Monday, May 27, 2024

Former Virginia wide receiver Sean Moore makes USA Football’s national flag team

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He’s been involved in flag football since his youth, and now Sean Moore has the chance to play on the sport’s growing international stage.

Earlier this spring, Moore, a former wide receiver at Virginia who was with the Cavaliers from 2019 through 2022, earned an initial roster spot on USA Football’s Men’s Flag National Team following recent trials in Charlotte.

“I showed I could run routes,” Moore said. “I showed that I have quickness, can catch the ball, am pretty good with [yards after catch] in flag and have good deep-ball speed.”

Sixty of the best flag football players in the country were invited to trials and Moore was one of only 18 players to make it through cuts. That roster of 18 will be trimmed come June training camp to a 12-man squad, which will represent the United States at the Flag Football World Championships in Finland this summer.

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Former Virginia wide receiver Sean Moore catches a pass during USA Football’s national flag team trials earlier this spring in Charlotte.

Moore grew up in Miami and attended Gulliver Prep — a program that is a pipeline to UVa having sent Moore, Will Bettridge, Mandy Alonso and the late D’Sean Perry in recent years to Charlottesville — and Moore said in South Florida, flag football along with seven-on-seven is played all year round. That’s how he fell in love with the game, honed his skills and developed into an athlete good enough to be recruited by Ivy League programs and earn a walk-on opportunity with the Hoos out of Gulliver.

He said he exclusively played the flag version of football during his childhood — participated in USA Football and NFL Flag events — and kept on doing so in tournaments even during his high school and college offseasons.

“I didn’t start playing tackle until the sixth grade,” Moore said. “So, flag means a tremendous amount to me because I feel like it builds the techniques and technical skills that you need as a skill player in order to play tackle.

“When you get to tackle, it’s just the tackling and getting hit part that you’ve got to get used to,” Moore said. “But when you have the techniques to back it up, it gave me so much confidence because I felt like I was a good route runner and that I understood the zone [defenses] and man [defenses] and basics of football.”

Not all of Moore’s UVa teammates knew about his love for flag football when they were still in school or that he was still playing after graduation, Moore said, “until they found out I made the US Men’s National Team. Then they were like, ‘Whoa, you’re on the US Men’s National Team?’”

He said many of his fellow ex-Cavaliers found out before he did. Moore was working a shift at Amazon when USA Football released its roster on social media, so when Moore got done with work, he returned to a flood of text messages and missed calls.

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Former Virginia wide receiver Sean Moore runs a route during USA Football’s national flag team trials in Charlotte.

“He’s extremely talented,” said Alonso, a former defensive lineman for the Cavaliers who has had stints in the Canadian Football League and United Football League. Alonso and Moore were two-time teammates at Gulliver and UVa.

“So, I was surprised [Moore] never got to see the field much [at UVa],” Alonso continued, “but I remember when he was on scout team that he would make our defensive back’s lives hell. He was always making plays with these crazy one-handed catches or just these ridiculous catches. He’d give us a good look, you know.”

Moore said he heard from Alonso and other UVa alums like Arizona Cardinals safety Joey Blount, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks and Packers defensive back Anthony Johnson as well as current Cavaliers defensive end Ben Smiley all sending their congratulations or wanting to know more about Moore’s flag football successes.

Moore couldn’t help either but to think about Perry, his close friend who was one of three UVa players killed during the tragic shooting on the school’s Grounds in November of 2022.

“I don’t think he would’ve said anything. I think it would’ve been more of a noise,” Moore said with a smile about what Perry would’ve done upon learning that Moore made the US National Team. “He would’ve yelled.

“But he’s my guy. He’s my rock,” Moore continued. “If you grew up at home or went to Virginia and if you knew, D’Sean, you know me. If you know me, you knew D’Sean. We did everything together. That’s my other half, truly. There is never a time I don’t feel him not with me.”

Moore said after the shooting he couldn’t look at a football field or even think about playing for the next seven or eight months.

“But then it was crazy,” Moore said, “and I felt D’Sean, he was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get back to us,’ and I got back on the field and everything felt better. I know he’d be proud of me. I know he’d know I’m making everyone else proud and because of that, he’d want me to compete.”

Moore’s conversations with Perry as high schoolers, Moore said, is one of the reasons why he ended up at UVa.

Moore was mulling opportunities to play for Princeton or Harvard as National Signing Day neared during their senior years. Perry had already decided on UVa, and Moore was wondering if a chance with a Power Five team would come for him.

“Signing day was like a week away and it just so happened that [former Cavaliers wide receivers coach Marques] Hagans had come down to watch D’Sean and I’s basketball game,” Moore recalled. “And the next day Coach Hagans came back and we just had a great discussion. It was nothing about me going to Virginia. It was just him and I talking. He just wanted to talk to me because I was D’Sean’s friend, but I got to talk to Coach Hagans and Coach Hagans’ mindset as a man and his principles stuck out to me right away. It was something I felt attached to.”

After meeting Hagans, Moore was offered a roster spot at UVa and took Hagans and former coach Bronco Mendenhall up on it, teaming again with Perry and Alonso in college.

Moore said he learned so much from Hagans about how to be organized and how to always have a schedule, which Moore pointed out has come in handy with trying to balance training for the Flag Football World Championships, his day job and his side work he enjoys like his rug-making business and wedding-photography business.

“You have to have it set up in a way that is prepared to help you meet success, and you can pass them off and check them off,” Moore, now an Atlanta resident, said about everything he’s trying to juggle.

He said he feels like to make the final US National Team roster — those who don’t make it will be alternates and eligible for a call-up to the team — that he’ll need to show exactly what he did during trials.

That’s superb wide-receiver skills along with a strong connection with quarterback Nico Casares, who Moore said he grew up playing flag football with in Florida, and an ability to rush the passer on defense since he’ll likely have to play both ways. Moore said he’s picked up those skills well.

Alonso, who had 9.5 sacks during his UVa career, said his pass-rushing advice to Moore is: “Make the quarterback make a bad throw and get back there. It’s a lot like a wide receiver’s release with those first couple of steps to get by a defender. It’s not too different.”

Alonso said he’ll be paying attention to how Moore does for Team USA.

“I’m super proud for him and happy that he’s able to play ball,” Alonso said, “because not everyone gets an opportunity at any level and it’s a special thing. Then, to represent the country, too, is an extremely high honor.”

Flag football will also be an Olympic sport come the 2028 games in Los Angeles.

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