Vols feelin' California love

It's not often newcomers have a legitimate opportunity to come to a Southeastern Conference school and start Day 1. Sign in or subscribe now to see what defensive back and California native may just nudge his way into the starting lineup.

Watching Byron Moore's highlight film on Scout.com, it's easy to see why the Tennessee coaches fell in love with him and made it a point to get the defensive back running through the 'T' with them this fall.

It didn't hurt that nudging them in the back was Volunteer defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who was a teammate of Moore's in 2009 at Southern California.

"Man, I love Byron Moore," said Jackson, who played his high school football roughly 38 miles north of Moore's team. "I'm happy he's up here. I told coach (Justin) Wilcox we have to get him up here. He's going to be good for our secondary. He's going to be much-needed. He's a guy that can come in and play right away I think. Knowing him from USC and back home from where I'm from, he's a real hard worker. I think he can do real real good things."

After redshirting one season at USC, Moore transferred out when Lane Kiffin and his staff were hired.

The step from playing in the Pac-10 to the junior college ranks can affect some athletes. Moore made it a point to not let his skills whither away while at Los Angeles Harbor Community College.

"It wasn't too much of an adjustment. It was just having the right mindset the whole year," he said.

Although he was in Carson, Calif., just the one year, Moore made sure he left his mark. He totaled 42 tackles to go with nine interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He was honored by being named Defensive Player of the Year in the Central Division-Western Conference of the Southern California Football Association.

The recruiting battle for Moore came down to Tennessee and Miami (Fla.). As much as Jackson pressed his coaches to recruit Moore, his presence was helpful in getting the playmaker to Knoxville.

"It was real nice knowing I already had a former teammate here, and I could call him during the recruiting process and ask different questions how it's like doing the day-to-day stuff," said Moore, who played on the prep level at Nathaniel Narbonne (Calif.) High School. "It makes it easier with the transition coming from home."

Now that he's donning the orange and white, it's time to start clicking. As well as he played at Los Angeles Harbor, the move to Southeastern Conference football is still a quantum leap.

"It's a real big difference from junior college," Moore said. "Almost taking a year off once you leave going from a DI to a junior college. Just getting back into the DI style of play and stuff like that, but it's been fun so far."

The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder admitted that he is somewhat rusty but gave credit to Tennessee strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery for helping him and the team prepare for preseason camp.

"It's still a little different trying to get into football shape once you get the pads and all the equipment on, but overall it's been a good first few days. Having fun out here just running around and I'm excited for the season coming up," said Moore, who has three years of eligibility.

As a former USC teammate of Moore's, defensive end Malik Jackson played a key role in Moore's recruitment.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Moore said he doesn't have a preference on position in the secondary, mentioning that the only difference is the mental aspect of safety as compared to cornerback. He just wants to get on the field as quick as possible.

"The main thing is the safety is pretty much the quarterback of the defense so you've just got to know all the right checks to make and all the calls and all the formations," he said.

"At corner, you're just pretty much covering and locking up."

The redshirt sophomore took it upon himself to get locked in on the defense the Vols run by familiarizing himself with the playbook on the spring and early portions of the summer. That's allowing him to just react instead of having to take time to think about his assignment.

"It was a real big help," Moore said. "I pretty much had the whole defense while I was at home and they were out here practicing for the spring. So, I was calling coach Wilcox and (secondary) coach (Terry) Joseph over the phone after their practice to see what they were doing and going over different plays in the playbook. Once I got here, I pretty much knew all the basics of the defense. So, it wasn't too much of a learning curve. So, I was able to play fast."

Head coach Derek Dooley looks forward to utilizing Moore's versatility but where the former four-star fits into the lineup is anybody's guess as Tennessee wrapped up just their sixth practice of preseason camp Monday afternoon.

"I don't know. He's like a lot of guys," Dooley said. "A lot of it depends on what the other guys can do — Izauea (Lanier), (Brian) Randolph and those other guys. I just don't know yet. We're still trying to figure it out."

In 2008, in his senior season as a Gaucho, Moore piled up 83 tackles, four INTs (two TDs), three fumble recoveries (one TD) and a pair of forced fumbles. He also totaled 1,783 yards and 12 TDs between working that year as a wide receiver and returnman.

That ability could get the former Prep Star All-American fielding kicks or punts in Neyland Stadium.

"They have mentioned to me about kick returns, so I don't know if I'll get the chance," Moore said. "Right now I'm just doing all the blocking and whatever I can on special teams to help the team out."

Make no mistake about it. Moore would welcome the opportunity to get the ball in his hands and grinned when the possibility was mentioned.

"I always want the ball in my hands, but I'm going to do whatever they need me to do," he said.

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