Heisman nominee on top team, Virginia QB still passes doubts


October 31, 1990|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Poor Joe Hall.

He's a starting defensive tackle for the nation's top-ranked college football team, the Virginia Cavaliers, but you probably haven't heard of him.

In fact, unless he goes bowling with star quarterback Shawn Moore, nobody here in this suddenly delirious, pigskin-mad town recognizes him either. Which is more a statement of how popular the Heisman Trophy contender is than any of Hall's failings.

"I went bowling with Shawn a couple of weeks ago," Hall lamented the other day. "Everybody asked for autographs. Of course, they asked for his first. I think they asked me because they felt guilty that I was just standing there while he was signing."

Stand in line, Joe, for it seems that everybody wants a piece of Shawn Moore.

"We've already changed our number and Shawn got a private line," said senior receiver Derrick Dooley, Moore's roommate. "Shawn's so nice that it's hard for him to say no. I feel like he's so nice that whenever somebody gets a hold of him, they'll get something out of him."

Even Moore admits the attention can get to be a bit much. "At some point, it does become a burden," Moore said. "But at this point, you just deal with it. I never anticipated it being this hectic."

It has gotten even more hectic this week, with Saturday's ACC showdown here with Georgia Tech looming. If the Cavaliers (7-0) can get past the Yellow Jackets (6-0-1), only unranked North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia Tech will stand between them and a bowl game that could secure the school's first national championship.

Moore keeps it all in perspective.

"We just have to realize that it is an important game, but it is just a football game," Moore said of Georgia Tech. "You can't let it get to you."

Moore's ability to persevere hasn't been lost on his coach, George Welsh.

"He would be the last guy to feel that [pressure]," said Welsh. "He's very calm and intense, but not nervous. I don't think he thinks about that."

It seems that Moore and the Cavaliers, who have won as many ACC games in Welsh's eight-year tenure here as they did in the 28 years preceding him, have spent a good part of their two weeks as the No. 1 ranked team explaining their presence there.

"That's pretty much our goal in November: to go out and do the best we can and set up a matchup [in a bowl game] and prove to everyone that we belong," said Moore.

If that's going to happen, the Cavaliers, who are riding a 13-game regular-season winning streak -- the nation's longest -- will need big performances from their quarterback.

But Moore, the nation's passing efficiency leader, has come up big throughout his three-year term as starter. He owns 27 school records, has won 22 of 24 starts and is the only ACC player to ever pass for more than 5,000 career yards (5,940) and run for more than 1,000 (1,168).

Three short of Ben Bennett's ACC record of 55 touchdown passes, Moore has thrown 18 scoring passes this year in just 169 attempts, which works out to one touchdown every 9.4 passes.

And yet, as Moore (6 feet 2, 210 pounds) has established himself as a leading Heisman contender, there are questions about his ability to be a starter in the NFL, fueled primarily on Virginia's option offense.

"There is a chance for me. I've always had professional aspirations and I think I've got a shot," said Moore. "I don't consider myself an option quarterback. I do whatever's asked and if being an option quarterback is what I'm asked to do, then that's what I'll do."

"They [professional scouts] say he's not this or he's not a good pocket passer," said Welsh. "They see Dan Marino or Phil Simms or Doug Williams. They're in the pocket and they stand up tall and the ball's like a rocket.

"You can develop that. He reminds me a lot of Joe Montana. Remember, Joe Montana didn't even start his last two years [at Notre Dame]. But he's like Montana in that he's accurate and he can bring a team from behind."

He hasn't had to do much of that this season, as the potent Cavaliers attack has averaged 48 points and 545 yards per game, both tops in the country, leaving Moore free to take off most of the second half.

He attributes a good share of his success to the fact that as a graduate student, he has his days free to concentrate on football and the constant critiquing of quarterback coach Gary Tranquill, who like Welsh formerly coached at Navy.

"Even if good things happen in a game, he'll still tell me where I've made mistakes. That helps a lot," Moore said of Tranquill.

Moore almost didn't attend Virginia. He said his other choice was Maryland, where he was recruited by Bobby Ross, who will be watching him from Georgia Tech's sideline Saturday.

Moore said he chose Virginia over Maryland because Welsh stressed to him that he would earn a degree at the school, rather than just play football.

With all the hype over this magical season and the possibility of college football's highest individual award, about the only person around these parts who isn't impressed with Moore is Bryant Stith, the star forward on the university basketball team, and Moore's roommate last year.

Stith was a quarterback at Brunswick High in Freeman, Va., while Moore was a starting forward on two of his Martinsville (Va.) High School's state championship basketball teams. The 6-5 junior is jokingly sarcastic about his buddy's rise to fame.

"Shawn Moore's a Heisman Trophy candidate? And he might win it?" said Stith, at a recent press function. "I can't believe it."

"He said that? I'll have to talk to him," quipped Moore. "He did tell me that he played football once and he didn't like to be hit so that told me that he wasn't much of a football player."

They can't say that about Moore.

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