The Carolina Panthers report to training camp Thursday morning. Kenny Moore will not.
He was last in camp in 2010. Then head coach John Fox called him on Sept. 4 and told him the Panthers were going with younger receivers. Moore was 25.
“The hardest part is being one of the guys and then all of a sudden you aren’t one of the guys,” Moore says between sips of bottled water at an outdoor table near SouthPark, piped-in classical music in the background. “But you are one of the guys.”
Moore’s good friends on the Panthers, notably running back Jonathan Stewart, remain good friends. But they play. He watches.
“I got to the point where I defined myself as a football player,” Moore says. “It’s you like, ‘Do I belong?’ It’s kind of awkward. We might be together, and they’ll be together tomorrow. I’m just going to be going home.”
Moore is 28, an age when many people begin to parlay entry level jobs into careers. The first phase of Moore’s career has ended.
He starred at Charlotte’s Butler High School. As a senior at Wake Forest he was all-ACC. He caught a school record 98 passes, averaged 7.2 yards a carry and generated 142.6 yards off offense per game.
Says Moore: “In college it was like, ‘Man, this is easy. I’m not worried about anything. I have all the confidence in the world. Nobody can stop me.’ ”
The raging confidence he had at Wake Forest did not accompany him to the NFL.
“Steve Smith had that demeanor about the game I never had,” says Moore. “Nobody could touch him. Nobody was better. And that’s the type of confidence you have to have to play this game. It’s the factor that sets you apart.”
Detroit took Moore in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft. When they released him the Panthers picked him up. He spent his rookie season on Carolina’s practice squad and in 2009 made the varsity. He played in 12 games and started one, caught six passes for 59 yards and returned 10 kicks and two punts.
He was the first Charlotte player to play for Charlotte’s NFL team.
“The NFL is one of the finest things ever,” says Moore, who wears a white Air Jordan T-shirt and a G-Shock watch with a thick white band that happens to match. “The rewards are out of this world. You play a game you love, you stay in the best hotels, you make thousands of dollars a week, you fly in private airplanes, you drive a nice car, the fans love you, they know your face, you have women around, I mean it’s everything you can think of right there.
“Once you live that life it’s kind of tough afterward.”
A month after Carolina cut Moore, Indianapolis hired him to return punts. In the second game, he fumbled twice, losing one, and the Colts released him.
Moore went to camp with Pittsburgh in 2011 and lasted until the final cut. He played in 2011 for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League. He hasn't played since.
“I know I could still play,” says Moore.
He accepts he won’t.
“At first,” says Moore, “it’s like, ‘Who am I? What else do I care about? What else do I love?’ My mom (a school teacher) always said, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ But I feel like to succeed you have to put all your time and energy into it. If you play football, if you write stories, if you want to do a craft, you have to focus on one thing.”
He takes a sip of Fiji water.
“Well, what do I do now?” he asks.
Moore has a degree in sociology with a minor in religion. He works with CoachUp, a Boston based company that matches young athletes with former players. He works Stewart’s football camp every summer. He abandoned his foundation when the Panthers released him but would love to resurrect it.
He’s worked with Stewart on several Boys & Girls Club projects. He’s interested in real estate, and interned with a Charlotte firm while a Demon Deacon. He worked with a start-up chemical company. He’s interested in making music.
“Josh Bush (formerly of Wake Forest and now a safety with the New York Jets) is very, very, very talented at singing and making beats,” says Moore. “And Jonathan is a very talented piano player.”
So if Bush sings and Stewart plays the piano, what do you do?
“I’m more the manager type,” says Moore. “They call me K. Diddy. God didn’t bless me with musical gifts as far as singing goes.”
Since Bush is in New York, is there a Panther who can replace him?
“I don’t know,” says Moore. “I know DeAngelo (Williams) can’t sing. He came to my charity event going into my second year. Boy oh boy was he bad.”
Does DeAngelo know?
“If you sing like that, you got to know,” says Moore.
Brad Joyce, a North Carolina graduate and a former CEO of a research company he founded and sold, became a friend of Stewart, and through Stewart, Moore.
Joyce walked Moore through Business 101.
“The real world can hit you in the face,” says Joyce, 39. “But if Kenny applies the same effort and passion to business he did to football I have no doubt he’ll be a success. I think he will.”
Joyce believes that Moore will work with kids. He'll try to teach them what he's learned -- football is temporary, and it’s essential to develop other interests and strengths. Joyce says Moore will call at 2 a.m. excited about an entrepreneurial venture or idea.
Brad Lambert, the head football coach of the Charlotte 49ers, was defensive coordinator at Wake Forest when Moore played there.
Head coach Jim Grobe regularly invited players to his home, as did his assistants. Grobe wanted to demonstrate that they were more than coaches. They were people. They led lives outside the sport.
Although coaches assisted, players were responsible for arranging their own classes and housing.
Says Lambert: “When they got out of school we wanted them to say, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ “
Lambert says when he thinks of Moore he thinks of game-winning plays and his smile.
The smile is constant. Moore is unpretentious. He lives in a townhouse. He drives a Honda Accord.
I saw him at the Wells Fargo Championship this spring and he rarely was alone. People, most of them strangers, approached. Aren’t you? Didn’t you? Weren’t you?
He still is asked about the upcoming season.
“Dude,” Moore will say. “It’s been three years.”
Moore didn’t go to a Panther game in 2010 or 2011. TV was close enough.
In 2012 he went to the second regular-season game at Bank of America Stadium, Thursday night against the New York Giants.
“It was rough going in there,” Moore says. “To see them run onto the field and stand there on the sideline? But now it’s not a big deal. I told Stew I live football through him and Bush and all those boys.
“I’m back a Panther fan. They were my team before I was on it. I had my 89 (Steve Smith) jersey. I was hurt by them, the way it played out. So it was tough to be, ‘Hooray, Panthers!’ “
Moore throws his right arm into the air to mimic a cheer.
“But now I’m over it,” he says. “I understand the business part of it and I’m a big supporter, a big Cam Newton fan and obviously a Stew fan and a Steve Smith fan. And I love Jon Beason.”
Beason, the linebacker, came to the Panthers one season before Moore did. After Moore left the team they got together one night and talked.
“Jon is an amazing guy,” says Moore. “He can get anybody fired up. You feel like you can run through a brick wall for that man.”
Did he fire you up about football?
“No,” says Moore. “About life.”