Defensive end Zach Moore finished his Concordia career with 33 sacks -- ninth in Division II history -- and six forced fumbles.
Justin Oakman Photography
A diploma, a phone call, and a hastily-arranged flight.
Friday evening, Zach Moore strutted across the Concordia (St. Paul) graduation stage, physical proof of his criminal justice degree in hand and a smile on his face. Two days later, he was touching down in Boston, preparing to join New England’s offseason conditioning program and begin familiarizing himself with all things "the Patriot way."
"It’s a great feeling," Moore, the first-ever NFL draft pick in Concordia history, told FOXSportsNorth.com on Sunday after landing in Massachusetts. "I’m glad to be in Boston and I’m excited to be a Patriot."
There have been plenty of life-altering moments on Moore’s unlikely road to a shot at professional football prestige. Few could have topped this past weekend, though.
Overcoming previous academic struggles that rendered him academically ineligible for Division I competition and at one point forced him to drop out of Concordia for a semester, Moore graduated Friday from the 3,600-student school tucked into urban St. Paul. He and a handful of his teammates spent the next day in a Concordia common room glued to ESPN.
First came the phone call. Seconds later, his name popped up on the TV screen.
"Zach Moore, Concordia University." The Patriots had taken a chance on the project defensive end, drafting him in the sixth round, 198th overall.
He was one of four Division II players taken — seven fewer than last year.
An Instagram video of his reaction made the rounds on social media. Moore said he hadn’t seen it yet, but after an exhausting day of entertaining congratulatory phone calls and text messages and squaring away his travel plans, the joy was still fresh.
"It means everything, you know," said Moore, who grew up in Chicago and didn’t play football until high school at Simeon Career Academy. "I represent not only myself but Concordia, my high school Simeon Academy, my friends and family and the entire city of Chicago."
It was there that Moore bounced between households of a split family, avoided the gang culture that engulfed his childhood neighborhood, and grew into a swift-moving, 6-foot-6, 269-pound phenom. He snatched Concordia records with 33 sacks — ninth in Division II history — and six forced fumbles.
Few around the Concordia campus doubted his chances at cracking an NFL roster. "When Zach Moore makes it in the NFL and is a big-time player," Golden Bears coach Ryan Williams told FOXSportsNorth.com in December, "nobody here will be surprised because of the tool set that he has."
That tool set makes Moore an intriguing prospect in the Patriots’ diversified system. He’s strong enough (23 bench press reps at 225 pounds) to play defensive end in a 4-3 alignment and fast enough (4.79 40-yard dash) for an outside, pass-rushing linebacker role in a 3-4. Under different defensive coordinators at Concordia, he lined up all over the Bears’ defensive line.
Moore showed off his raw skills at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. New England management worked him out privately not long after.
Moore was the only defensive end the Patriots selected and is their sixth on the roster along with Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Will Smith, Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette. That’ll allow him to push for a roster spot, if not this year then perhaps 2015. Bill Belichick and his staff pride themselves on developing talent, and tutelage under defensive line coach Brendan Daly and linebackers coach Patrick Graham ought to refine Moore’s technique considerably.
The Patriots commence OTA workouts May 27 and have a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 17-19.
Before Sunday, Moore had never been to Boston. But he didn’t sound in the mood for much sightseeing yet.
"I’m pretty excited, but at the same time, I’m glad to get back to football," said Moore, scheduled to begin offseason workouts with his new team Monday. "Hopefully, I can hit the ground running when the time comes."