CHARLOTTE - Matt Moore had a decision to make five years ago.
He had had a taste of success as a quarterback in a big-time college football program, but the experience soured him. He wasn't sure if he wanted to stay on that path. He had also been drafted by baseball's Los Angeles Angels to play the sport he always loved best.
Moore, who will start at quarterback for the Carolina Panthers today against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, chose football.
But the decision he made in 2004 to leave his home in southern California to give college football another shot in the Pacific Northwest became more than a choice between two sports.
It altered how he looks at life and what is important to him.
"It was the best move I've ever made," Moore said.
Moore, 25, steps to the forefront today in a season that's gone wrong for the Panthers (4-7). With starter Jake Delhomme out with a broken finger, Moore gets his fourth start in three NFL seasons. It is an ideal spot for him to make a case for potentially being Carolina's quarterback of the future.
"I think he is more ready than he was the last time he went in," Panthers coach John Fox said. "He's got all of the abilities. He's got the right attitude. I know we'll get his best effort."
For most of Moore's childhood years, that effort was directed toward baseball.
Moore grew up the oldest of four children in Santa Clarita, Calif. He comes from baseball bloodlines. His father Don was in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization in the late 1970s and early '80s. His grandfather, also named Don Moore, was in the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees systems.
Matt Moore was an excellent shortstop, playing on youth travel teams and then in high school.
"Baseball was my primary thing," Moore said. "That's what I thought I'd always play."
He played a little football, too, but at defensive back. When he arrived at Hart High as a freshman, the quarterback spot was filled by Kyle Boller (now with the St. Louis Rams) and, later, Kyle Matter (who would play at Stanford).
It wasn't until his senior year that Moore played quarterback, and he quickly blossomed. He threw for 3,334 yards and 33 touchdowns and, although baseball remained his first love, it became obvious he was an even better football player.
Moore went to UCLA, where he played in six games (including one start) as a freshman. He won the job full-time as a sophomore, but Moore hurt his knee in the 2003 season opener at Colorado.
Moore recovered from the injury, but was not able to win the starting job back from Drew Olson. Not happy with the situation, Moore left UCLA.
"I didn't want to stay there as a backup," he says.
Moore, however, did not have a backup plan. He attended College of the Canyons, a community college in Santa Clarita, considering what schools where he might transfer to.
Then one night, an Angels scout visited Moore. The scout said the Angels - which had taken him in the 22nd round of the 2004 draft - were offering Moore an $80,000 bonus to sign. It was tempting, but Moore wanted to wait a few days before deciding.
As Moore mulled the Angels' offer, a call came from Oregon State football coach Mike Riley, who invited him to visit the campus.
"I just went with it," Moore said of Riley's offer. "And I never looked back."
Moore was enchanted by Corvallis. But what struck him most was the idea that there was life beyond southern California.
"I realized, wow, there's more to this world than skateboarding and surfing," he said. "It was night-and-day different from L.A. The lifestyle was completely different. There was all that space and I didn't even mind the cold. Everything in the town was devoted to the college. UCLA was not like that - not in a bad way - but there was nothing else going on (in Corvallis). I really bought into that."
In two seasons at Oregon State, Moore threw for 5,733 yards and 29 touchdowns. After the Beavers' 30-28 victory against rival Oregon in 2006, students carried Moore off the field on their shoulders.
That wasn't enough for Moore to be drafted in the NFL. He signed as a rookie free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, who cut him at the end of training camp. The Panthers signed him the next day.
Moore's rookie season of 2007 was eventful. When Delhomme's season ended with an injured elbow in Week 3, Moore joined a quarterback carousel that included veterans Vinny Testaverde and David Carr.
Moore played in nine games and started the final three. The Panthers won two of them and Moore was named the NFC's offensive rookie of the month in December for his 564 passing yards and three touchdowns.
With Delhomme healthy in 2008, Moore figured to compete for the team's No. 2 quarterback spot. But he broke his leg in the team's final preseason game against Pittsburgh. After missing four games, Moore spent the rest of the season as the inactive third quarterback behind Delhomme and Josh McCown.
Now, with McCown on injured reserve and Delhomme out indefinitely, Moore gets another chance.
"He's laid back, a happy-go-lucky guy," said fullback Brad Hoover. "But we've got confidence in him."
Said Moore: "I've been here before. I'm not a young guy anymore and I'm trying to convince anybody who thinks otherwise that I'm not a young guy anymore."