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August 17, 2012
Having overcome his faulty footwork, a onetime quarterback has become a route runner par excellence
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August 17, 2012

Step By Step, He Really Caught On

Having overcome his faulty footwork, a onetime quarterback has become a route runner par excellence

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THE EDUCATION OF T.J. MOE STARTED LATE ON A FRIDAY NIGHT IN A DARK INDOOR practice facility. It was January 2010. Two months before that Moe—a true freshman moving to wide receiver after playing quarterback in high school—was in the middle of a two-catch, eight-yard season for the Tigers when he introduced himself to former Missouri star receiver Tommy Saunders. "My name is T.J. Moe," he told Saunders, who came to practices as an unofficial member of the Tigers' staff. "I'm playing receiver, and I need a lot of help."

Saunders told Moe to call him anytime, and at around 11:30 on that Friday night, Moe did exactly that. "I don't drink alcohol, and I don't really go to parties," says Moe, "so it's not like I had anything else to do."

The two met up around midnight at Missouri's Devine Pavilion, and Saunders showed Moe some tricks of the trade: first, finding which door had been left unlocked and getting the lights on in the indoor practice facility. Then he set about harnessing Moe's raw athleticism. "He was this incredible athlete," recalls Saunders of the workouts that followed that winter, "but he didn't have control. We just talked about focusing on every step during a route. He was dropping some passes, but it was just because he wasn't focused on catching the ball."

At Fort Zumwalt West High in O'Fallon, Mo., Moe started his sophomore season at receiver, but an injury to the quarterback forced a mid-game position switch. Over the next three seasons Moe developed into a star. "In high school all I had to do was get the ball, turn the corner and run over a guy," Moe says.

Miami (Ohio) and Missouri State were interested in him as a quarterback, but bigger schools wanted Moe as an athlete to be molded into a defensive back, tailback or receiver. Moe opted for a chance to catch passes for the Tigers. "He was a great athlete and a tough kid," says coach Gary Pinkel. "With his intelligence I thought he'd be great in the back of our defense, running things as a safety. But my rule is, you play where you want to play. He's got a lot going for him, but his freshman year he was a fish out of water."

Moe's progress at Mizzou was stunted by a foot fracture that affected him throughout his freshman year. Back to full strength that off-season, he stepped out routes in the hallways of his dorm to supplement regular Friday- and Saturday-night cram sessions with Saunders that often ran from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. In 2010, Moe entered spring camp with a new confidence and won the starting job at slot receiver. Moe became Blaine Gabbert's favorite target, catching 92 passes for 1,045 yards. Last season Moe had a more pedestrian 54 catches for 649 yards playing with James Franklin, and he's now trying to add some explosiveness to match the QB's big arm.

A business-management major (and Big 12 All-Academic first-teamer), Moe, the fourth oldest of five kids, returned to O'Fallon in the spring. He spent the time working out (three times a day) and also interning via Skype for older brother Scotty, who's working on humanitarian projects in Somalia and Haiti; in high school T.J. went on missions to build churches in Mexico and repair houses in Kentucky.

Saunders never doubted the freshman with the sloppy footwork would become one of the nation's premier receivers. "I've had guys approach me for help before. I show them something, they say thanks and then I don't hear from them again," says Saunders. "That's the difference with T.J.: He never stops."