By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
“It sucks, man.”
That’s how the journey for DonTrell Moore’s alternate career path, the one not filled with NFL glory, began on a rainy Dec. 30 afternoon at SBC Park (now known as AT&T Park) in San Francisco in 2004.
The junior star running back on the University of New Mexico football team suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the first quarter of the Lobos’ 34-19 loss to Navy in the 2004 Emerald Bowl.
Back then, the Lobos had an open locker room to the media after games; reporters could enter the locker room and interview any player they wanted.
The last thing in the world that a disconsolate Moore wanted to do was talk to the media.
But the Roswell native did it, anyway, uttering those first few words some 16 seconds after hearing the reporter’s question about his knee.
Moore had an unbreakable spirit that was on full display at that moment, and it would serve him well in the years to come.
These days, Moore works with at-risk youth as a program manager at the Bernalillo County Youth Service Center, and he moonlights as the color analyst on Lobo football broadcasts for KKOB radio.
On Oct. 19, Moore’s alma mater honored him and that spirit by inducting him into UNM Hall of Honor’s 2018 Class.
“I’m humbled,” Moore said during a recent interview of his induction. “It kind of puts everything in perspective for me from that long ago. All the hard work and things that went into it has come full circle, and to be honored by UNM, that means the world to me.”
Moore’s fellow Hall of Honor inductees includes Pete Gibson and Willie Long (basketball), Jeff Rowland (soccer), Sam Scarber (football) and the 2017 NCAA national champion women’s cross country team.
Moore’s list of achievements included a whopping 20 bullet points on the UNM news release. Among them:
- Moore, who graduated with a degree in Criminology in 2005, left UNM as the Mountain West career rushing leader with 4,973 yards and career leader in touchdowns scored with 59 — records that stood for 11 years (San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, who not ironically also played for coach Rocky Long, eclipsed both those marks in 2016.).
- Moore set the single-season record for rushing yards in 2003 with 1,450 yards.
- Moore remains UNM’s career rushing and touchdown leader.
- Moore holds the rushing record for a freshman with 1,117 yards.
- He was just the sixth player in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season four times (nine people now hold that distinction).
- He was the 2005 Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year.
- He was the 2002 Mountain West Freshman of the Year.
- He is the only player in UNM and Mountain West history to earn first-team all-conference honors four times.
- He was a Doak Walker Award semifinalist (awarded to the nation’s top running back in college football) in 2005.
- He was the UNM Hall of Honor Male Athlete of the Year in 2005.
Moore was hesitant to mention all the people who helped him along the way out of fear of leaving anyone out.
“I worked my butt off to be accountable to my teammates,” Moore said. “My offensive linemen always cared about me, always, always. It was a mutual love and respect. And then having the coaches who confidence in me to give me the ball, to allow me to be an integral part of the offense. That’s what allowed me to be successful.”
But what may be more impressive than all those accolades was Moore’s maturity to handle life’s unexpected curves and emerge as a better man because of them.
A CAREER CUT SHORT
For four years, Moore was the focal point on offense for a UNM team that was establishing itself as a top-tier program in the Mountain West. The Lobos went 28-22 during his tenure from 2002-05, going to three bowl games and finishing runner-up twice in the conference.
Moore won the starting running back job out of fall camp as a redshirt freshman in 2002 but missed the first three games because of an injured hamstring. He made his first start in week five and still amassed 1,117 yards that season.
One of the highlights of Moore’s career came during his sophomore year in 2003 against Colorado State, which had won six conference championships from 1994-2002. He rushed for 242 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries as the Lobos beat the Rams 37-34.
“We beat them on ESPN2,” Moore said. “Colorado State was the staple in college football in our conference at that time. Wes Zunker hit the game-winning field goal (with no time remaining). To help my team beat Colorado State that year, that’s one that stands out.”
Moore also listed UNM’s 27-24 win at home vs. Texas Tech in 2004 as another highlight. Moore had 76 rushing yards and 46 receiving yards in helping the Lobos earn their first win over the Red Raiders since 1984.
In the 2004 Emerald Bowl, UNM’s offensive game plan was to rely heavily on Moore against Navy.
Moore, however, had 8 rushing yards and 21 receiving yards before exiting the game. A fellow Lobo wide receiver missed a block on an option pitch, allowing the Navy defender to reach Moore as soon as the pitch arrived. The defender hit Moore low, taking out his knee.
After that, Navy controlled the clock, including a crazy 14-minute, 26-second drive that began in the third quarter and extended late into the fourth, resulting, amazingly, in only a field goal that helped the Midshipmen seal a 34-19 win.
Asked after the game what impact Moore’s absence had on the outcome, then-UNM offensive coordinator Dan Dodd told the Albuquerque Journal, “I mean, he’s the best running back in the Mountain West Conference. You just don’t say you take him out of the offense and it’s OK.”
Moore said he remembers the reporters approaching him after the bowl game.
“Yeah, that was awful,” Moore recalled. “I didn’t want to talk to anybody. But I always remember Coach Long telling me my first week on campus, ‘You can choose not to do interviews or you can choose to do interviews. If you choose to do interviews, then you do them whether you win or lose. You do them in good times and bad times.’
“That always stuck with me.”
THE ALTERED PATH
What also stuck with Moore was the football banquet after that season. Moore won his third team Most Valuable Player Award and went up to the podium in crutches to receive the award.
“I told the audience, ‘I’ll be back,’ and I remember thinking that half the people believed me,” he said. “And the other half were like, ‘There’s no way he’s coming back.’
“You remember the fuel; you remember the people who doubt you and don’t feel like you’re going to come back.”
The Lobos changed their offense to a spread-option attack in 2005 because they didn’t know if or when Moore would return and how effective he would be when he did.
A season of 1,298 rushing yards, 306 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns later, UNM got its answer.
“My senior year is one of my proudest moments,” Moore said. “I got a conference MVP award. It was a year that people didn’t think I was going to come back.”
The 2005 Lobos, however, disappointed as a team, stumbling to a 6-5 record after a 3-0 start that included a win at Missouri. The season marked an end to UNM’s three-year bowl run.
That left Moore, still recuperating from his torn ACL, at a disadvantage when he participated in the 2006 NFL Combine. In a 2017 article, Dr. Timothy Hewitt of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Research Center in Rochester, Minn., said athletes need two years to fully recover from reconstructive surgery after an ACL tear.
Moore ranked 20th out of 112 draft-eligible RBs in overall measurables, according to NFL Draft Scout. But his 40-yard-dash time was 4.62 seconds — a glacial pace for running backs. Lobo Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher ran a 4.54 40.
Despite his collegiate success, Moore went undrafted. He signed a free-agent contract with the New York Jets but was waived in June of 2006.
Moore signed with the Tennessee Titans in 2007 and played a preseason game against the New England Patriots. He rushed nine times for 40 yards and a touchdown, and had one reception for 8 yards.
The Titans, however, also cut him. Tampa Bay picked him up but also waived him that year.
Moore admits his inability to earn a spot with an NFL team bothered him.
“It was tough,” he said. “For me, it was about questions and answers. You don’t get answers, and that’s what makes it difficult. Why am I not playing? I had a really good preseason; I scored in the preseason. I go to the Bucs, think I’m doing well. The starting running back gets hurt, but I got cut.
“After that, I didn’t watch football. I didn’t want to be around football.”
Moore said it took him a few years to make his peace with the NFL turning its back on him.
“It was like breaking up with a girl and you don’t know why she broke up with you,” he said.
“I got into tennis; I got into soccer and just training and finding other things that made me happy. My answers never came in the form of physical; it came in the form of spiritual, in my faith. I realized that’s not what God wanted for my life. Once I accepted that, I moved on and I’ve been happy ever since.”
BLOSSOMING NEW CAREER(S)
In 2009, Moore went to work for the Bernalillo County Youth Service Center, where he is now a Program Manager.
“I always knew I wanted to work with at-risk youth, and I wanted to make a difference,” he said. “It sounds like an overused cliché, but you realize when you start working there — and these kids need your love and support — that this is a career I was made for.”
Eventually, Moore also found his way back to the Lobo football program, indirectly. In 2013, he became part of KKOB Radio’s Lobo football pregame show. The next season, he made his way up to the broadcast booth as the KKOB’s color analyst alongside play-by-play announcer Robert Portnoy.
“When they asked me to do it, I talked to Robert, and he was really good about it,” Moore said. “He made the transition easy, made it seamless and taught me a lot.”
Before Moore agreed to the analyst role, he went to Portnoy’s house. Portnoy and Moore watched a video of a game on television, and they ad-libbed their way through it.
An analyst was born.
“DonTrell has grown into the role of color analyst in ways I couldn’t imagine,” Portnoy said. “He made himself an open book and has been ready to accept suggestions, observations, even constructive criticism so that we can become the best broadcast team we can be.
“His enthusiasm for Lobo football is off the charts.”
Some of that enthusiasm is based on Moore’s relationship with former teammates. He said he still keeps in contact with several, including Kole McKamey and Hank Baskett. He considers former UNM and current TCU running backs coach Curtis Luper a father figure, and he touches base with Long from time to time.
Moore, however, no longer is able to talk to his best friend on the team, fellow running back Adrian Byrd. Byrd died in the summer of 2017 in a car accident involving a man accused of drunken driving.
“I think about him every day,” Moore said. “We used to talk every single day. I talked to him probably 45 minutes before his accident. He was my roommate on road trips. He was my best friend.
“It had a profound effect on me; it still does. It made me realize to cherish life, the importance of telling people in your life you love them. It made me closer to God, family and friends. One of the things I learned from him is don’t sweat the small things.
“He positively affected my life when he was here and even more so now that he’s gone.”
Which has helped Moore mature even more and distance himself from his 2004 Emerald Bowl injury — the memories of which still may suck but the injury never defining him.
While it may have taken UNM a while to induct him to its Hall of Honor — 13 years after his playing days ended — Moore already had earned a level of honor, maturity and inner peace through his divergent journey.