Apr. 25—There was nothing particularly unusual about the kickoff return until Briley Moore stumbled.
The Northern Iowa tight end lowered his helmet to set up for a block, then missed a step and whiffed. He made contact with the crown of his helmet into the back of a teammate and crumpled to the turf.
As trainers and teammates surrounded him, for 15 to 20 seconds Moore could hear their questions but could not respond. He had no feeling, and he couldn't move.
Fortunately, the paralysis was short term, and there was no further damage. Moore was taken to the hospital as a precaution and missed the flight back from Youngstown, Ohio, with his teammates.
The incident left an indelible mark, but it didn't change his outlook on football.
"It's almost a really life-changing experience to just know how close I came to maybe never walking again and it not being short term and it being permanent," Moore said March 9 after his pro day in Manhattan, Kansas. "It was really an eye-opening experience for me. ... But I knew football is my calling. This is what I'm supposed to do."
There have been obstacles at every step along the way, but Moore never has wavered from that belief. His unyielding commitment to the game led him to Kansas State last year when the pandemic shut down the fall season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
It was a calculated move made with the next level in mind. The Wildcats use a tight-end heavy scheme with as many as three players at the position on the field at any given time. Moore knew it would allow him to showcase his versatility both as a receiver and blocker, and he knew the competition in the Big 12 would test his readiness for the pro game.
"This is where I need to go because if I can't block at that level, I can't play in the NFL," Moore said of his thought process. "And if I can't block, I'm not gonna see the field (at Kansas State) because of how much they emphasize the run game, even before the passing game sometimes. So it was betting on myself and the emphasis that I put this offseason to just work and improve myself as a player."
That emphasis was focused primarily on run blocking.
Moore grew up in Blue Springs, Missouri, just outside of Kansas City and idolized Tony Gonzalez before he even knew tight end was in his future. In more recent years, he's also studied Chiefs All-Pro Jason Kelce.
But he takes just as much from San Francisco 49ers standout George Kittle. The former Iowa star is known for his all-around ability and physical play. Moore prides himself on his physicality and takes some extra zeal from finishing blocks.
"You want to learn from the best," he said of his extensive film study.
All the effort has paid off.
In his lone season at Kansas State, Moore caught 22 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns and earned second-team All-Big 12 recognition.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder followed that performance with an impressive pro day that included a 4.66-second 40-yard dash, a 37.5-inch vertical leap and 26 reps on the bench press.
"I think I was able to surprise people with my numbers on almost everything that we did today, which is great," Moore said in the aftermath. "I've lost about 10, 11 pounds over the last nine weeks — mainly all body fat, which is nice. I'm slimmer. I came in at 240 today. I played this season right around 250. So I had a few scouts tell me I look good. I made the right changes over the past couple weeks."
Now, it's in the NFL's hands.
Moore caught 107 passes for 1,454 yards and eight touchdowns during his career. His best season came in 2018 when he had 39 receptions for 536 yards and four scores, but he was robbed of the chance to immediately follow it up.
Moore suffered a pair of broken bones in his shoulder during the first game of the 2019 season and was done for the year. Then COVID-19 hit, and everything changed.
Because of his physical style of play, there are some concerns about Moore's durability at the next level. He also needs to tighten up his routes and become more consistent in pass protection.
But the raw athletic traits are there for him to be a difference-maker in the passing game as a pro. The only question now is which team will take the gamble and how early will the call come?
Moore is widely projected as a sixth- or seventh-round pick, but he doesn't put too much emphasis on mock drafts. He's heard stories of players being told they'll be drafted as early as the third round only to find themselves as undrafted free agents at the end of the weekend.
So Moore is prepared for any potential outcome.
"So whatever it is — whether it's earlier, whether it's later, whether it's a free agent (opportunity) — a team's gonna get the same me," Moore said. "I'm gonna come in and compete to make a 53-man roster and do what I can for a team."