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Kenny Moore II: ‘I Was Grieving Him Before I Started Grieving Him’
In a way, Kenny Moore II lost his father twice. But when Kenneth Dale Moore died in early 2016, the pain just never went away for a son on the brink of achieving his wildest dreams.
By Andrew Walker Jun 21, 2020

Father's Day, like gameday, is a myriad of emotions for Kenny Moore II.

You see, on Feb. 7, 2016, Moore II's father, Kenneth Dale Moore, suddenly passed away at the age of 56.

He left behind a grieving son who, in a way, had just lost his father for the second time in his life.

Less than two months prior, Moore II, acting on pure intuition, decided to reach out to his dad; he was intent on finally getting to know the man that, despite living on opposite sides of town for years — despite occasionally making appearances at his games — just never seemed to fully grasp the concept of making amends with his young son.

As it turned out, Moore II's instincts were right. For a few weeks, at least, father and son spent significant time together for the first time in more than 15 years. The seeds of a father-son relationship Moore II had been missing were finally planted by the time Kenneth Moore was suddenly hospitalized with kidney and liver failure.

It's a bittersweet feeling for Moore II, who still juggles the emotions of feeling cheated out of the opportunity to grow even closer with his father, yet still feels thankful for the time, albeit brief, they were able to spend together.

"That hit me hard, honestly," Moore II said. "The days just didn't get easier. It still isn't easy."

What Moore II didn't realize at the time, however, was that his father, in his own way, had been in search of his son's embrace all those years.

Kenny Moore II was born into a large household. The only boy of seven children in his Valdosta, Ga., home, Moore II naturally gravitated towards his father from an early age.

"I can remember just following my dad around the house, him fixing my bike. Just trying to do everything with him because, like I said, it was six other girls, my mom and I pretty much all in our household. I'm not going to be around my sisters all day," Moore II recalled. "I remember him teaching me how to drive; he'd put you on his lap while he drives, back home in the neighborhood; going to the park to fly a kite or remote control cars. You remember stuff like that as a kid."

But at the age of 4, Moore II's world was turned upside down when his parents split up.

Moore II remembers harboring feelings of resentment towards his father for reasons he now realizes he couldn't quite comprehend as a young child.

"As a kid I really couldn't understand why my parents weren't together anymore. I didn't want to see my mom with anybody else except my dad. That started the fire," Moore II said. "It was like, 'Why isn't dad here? Why aren't we living with dad?'"

Moore II's mother, Angela Carter, decided a change of scenery was in order. She moved her son and his six siblings down south to Miami, where they all crammed into her parents' two-bedroom house.

There they stayed for about five years before the entire crew, including Moore II's grandparents, returned to Valdosta.

"It was tough," Moore II recalled about his time living in Miami. "I didn't really think about the conditions at the time, but as I grew up and look back and reminisce on my childhood, it's crazy to even think that 10 of us were in the house and seven of us were children — five of us sleeping in the living room. It was not the conditions that we were wanting. So we moved back here, South Georgia where I was born, and those living conditions changed a bit."

Once the family returned to Georgia, Carter was fully intent on her only son staying on the straight and narrow. A loving mother, she imposed strict rules for when Moore II got home from school: absolutely no playing outside until your homework is done.

Moore II also learned the value of hard work from his mother, who logged long hours at department store jobs just to be able to use the last bit of money she had remaining in her paycheck to sign her son up for a local Pop Warner football league when he was 5 or 6.

"I worked at K-Mart and I was trying to find something for Kenny to get into. He had so much energy. He was never satisfied; he was always bored," Carter said. "There was a Pop Warner organization (and) I stopped by and signed him up, went home after work and said, 'Kenny, guess what? I signed you up for football.' Oh my God, he was so happy. He said, 'When do I start?'"

Moore II started to develop into quite the athlete. He loved playing football, basketball and soccer, and in eighth grade he took up track; he didn't lose a single race in the hurdles that year.

Every once in a while growing up, Moore II would look up in the stands and see his father. Despite living in the same city, the two never really engaged in any sort of extended conversation during that time. Moore II didn't understand why his dad would make the effort to come to his games, but then left before they ended.

"Whenever other kids' parents would come pick them up from games, I'd think, 'Why can't my dad come pick me up?'" Moore II said.

The first time Randy McPherson laid eyes on Kenny Moore II, the latter was a seventh-grade wide receiver at Lowndes Middle School in Valdosta.

"I saw him immediately when I walked on the field. He was the smallest kid on the grass," McPherson recalled. "You know, I bet Kenny was probably 5-foot-1. No chance he was over 100 pounds."

But McPherson, the extremely successful head football coach at Lowndes High School, knows talent when he sees it, and Moore II had some clear traits that, with development, could translate at the next level.

"I knew he was an athlete," McPherson said. "Even though he was the smallest guy out there, (there was) his speed, his want-to, his hitting."

When McPherson and his staff finally got their hands on Moore II the summer before his freshman year, they wanted to use that speed, want-to and hitting on the defensive side of the ball. But Moore II, who wanted to remain at receiver, wasn't buying what they were selling.

"The corners coach, he was like, 'I could use you,'" Moore II said. "I was like, 'What?' We were about to leave for summer break before quarterback/receiver camp started, but he was like, 'Yeah, I could use you on defense.' I was like, 'I don't really think that's for me, coach.'"

"I was just like, 'No, this is not for me. I can't play corner. I don't really like contact either. So whenever my mom picked me up, I was like, 'I'm going to hang up football,'" Moore II continued. "I was going into ninth grade. I didn't want to play corner at all, ironically to say, but that's what happened."

McPherson noticed Moore II wasn't showing up to workouts, and caught up with him at school.

"He said, 'Coach, I gotta grow a bit. I want to play basketball,'" McPherson said. "I said, 'I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you on the team.'"

But for the next three years, Moore II spent his Friday nights working the concession stand at the football games rather than playing in them. By his junior year, Moore II was a star three-sport athlete at Lowndes High School, where he excelled at basketball, soccer and track; as a junior, he made it to the state finals in the 110m hurdles.

At the time, Moore II dreamed of possibly joining the Air Force after high school and traveling the world.

But one conversation would end up changing the course of Moore II's life from that point on.

Sitting in Chemistry class during the spring semester of his junior year, Moore II chatted it up with a friend who had just been kicked off the football team. He was a talented cornerback, a starter, and with plenty of youth at the position behind him he knew Moore II would be a perfect candidate to replace him in the lineup.

"He was like, 'Hey Kenny, how about you go play football?' Moore II recalled. "I was like, 'No chance I would go out there.' He said, 'You play basketball, you played soccer for a year, you ran track for a year and you were pretty good. The guys who were behind me are only freshmen or younger guys. They need a guy to lead the way.'

"I was like, 'How can I lead the way? I haven't done it. This is a pretty good school. I just can't go out there and just do whatever,'" Moore II continued. "He was like, 'Trust me. It can't be that bad.' … I don't know how he convinced me, but I was like, 'All right. Whatever.' I marched down to the fieldhouse and I was like, 'Coach, I want to play football.'"

McPherson was thrilled. Moore II had grown to about 5-foot-7 and he was a bulldog at point guard on the basketball court, using many of the same skills that the coach knew would translate over to the football field.

"Unbelievable quickness, athletic ability," McPherson said of Moore II. "I knew watching him play basketball that we had to have this kid as a corner. I knew that we could just put him out there and (say), 'You cover this guy,' and this guy was gonna be covered."

Moore II's house was on the way to the school, so McPherson started picking up his newest player on the way to morning workouts. Moore II was a natural at cornerback, and he took to coaching well.

(There was a slight hiccup when Moore II said his basketball coach at one point convinced him to remain focused on the hardcourt and not on football, but McPherson eventually ironed out the situation and soon Moore II, now a senior, was playing football in the fall, and basketball in the winter.)

Moore II quickly realized he could hang with some of the area's best receivers.

"I was that kid that didn't have any habits, so whatever the coach told me to do, I just did it, only because that's what I was supposed to do," Moore II said. "It was always whatever he'd say: "All right, coach. I got you." I'd do it. He wasn't always harping on me to do things because whatever I was doing, he told me to do. That was pretty much just a way to make it easier on my coach, easier on myself at the end of the day.

"I gained trust before the season, became a starter," Moore II continued. "The rest is pretty much history."

And there he was again — Kenneth Moore, in the stands, watching his son start his ascension on the football field.

Still confused, Moore II would often confide in his cousin and best friend, Justin Williams, who was on Moore II's father's side of the family.

Williams lost his own father growing up, and the two shared a tight bond, growing especially close in high school.

"Every time I had problems at home or he would have a problem that he was going through, whatever it was, we talked about literally everything," Moore II said of Williams.

It's a brotherhood Moore II holds dear to his heart to this day.

"We've gone through so many ups and downs," Moore II said. "And all my successes, I feel as if he's made a major contribution, whether it's the work ethic and everything else that has gone into it."

It didn't take long for Kenny Moore II to attract the attention of nearby colleges. He lacked the experience and he was still on the smaller side, so it's not like Georgia or Florida were knocking down his door, but smaller programs like the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Mercer University and Valdosta State University were certainly interested in his services after he collected 18 tackles (one for a loss) with two interceptions and two pass breakups in his only season of high school football.

In the end, Moore II committed to play college ball in his hometown at Division II Valdosta State, whose coaching staff was so intrigued by Moore II that they came to his high school basketball games simply to further evaluate their newest recruit's athleticism.

Like he did his senior year at Lowndes High School, and like he would end up doing in the NFL, Moore II quickly earned his college coaches' trust. He played in all 10 games as a true freshman at Valdosta State in 2013, starting one contest, and finished with 18 total tackles with an interception and a pass breakup on defense, as well as seven special teams stops.

The more he was exposed to football, and the more he studied the intricacies of the game, the more Moore II improved. His sophomore year, he racked up 37 tackles and had two interceptions, five pass breakups and one forced fumble, and he was named First-Team All-Gulf South Conference.

As a junior in 2015, Moore II picked off three passes — two of which he returned for a touchdown — and earned All-GSC, All-Region and Second-Team USA College Football Division II All-American honors.

And at that point, for the first time, Moore II began to wonder: if I can improve like this each season, why not make a run at playing professionally in a couple years?

"I never counted myself out," Moore II said. "It was always, 'If that opportunity presented itself, I'm going to run right with it,' but as far as right now, I'm going to live in the moment and I'm going to work hard. That was pretty much my mindset."

Moore II was having a blast. But there he was again: every Saturday, when the Blazers were playing in front of the home crowd at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium, Kenneth Moore looked on, watching his son's every move; yet by the end of the fourth quarter, he was gone.

It was Thanksgiving Break in 2015, and Kenny Moore II was fast asleep.

"I had a dream we were hanging out," Moore II recalled.

"We" were Moore II and his dad.

And he couldn't get the thought out of his mind.

"I just remember being so happy when I woke up," Moore II said.

He felt an urge to reach out to his father, but he didn't know exactly how to approach the idea at first. After all, this was the man who for the better part of the last 15 years, Moore II thought, was keeping his distance.

Before he headed to class that day, Moore II contacted a cousin on his dad's side and asked: "'Do you think this is a good idea if I did this? Reach out to him and everything?' She was like, 'Yeah, I think that's a great idea.'"

Moore II then asked his cousin, Justin Williams, what he thought.

"He was happy for me because, obviously, they're on my dad's side. They want to see us communicate," Moore II said.

"So I did. I reached out to him."

What followed wasn't exactly some made-for-TV moment, but Moore II said his dad reacted about as positively as he could've ever imagined.

"If you really knew my dad, it was so casual. Not much emotion," Moore II said with a laugh. "It was just like, 'Yeah. When do you want to hang out?' Turns out I'm just like him."

Over the next few weeks, Moore II and his father would get together often. They'd grab dinner or just walk around, "goofing off," as Moore II described it.

The past 15 years? It was water under the bridge, as far as they were concerned. Moore II was elated.

"We didn't really have that much context," Moore II recalled. "We were just so glad that we were able to do this; that's pretty much how the conversation would go. … He didn't really get into everything about life. He was just saying how cool it is to see me play."

It's almost as if Moore II's dream had actually come true.

Just a few weeks into the new year in 2016, something just wasn't right with Kenneth Moore.

Just as soon as Kenny Moore II began the process of rebuilding a relationship with his father, Kenneth was all of a sudden hospitalized with kidney and liver failure — and deteriorating at a quick rate.

Moore II was right by his dad's side.

"I saw him every day in the hospital," he said.

Kenneth faded quickly. At first he could talk with his son, but then he could only look at him and acknowledge his presence.

And on Feb. 7, 2016, Kenneth Dale Moore's suffering finally ended.

First at the age of 4, and now at the age of 20, Moore II had lost his father once again — this time forever.

Because of that — and because of the brief nature of their reconciliation over the previous couple months — Moore II tried to put it all in perspective.

"I was grieving him before I started grieving him," Moore II said.

About to begin spring football practices for the final time in his college career in early 2016, Moore II was in a "dark place" following his father's death.

Unable to shake the pain, Moore II didn't return to school for almost two months.

"I was in a very dark place, probably the darkest place of my life," Moore II said. "I was pretty depressed. I was pretty emotional during that time. It was one of those things where I didn't want it to end that way, that quickly."

A loved one's death also can bring with it the tedious task of going through their belongings, which can re-open wounds old and new.

But instead, waiting for Moore II at his dad's house was perhaps the best gift, the best surprise, he could've ever received.

"We went to his house and I saw all the articles and all the magazines that he had of me," Moore II said.

Like any proud parent, Kenneth Moore had been saving his son's every accomplishment for years on end. Moore II was blown away.

"That was nuts to me," Moore II said. "I was like, 'Dang, he kept up with me so much.' He kept up with me about things that like, maybe a game that I didn't really care about or, a game I really didn't think anyone cared about, but he cut it out and saved it. Everything."

He might not have known how to grapple with the emotions of being an estranged parent, but for all that time, Moore II's father, in his own way, was showing his son how much he really cared.

"He always supported me through the midst of everything that we were going through as a family," Moore II said. "And that's something that he really valued for me, was me being on the field. I respect that because he didn't really know how to express himself. And that's how he expressed how much he loved me, was to see me play and to cut out all those articles just to show everybody. I would hear people say he would take articles or pictures of me to work and show them to his coworkers, just to show me off.

"He was just that proud of what I was doing," Moore II continued, "and that's pretty cool to me."

In just a little more than four years since his father's passing, Moore II has transformed from a dime-a-dozen small-school college prospect into one of the top nickel cornerbacks in the National Football League.

Moore II moved to strong safety his senior year at Valdosta State, but the new position did little to impede his progress. He would pick off five passes and lead his team in tackles, interceptions and pass breakups, and earned American Football Coaches Association All-America honors.

Moore II had to hustle just to get on the radar of a few NFL teams that next spring, however; Moore II, who wasn't invited to the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, said he drove himself almost 1,500 total miles in the span of six days just to be able to work out at a regional combine and three different pro days.

But it all paid off for Moore II following the 2017 NFL Draft, when the cornerback was signed by the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent.

The next few months would prove to be extremely difficult for Moore II, who grew homesick and didn't know if he was cut out to make it in the NFL, particularly with the Patriots. On top of all of that, Moore II's grandmother had suffered a stroke.

At one point, Moore II called his mother and told her he was likely going to be heading home for good. 

On Sept. 2, 2017, Moore II's fears were confirmed when he was waived by the Patriots during final roster cuts. He was devastated.

His mother was there with some words of encouragement, however. She remembered a young Kenny getting home from school one day and telling her about his big dreams at the local pier.

"He said, 'Momma, I'm gonna grow up and I'm gonna be an NFL player,'" Carter recalled. "And deep down inside, I believed that he believed in himself that he could do it. … (If) your child tells you that they're gonna be a golf player or an NFL or basketball player, you have to believe in that child. If that child has that belief that's in their heart, mind and soul, you never know."

Unbeknownst to Moore II, less than 24 hours later, he'd be on a plane and on to his next NFL opportunity.

The Colts were just about to start the 2017 regular season, but were already decimated at the cornerback position. They needed reinforcements — and fast. And while Moore II, at 5-foot-9, didn't fit their height requirements at the position, his 78-inch wingspan and 36.2-inch arms more than made up for any height deficiencies.

Still, general manager Chris Ballard needed a little convincing to put in a waiver claim for Moore II.

"It'd be two o'clock in the morning in here, and when you're watching those (waivers) guys, now, that's not like watching draft tape. You're digging for a needle in the haystack on that claim day to try to claim players," Ballard said. "So here I'm looking at the numbers, and I'm just looking at 5'9", 185 pounds, and you've seen a good player on tape, but you're saying, '5'9", a dime a dozen.' And I think it was Ed (Dodds) who said, 'Look Chris, he's got (36) inch arms; it equals out to be taller than what he is.' And Kevin (Rogers) had been beating me up all night on him. Finally I just relented; I was like, 'Just take him. … He's better than what we got.' And he ended up being a really good player."

The Colts ended up claiming Moore II, and the rest is history.

After working his way up the depth chart, Moore II has proven to be one of the best inside cornerbacks in the league. Since 2017, he has 176 total tackles (10 for a loss) with six interceptions, 19 passes defensed and four sacks. He's one of eight players — and the only cornerback — in the NFL with those numbers; Moore II's teammate, linebacker Darius Leonard, a two-time All-Pro selection, is also on that list.

And on June 13, 2019, less than two years after he was cut by the Patriots, Moore II's life changed in a way he could've never imagined. Staring him in the face was a brand new contract extension from the Colts, one that reportedly made him the highest-paid slot cornerback in the NFL.

"I mean, he is a consummate pro, really," Colts head coach Frank Reich said of Moore II after he signed his extension. "It's not just the high-level play, but it's the consistency of play. That's really what I think he embodies. We saw his playmaking ability (in 2018) on the ball, sack, blitzer. But really just the way he brings that every day out in practice. Then out in the community he's a leader. We love him."

What's best for Moore II, however, is the fact he can finally take care of his mother, who has worked jobs at K-Mart and Walmart his entire life just to ensure her family has gotten by.

"If anybody knows my mom, they know how hard-working she was and (how) devoted she was to her family, and how loving she was to her kids and her family. That was always my why, just to do it for my mom," Moore II said. "They used to always say in school, like, 'Who's your hero? Who do you look up to?' And everybody would always say, like, entertainers in the world and comedians and stuff like that, but my mom was my hero going through school. And if I could do it for anybody growing up, it was always my mom."

"You know, sometimes you talk to your children (and) you never realize that they're really paying attention," Carter said. "And so, Kenny has always told me, 'Momma, I'm gonna take care of you.' But that has always been my job, to take care of him. And before his dad passed, I told his dad that I was going to take care of them. And I made that promise. But now, he's taking care of me."

Forget the money, forget the notoriety. Kenny Moore II strives to make those who are important to him proud of the way he approaches life.

And with that in mind, as he takes the field before each game, Moore II pounds his chest two times and points up to the sky: one for God, and the other for Kenneth Dale Moore.

"He makes the game fun to play," Moore II said of his father. "I know it's bigger than me. My family knows how big my relationship was with him at the time; they knew it was more than just football.

"We did our best to make him proud," Moore II continued. "I knew he would have wanted to see me play on Sundays, and I know he's smiling right now."

See some of the best images of Indianapolis Colts defensive back Kenny Moore II.

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