Published October 05, 2012
COLLEGE STATION, Texas – You can learn a lot about Texas A&M's Damontre Moore without him saying a word.
The intricate tapestry of tattoos covering the top of both of his thick, muscular arms and defined chest tell the story of his life. It's a tale that begins with a mother who never doubted big things were in her son's future, and a father who worked to make Moore believe he was destined for a football career from the day he was born.
The junior defensive end is now among the nation's leaders in sacks with hopes of an NFL career — a stark turnaround from Moore's situation just more than a year ago when an arrest for marijuana possession put his promising career in jeopardy.
You're going to be a star.
The delicate stars on Moore's left shoulder are a constant reminder of his mother Detra Johnson's unending support. "Even when I was getting in trouble and life seemed hopeless and I didn't believe in myself she was always like: 'You're going to be a star. You're going to be something special,'" Moore said.
Johnson was the first to see that Moore had a knack for defense. He played one season of flag football in elementary school before telling her he was done with the non-contact portion of his football career.
"I'm not doing flag anymore because I want to tackle and hit," Johnson said her son told her.
Johnson's influence followed him into adulthood. It's why the tattoos on his arms end well above his elbows. She was against him getting any ink, by the way. Their compromise was that he only get tattoos that a short-sleeved dress shirt could cover, so he wouldn't be limited professionally when his football career ended.
Last summer, as Moore was being arrested, he wasn't thinking about what it could mean for his football career. The 6-4, 250-pound Moore was concerned about only one thing. "What am I going to tell my mom? She's my pride and joy," he said. "I've got to deal with my mom. I've disappointed her. What if she whips me?"
He was so terrified of breaking the news to his mother that he chose to face the wrath of a room full of intimidating football coaches before contacting her.
"He's always been like that," Johnson said. "He's more afraid of what I'm going to do than anyone else. His dad says all the time that he's such a mama's boy."
It was only after he got that dreaded phone call out of the way that his focus shifted to his future on the field — or rather, if he'd even have one.
"I was like: 'My career is over with, I can see the headline now, "Moore's been dismissed from the team,'" he said.
But instead of giving up on Moore, former coach Mike Sherman issued a one-game suspension and took a proactive approach to getting him back on track. Sherman set up individual weekly meetings to help him be more accountable, repair his image and eventually become a leader.
Moore always knew the right thing to do, he made bad decisions simply to fit in. He likens his transformation after the arrest to a scene from "The Lion King" — his favorite movie.
"It's like when Simba is looking in the pond and he's a little cub and all of the sudden you see his face grow and he's a full-grown lion," he said. "It the same thing. It was always there, but it took stuff to bring it out of me."
Sherman, Moore's parents, academic advisers and friends were there as he worked to clean up the mess he'd made.
"They were all mad, but then they all got behind me and supported me," he said. "It made me realize that I'm at the bottom of the barrel right now. But the good thing that my dad told me and I'll never forget was: 'The only thing you can do now is go up.'"
Moore played high school football in the comfortable Dallas suburb of Rowlett, Texas. Before moving there as a teenager he spent most of his life navigating the hardscrabble inner city life in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas.
Emblazoned on the inside of his right arm is the pristine skyline of the city he still considers home. The buildings that jut up and down on his arm are reproduced in such detail that it resembles a black and white postcard.
Those skyscrapers and the money made within them were not part of his upbringing, but it's a sight that makes him smile nonetheless.
"I'll never forget where I came from," he said. "It motivates me because even though it's a beautiful city, there's a lot of hardship that goes on in the city that a lot of people don't know about that I've seen and witnessed with my own eyes."
The big D also helped Moore build a bond with Von and Gloria Miller, the parents of former Texas A&M defensive end/linebacker Von Miller, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft. The Millers, who raised Von in the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, Texas, are a second set of parents to Moore and he calls Gloria before each game to check in.
The younger Von introduced his parents to Moore when he was on his recruiting trip to College Station and they immediately hit it off.
"If they're bad people Von stays away from them," Gloria said. "For him to introduce him to me, that said a lot."
The Millers had known Moore for several years when he was arrested, but they really saw a turnaround in him after that setback.
"I would say he's gone from being a 4-year-old to a 20-year-old," Gloria said. "That's how big the gap has been."
Gloria, who saw her own son go through trials before getting on the right path, believes Moore had to make that mistake to become the man he is today.
"Before something like that happens to you and shocks you back into reality, you think you're invincible and nothing is going to happen to you," she said. "Now he knows that he has God-given talent and one little stupid mistake can erase all of that."
She loves watching Moore play and yells: 'Get him, get him,' as he closes in on a quarterback for a sack.
"It's just like watching Von," she said. "It gives me chills to watch him because he's so much like Von."
One of the largest tattoos that adorn Moore's body is the Tasmanian Devil in front of a tornado with money flying out of his mouth and all around him placed on the back of his left arm. Below it are two simple words: 'Eat Greedy.'
He chose that tattoo because he was a bit of a handful growing up and an aunt nicknamed him 'Monster' when he was just a boy.
"She said: 'You're so destructive and you're going 100 mph all the time,'" he said with a laugh.
He thought he'd outgrown the monster nickname until he started playing defense at Texas A&M, known years ago for its "Wrecking Crew" units. The way he bursts through the line and straight to the quarterback made some fans on message boards comment that he was a monster on the field. Pretty soon some clever Aggie decided to make it a play on his first name and monster morphed into Damonster.
"I see it everywhere now," he said. "I guess that name never got away from me."
As for the message below the whirling dervish, Moore explains it simply. It's isn't about getting rich or gaining material possessions.
"You don't just want a little bit," he said. "You want to keep having more, more and more. I want to gain more knowledge in books and to be smarter. Never be complacent and happy with just one sack. Why not get two or three? Never be satisfied with what you have."
This season Moore has lived up to his "Eat Greedy" mantra, piling up six sacks and 10 1/2 tackles for losses in Texas A&M's first four games. He is tied for second in the nation in sacks a game and is alone in second place in tackles for losses heading into Saturday's game against Mississippi.
He's been so good this year that Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mark Snyder was stumped when asked if there's an area in which Moore could improve his game.
"No ... put on a little bit more weight," he said. "He's playing really hard right now. I think he's really enjoying himself. He's loving to play the game."
A couple of minutes later, the query to Snyder was how much Moore has changed since the new staff was hired this offseason.
"Ha ha, light years," Snyder said.
And it isn't just his own coaches who have taken notice of his dominance this season.
"You better know where he is and have a plan for him," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "He's a special, special player ... he's a handful."
Moore beams at all the compliments that are rolling in these days because it reminds him of just how far he's come.
He's happy to discuss the problems in his past because he knows that detour helped him become who he is today.
"I use it as motivation of never going back and never having to be scared again," he said.