KANSAS CITY, Mo. — He remembers the doctor telling him he might not live to see 9. He remembers crying. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot. It’s hazy.
Josh Moore is big enough of a man to admit that he was scared witless, though. Which is completely understandable when you’re 8, when the world as you think you know it stops spinning and grinds to a halt.
“I was pretty terrified, actually,” Moore, a junior tight end/defensive end at Olathe North, says now.
Cynthia Moore didn’t know. You never do when the word is cancer, and your little boy weeps when the doctor tells him the lump along back of his neck has a tumor inside, the kind that kills softly, slowly, mercilessly.
“It was very scary, because you don’t know what to expect when anybody brings up the ‘C’ word,” Josh’s mother says. “You just don’t know what level you’re at. It’s devastating.
“You just have to work through it. And anybody that goes through that has to just stay strong for the person that’s going through it.”
Josh has been cancer-free for five years now, knock on wood. Other than the scar on his neck, you’d never know the younger Moore already won the biggest game of his life, that his career mark against the ‘C’ word was a perfect 1-0.
“He seems healthy, yeah,” North coach Eugene Wier says of his 6-foot-5, 250 pound man-child, a kid recently rated by Scout.com as the 15th-best tight end prospect in the country for the Class of 2015.
“We’ve not had a tight end like him in the past. He’s not just big; he’s very flexible. He flat-backs blocks. He’s not a big kid that stands straight up and pushes people around — he can come off the ball. He’s very athletic.”
The letters pour in regularly from the big boys, sometimes as many as 12 a day. Georgia has called. Ditto Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, TCU, Minnesota, Iowa State and Texas Tech.
He watched Nebraska-UCLA earlier this year and Oklahoma-Baylor down at Norman in 2012. Moore attended the Tech-Kansas game in Lawrence — a 54-16 Red Raiders rout — at Memorial Stadium just a few weeks ago to get a closer look at both programs.
“They offered me to replace that 22,” Moore said, referring to Raiders tight end Jace Amaro. “It’s too early to say, I think. I do like Texas Tech a lot, though.
“It depends on how they use their tight end. If they throw the ball a lot to the tight end, I’d want to go there. If not, I’d want to play defensive end.”
A 3-star prospect with a pterodactyl’s wingspan, Moore is a pretty decent basketball player, too; schools from the Missouri Valley Conference have even reached out to gauge his interest on the hardwood.
“He fancies himself as a wide receiver and a 3-point shot artist,” says Wier, whose 4-2 Eagles visit Olathe Northwest on Friday. “And he’s not quite either one of those.”
What he is is a load, a big frame with good feet, the kind of frame that gets Football Bowl Subdivision coaches frothing at the possibilities. Put on weight, you’ve got a super-athletic left tackle prospect. With a few tweaks, you might have a game-changing pass rusher.
When you’re 6-5 and can run, you don’t have to go chasing millionaires — the millionaires, before long, will start chasing you.
“Last year, he was a big kid that wasn’t sure of exactly how hard he needed to play every snap,” Weir says of Moore, who was credited with 13 catches and three touchdowns last fall. “And I think he’s improved on that this year, but he’s still got some room to grow there as a player.”
The coach says there’s room to grow in the classroom, too, but he likes the trend line so far. The materials on hand are raw but enticing.
“He’s big and he’s very agile and very athletic, so he can play a number of spots. That’s what makes him so recruitable,” Wier says. “I could see him playing offensive line, defensive line, tight end; he could play any of those (in college). If he lives up to his responsibilities, then he’ll be a recruitable guy, a guy they’ll follow up on.”
The ‘C’ Word? Josh? Not Josh. Josh was the biggest, the healthiest little pistol she’d ever laid eyes on. Mom is 5-9. Dad is 6-1. At 6 months, he was already off the growth chart. “Baby Shaq,” they called him.
In kindergarten, the teacher in Josh’s class asked the kids to put their legs down underneath their desks and scoot up. The young Moore was so big, he couldn’t move the desk, so someone went into the first grade room and found one that fit more comfortably.
How could a kid with that kind of ceiling have the roof threaten to come down on top of his head?
“Not only that, you see how, whenever you get that kind of news, you think you’re the only one in the world that is going through that,” Cynthia Moore says now. “But when we went to Children’s Mercy, there was a whole floor that was dedicated to kids that were going through that situation.”
Removing the growth was a tense, 8-hour process. Making sure the cancer never came back took five more relentless years.
“You could go in there and cut a nerve and your face wouldn’t be the same,” Cynthia says. “Especially for a child. So they really had to take their time.”
They would drive across town in those days, down to Overland Park for radiation treatments. There was a little square near the back of his head where the hair fell out, no wider than three inches.
That and the scar. Always the scar.
“He really didn’t grasp the whole situation until later,” Cynthia says. “You just think about life a little differently. Certain things that were important that were small, it becomes minor, you know. So, yeah, it changes you.”
It ages you.
It toughens you.
That which does not kill me …
“He just took it in stride,” Mom says. “It was like he never skipped a beat.”
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org