resounding applause from the College of the Canyons faithful.

And as Kyle Matter walked off the field amid an overwhelming and heartfelt curtain call, the Indians’ starting safety and second-string quarterback took his place under center with little fanfare.

Nine autumns have since passed, and Matt Moore is now the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers and is The Signal’s Male Athlete of the Decade.

Having been thrust into the starting role after Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme was lost to an injury, Moore has responded, throwing touchdowns, winning ballgames and grabbing headlines. He’s forcing fans and media alike to take notice of a calm and cool California kid with a rifle for a right arm.

He was briefly a Cowboy in Dallas, an Oregon State Beaver and a Bruin for UCLA. But it all started as an Indian at Hart High.

“I’m obviously learning a lot about myself,” says Moore, just a few days prior to his greatest NFL performance yet, in which he passed for 299 yards and three touchdowns in leading Carolina in an upset over the Minnesota Vikings and future NFL Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre. “Ultimately, if I want to put a stamp on my career, I want to be remembered as a winner, somebody who just wins. That stems all the way back to Hart, there’s no doubt.”

During his two seasons as a varsity standout for Hart football, the Indians won two CIF championships and compiled a 25-2 record.

“The one thing I can say about Matt is he’s a winner,” says Chris Frome, a three-year, two-way standout for the Indians who blocked for Moore in 2001 and shared a spot on the starting defense with him in 2000. “He always finds a way to rise to the top.”

Indeed, whether it’s in a CIF-SS Division III championship, a Sun Bowl, a showdown with an iconic gunslinger or simply working his way up the depth chart, Moore has found a way to the top.

“It’s different, that was probably the hardest thing for me,” says Moore of not starting for the Panthers for the majority of his three-year career with them. “It’s weird the first time you do it.

“You realize you have a jersey on for a reason, you have a job to do and you have to be ready to go in at anytime.”

The 25-year-old could have just as easily been speaking about his days at Hart.

A standout at third base for the Indians baseball team, nobody ever questioned Moore’s arm. And though he could have likely jumped right in as a junior starter at quarterback, Matter was a decorated senior incumbent and Moore was forced to wait his turn while manning the defensive backfield.

“Anywhere you put him, he makes an impact,” says Frome, who started at defensive end. “He was an animal out there.”

And he was a winner just as much as anything else.

“The one thing that probably showed that the most was his unselfishness his junior year,” says longtime Hart head coach Mike Herrington. “He waited his turn. He could have left and gone and played (quarterback) somewhere else, but he wanted to be in the Hart program. He was going to do anything to help the team.”

Eighty tackles and a program-record 10 interceptions are example enough statistically of how Moore helped Hart win its third straight CIF championship in 2000. An all-CIF safety whom everyone knew was waiting for his chance at the coveted Hart quarterback position, Moore might very well have been sacrificing personal spotlight for his team, but when he looks back upon the autumn of that year, sacrifice hardly comes to mind.

“Those are the best days ever,” Moore recalls of his high school days. “My junior year, it doesn’t get any better than that.

“That was one of the most fun seasons I’ve ever had.”

Without solicitation, he brings back names that may have been forgotten by many among the ensuing cavalcade of all-CIF honorees and college prospects that followed for Hart and all of the valley’s elite. But teammates like Frome and Kyle Hollis and Peter Dubsky and Chris Steck easily come to Moore’s mind, despite the fact that he now calls the likes of Steve Smith and Deangelo Williams and Julius Peppers his teammates.

“Those are the guys that made it special,” says Moore of those that he lined up next to, both on defense and offense. “It’s funny just going through the names. The guys I played with are unbelievable.

“Just winning those championships there has got to be the best (memory).”

Moore’s Hart days were all about winning and championships.

During of the spring of his sophomore year, he hit .316 for a Hart baseball squad that went 23-6, winning the Foothill League title along the way. Just as it would during his junior year, one in which his .378 average and phenomenal play at third were simply part of the mix on a team that included future Major League Baseball draft picks like Bill Susdorf and Chris Valaika. The team drew national recognition ranking-wise during a 26-2 campaign that took a stunningly early ending in the CIF playoffs.

And, of course, there was Moore’s one and only season as a Hart quarterback.

It was one in which the Indians went 13-0 and he passed for better than 3,300 yards and rushed for more than 400, accounting for 40 total touchdowns with 33 coming through the air.

When called for, he still moonlighted as a safety as well, knocking away a final pass in the end zone to end one of the valley’s long-forgotten classics, as Hart staved off a game Saugus 35-28.

But Moore saved his best for last — and for the biggest game. Against rival Valencia in the CIF championship on Dec. 7, 2001, Moore was a one-player tour de force. He threw four touchdowns and for 277 yards in the 42-13 victory, adding on 95 yards on the ground and a rushing score, which came on a brilliant 60-plus yard scamper. But, perhaps it was another run that was more symbolic. In a game in which points and yards were at a surplus, Moore went airborne, crowd surfing his way over a gang of Vikings defenders, coming down on his feet to gain a few more, fighting for every yard.

“It was unbelievable,” says Moore of his years with Hart football. “You talk about a program that did it right. I think the biggest thing was the accountability they made you have. You had to be on top of your stuff.

“They did it the right way. I owe a lot to them.”

Shortly thereafter, Moore was the All-CIF Division III Offensive Player of the Year, a Cal-Hi Sports All-State selection and one of the highest ranked recruits in the country.

His college career began at UCLA with the Bruins. There were quarterback controversies, coaching changes, flashes of brilliance and measured frustration. He would return to Santa Clarita, taking classes at College of the Canyons and spending some time at a local batting cage where he drew enough interest and regard for his baseball skills that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim drafted him in the 22nd round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 2004.

“Obviously he was (a great overall athlete),” Frome says, “but at the same time, he understood what he needed to work on to stay there.”

Ultimately, Moore’s future would not be on the diamond, but rather the gridiron. His return would come at Oregon State. Over a two-year career, he would pass for 5,733 yards and 29 touchdowns, once more saving his best for last. His senior season began with harsh criticism after a 2-3 start, but wins in eight of the team’s last nine games served as redemption.

“His senior year, he just came through,” says Herrington of Moore, who orchestrated an upset of USC in his senior year before ending his college career with a brilliant showing in the Sun Bowl.

Moore threw for 356 yards and four scores in his team’s 39-38 victory. “That just showed his resiliency,” Herrington says.

So too has his pro career.

Despite the promise showcased at Oregon State, Moore went undrafted in 2007.

“The whole Hart community was devastated when he wasn’t drafted,” Herrington says. “That was another obstacle.”

Moore’s skills were too impressive to be overlooked, however.

Having been signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys, he was released, with the Cowboys hoping he would clear waivers in the hopes of signing him to the practice squad. But Carolina never let it get that far.

They claimed the 2002 Hart graduate, who would achieve success in the final month of his rookie season, going 2-1 as a starter. Two years later, Moore has found himself in a starter’s role once more, facing off with the likes of Tom Brady, Favre and Eli Manning.

To say he’s come a long way would be an understatement.

“I can remember when I was watching Carolina play New England in the Super Bowl,” Moore recalls. “Now here I am.”

Still, he’s hardly resting on his laurels, much less the accomplishment of making it to the NFL. He’s ready to take the next step once more.

“It’s hit me once or twice,” Moore says. “I think because my pro career is so new, and I guess I use the word young, that I look at it like I haven’t arrived yet. I haven’t. There’s more things I want to accomplish.

“Yes, I’m very happy, but there’s more to accomplish I believe, and I hope.”

For many who had never heard of Moore, his rise from third-stringer at season’s onset to a starter who’s looked like an old pro in wins against Minnesota and the New York Giants is quite a surprise.

“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Frome says. “All of a sudden, everybody’s asking who’s this Matt Moore kid.”

But in the glory days of a Hart football program rich in tradition, Moore began the decade with highlight after highlight and win after win. As the decade comes to its conclusion, perhaps it’s only fitting that he’s doing it once again.

“He just worked and worked and worked. He just loves football,” Herrington says. “He plays at a high level and he’s kind of fearless out there. ... He’s the kind of quarterback you love playing for.”

In the fall of 2000, a lanky kid with a great arm, a cool demeanor and athleticism to spare took his rightful spot under center for Hart High in the aftermath of another one-side-championship win. A lot’s changed since then — for Matt Moore and Hart football — but, then again, a lot has stayed all the same.

“He’s the kind of guy you want to go into battle with,” Frome remembers. “He’s a great leader and he’s the kind of guy you trust with the ball in his hands.”



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