Syracuse left tackle Mark Baniewicz could look at the bright side, a testament to man's optimistic nature considering that not a half hour earlier his smoldering hulk of a nationally ranked football team had been stripped and sold for parts by Virginia Tech, 62-0. "You know, Corey Moore really wasn't a factor tonight," Baniewicz said in the aftermath of last Saturday's carnage. "When he gets one-on-one on guys, he's tough. But we really can't say anything about tonight [because] he really didn't make a lot of plays."
There someone goes again, judging Moore by the numbers, in this case three assisted tackles, the first time in his past eight games that Moore didn't have a sack. There is a microscope on Moore, and not simply because, relatively speaking, you need one to pick him out among the giants on the line. The most disruptive defensive end in the country is just six feet tall—there are bigger people on chorus lines, never mind defensive lines—and a mere 225 pounds. That may be a robust size for a sports-and-entertainment lawyer, a career Moore is considering when his football playing days are over, but it's tiny by major-college standards.
Nevertheless, Moore will have options after the season—NFL or LSAT—and whether he is an early-round draft choice or takes the law boards seems of no immediate importance, because he is happy being two people. There is the Corey Moore who clocked a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, a preposterously fast time for a lineman, and the Corey Moore who has already earned his degree in finance and is currently at work on his second degree. He is equally proud of his accomplishments on and off the field, because they have forced football to think outside the box, about him and his team.
Virginia Tech, after all, is challenging conventional wisdom, too. The 6-0 Hokies are ranked fourth in the nation, trailing only Florida State, Penn State and Nebraska. If you were going to play the Sesame Street game of which of these things is not like the other, Virginia Tech jumps out, even though, like the rest, it has been to a bowl game in each of the past six years and is among the 10 winningest Division I-A teams since 1993. Trouble is, Blacksburg, Va., is simply not one of those glittering addresses of Saturday's America. This is not Lincoln or Ann Arbor or South Bend. There is no Swamp, no Big House, no Death Valley, nothing Between the Hedges—just Lane Stadium, "Home of the Fighting Gobblers," a nickname that has lapsed into disuse.
The Hokies do block more kicks than anyone—62 in the 1990s—but Kick Blocking Tech doesn't have the cachet of, say, Linebacker U. The school's Marching Virginian band does have a signature move, forming an outline of Virginia, with two tubas marking Blacksburg's location in the southwest part of the state, while playing Carry Me Back. Still, while this is entertaining and geographically enlightening, it isn't exactly like writing a script "Ohio" or tootling Hail to the Victors.
Virginia Tech is low profile in other ways as well. Although mainstays on ESPN, the Hokies have never played a regular-season Saturday game televised coast-to-coast on ABC, CBS or NBC. The lack of frontline boola-boola, however, has made it the thinking fan's favorite, a team for cognoscenti such as Jack Ebling of the Lansing (Mich.) State Journal, who unwaveringly gave Tech its first-ever first-place vote in the AP preseason poll. "I wasn't drinking," Ebling says. "I didn't throw a dart." He recalled Virginia Tech's 31-point win over Alabama in the Music City Bowl last year, considered the defense (now ranked No. 1 in the nation), heard nice things about redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick (who completed 8 of 16 passes for 135 yards against Syracuse after completing 11 of 12 for 248 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 68 more yards and another score in one half against Rutgers the previous week), perused a comfy schedule and decided that the Hokies had a swell chance to play for the national championship in the Sugar Bowl.
Even that probably wouldn't get Virginia Tech the key to college football's executive washroom—Florida and Florida State is the only school to propel itself into the ranks of perennial powers in the past 20 years—though the Hokies would sure appreciate the attention. "Very few programs have the ability to change their status; you are what you are," says coach Frank Beamer, who boldly predicted when he was hired 13 years ago that the Hokies would one day compete for a national title. "But becoming a member of the Big East [in 1991] was a big deal. That gave us a chance. We were one team that had the ability to change the status of our program, and we're in the middle of that right now. The last three recruiting classes have been our best. If this continues for another six years, Virginia Tech might be automatically associated with all the top programs."
The blue-chippers might be converging on Blacksburg in the new millennium, but four years ago Moore couldn't have found the place with a map. He had been recruited out of Haywood High in Brownsville, Tenn., but had hardly been fawned over, not surprising for a pip-squeak lineman. Moore signed with Mississippi but had his scholarship withdrawn after Ole Miss was forced to forfeit 24 scholarships over two seasons when it was put on NCAA probation in 1995. He wound up marking time for a year at Holmes Community College in Mississippi before being recruited again by Hokies defensive line coach Charley Wiles, who had taken a stab at Moore while he was a recruiter at Murray State. Wiles had to sell Moore on Tech. He also had to sell Beamer on Moore. "When [Wiles] started talking about a 200-pound defensive end," Beamer says, "I wasn't sure if I had the right guy on my staff."
Moore certainly had room to grow, and he did. He is an inch taller than he was in August 1996, 25 pounds heavier, stronger (his bench press has increased from 320 to 410), more explosive (he added more than half a foot to his vertical leap) and markedly quicker, lowering a 4.75 time in the 40 into running-back territory. "I remember early on showing him a teaching tape of Cornell Brown [the Baltimore Ravens' linebacker who was an All-America defensive end at Virginia Tech]," Wiles said. "Corey's looking at it, and he says, 'I can do that. I can play that position.' "
Moore plays it with a freakish blend of strength and speed—"As strong as an ox, and he runs like a scalded dog," New Orleans Saints scout Tom Marino says—which is complemented by bulging, Mike Singletary eyes and a tongue dipped in acid. As the designated "stud end" in Tech's attacking scheme, Moore is positioned to the wide side of the field, where he keeps up a constant stream of chatter. "I'll use my opponents' names or call them Fat Ass, and I'll tell them, 'Fat Ass, I'll be coming at you all day,' " says Moore, who usually lines up far outside the tackle. "A lot of them get intimidated. A lot of them change their technique. They get all out of whack looking for me, and they start jumping out of their stance. That makes it easier for me because they have no leverage. Fat guys are leaners anyway. Lungers. They try to get physical, but they're off balance, and I can run by them, and they fall on their face. They hear about that from me, too."