Josh Kendall

How a New Jersey snowstorm helped South Carolina land Skai Moore

TAMPA, Fla. -- As Steve Spurrier remembers it, Vanderbilt was Skai Moore’s second choice in recruiting. Skai Moore says it was actually South Carolina.

“I was committed to Rutgers before here,” Moore said Wednesday after the Gamecocks finished their Outback Bowl practice at Jesuit High School. “This was really my second choice. I took a visit up there (to Piscataway, N.J., to tour Rutgers), and it was snowing and too cold for me, and I couldn’t do it.”

So Moore ended up in Columbia and five years later he’s preparing for the final game of one of college football’s most quietly decorated careers. Moore will start at weakside linebacker for the Gamecocks (8-4) when they take on Michigan (8-4) in Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 1, and he has two significant milestones hanging in the balance.

One is almost a given. Moore leads South Carolina with 88 tackles, 13 more than second-place T.J. Brunson. If he finishes the bowl game as the team leader, he will become the 15th players in Division I history to lead his team in tackles for four seasons.

“All the guys who have played college football and only 15 guys, that’s big,” Moore said.

Moore also is tied for South Carolina’s career record in interceptions with 14, and his teammates are hoping he can get one more against the Wolverines to hold the record all by himself. They’re so serious about it that they’ve already talked about tipping a potential interception toward Moore if they get the chance, Brunson said only half joking.

“I want him to get that pick. Everyone does,” Brunson said. “That’s a big deal for a linebacker to have that many interceptions. He has definitely been the older guy I have looked up for guidance on the field, off the field, stuff like that. He has definitely helped me become adjusted. It’s something you can’t really get from anything besides an older player.”

This is not the kind of career many people expected from Moore when he was being recruited as a 6-foot-2, 218-pound linebacker out of Cooper City, Fla., 250 miles south of where he practiced Wednesday.

“I would say Skai turned out to be a good one didn’t he?” Spurrier asked rhetorically. “He played well in high school. He’s not real thick, real muscular, maybe that’s what held the big schools off of him, but man he’s a ball player. He’s a guy who makes plays. Made them for four years. I would say he earned his scholarship, wouldn’t you?”

Moore, who is tied for 11th in the SEC in tackles, has enjoyed surprising people for the last five years. (He missed the 2016 season due to neck surgery.)

“I had a chip on my shoulder coming in, and I always wanted to prove people wrong,” he said. “I think I have, just being an overlooked guy. People thought I was too undersized to play the position I do in this league. I feel like I have proved some people wrong.”

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