CHAMPAIGN — From the middle of the infield at O'Brien Stadium in Charleston, Griffin Moore looked towards the blue track watching Plainfield North junior Marcellus Moore and Lincoln Way East junior A.J. Henning at last month's IHSA boys track and field meet.
Moore is friends with both of the two runners, but his vested interest went beyond the results of the race. This trip from Bloomington to Charleston was two-fold.
He naturally wanted to see how his friends ran at the state meet, but he also wanted to be in their ear to sell them on the Illinois football program, for which Moore will be a freshman tight end when the season opens on Aug. 31 at home against Akron.
Moore didn't wear one piece of Illinois clothing. He went with a black sweatshirt and a white Gatorade towel over his head and tucked into his shirt to block the sun. His pitch wasn't about clothing or style. It was pure, friend-to-friend desire to play together in college, and to turn the home state program around under head coach Lovie Smith.
He'll be listed as a tight end after playing quarterback at Bloomington High School, but he'll also step into a role as a player-recruiter in Champaign.
“It’s my home school," Moore said. "I want it to be great and I want to be a part of something great while I’m there. Getting guys that I know and being able to get after it with guys I know and am cool with, getting back to the Rose Bowl would be something I definitely want to be a part of.
“Definitely ever since I started getting recruited. It’s always been about being somewhere you’re comfortable and you’re comfortable around people you know. A lot of the guys I talked to about joining me in school are people that I’ve known for a while."
He's part of an active 2019 recruiting class that includes Marquez Beason, Isaiah Williams, Shammond Cooper, Casey Washington and Kyron Cumby. All of them are active on social media trying to recruit top talent to Champaign. Moore realizes he's in a unique position to recruit other athletes right now because he knows them. He came up through camps with players who are finalizing their college choices.
It didn't take Scott Godfrey long to learn about Moore's personality. Godfrey just finished his first season as head football coach at Bloomington after a successful stint at Warrensburg-Latham and Moore was a big cog in keeping an open communication line between players and coaches.
“He’s beyond his years," Godfrey said. "I’ve known it since I got there. When you see him interact with other big-time recruits, and interact with media, I’ve told everybody that he’s a huge ambassador for the University of Illinois. He’s well-spoken, great kid, great family. He’s a big-time guy.
“He flies under the radar to a lot of people just because you don’t see him or you’re not running into him. When you run into him and talk to him you realize what kind of kid he is. He’s a home-run kid."
Illinois already has two four-star commitments for the 2020 class that includes Reggie Love III, from Trinity Catholic High School in St. Louis, and wide receiver Jadon Thompson from Chicago Marist. If Moore has anything to do with it, there will be more frontline talent joining the Illini next season.
His goal is to share with recruits the same reasons he committed to Illinois.
“I fell in love with the coaching staff," he said. "You see everything that Lovie is doing right now with the whole situation with Bobby (Roundtree, who was injured in a boating accident). It shows everybody else what we already knew about them. They really care about us. School is great. Also, it’s the home state school. Illinois has talent, it’s just that guys like to go other places. I’m trying to get all the top guys to stay home and make Illinois special again."
There are challenges that lie in predicting how a player will translate on the field from high school to college, especially after switching from a high school quarterback to a college tight end. Moore knows he needs to work on his blocking — something that is new to him. But he's putting in work on routes and his catching ability. But Godfrey is more impressed with the complete makeup. Moore will graduate, he said, get good grades, show up to class and sell the program.
That's appealing to a coach at any level.
“If I were a college coach, those are the guys I would try to recruit," Godfrey said. "Those are the guys who are going to sell your program. Those are the guys who are going to make your program look good. You know he’s going to graduate. He’s a can’t-miss guy and he just happens to be 6-4, 250 and can move.
“The bottom line is he just attracts people. He’s a really good talker. He’s a great kid."