While the Elon University football team lost its season opener Saturday, for freshman defensive back Khalil Moore, the week could not have gone much better.
Last Tuesday, as Moore finished his first day of college classes, he learned he would be starting in his first collegiate game.
“I didn’t really know until after class,” Moore said. “I’m just excited to play with the guys and do my job.”
Moore did just that Saturday, grabbing an interception in the third quarter and getting four solo tackles in his collegiate debut.
“I guess we were right [to start him],” said head coach Rich Skrosky. “There’s no hesitancy about it. We’re not surprised, and the moment wasn’t too big for him. It was a big moment for us.”
Moore was playing man coverage on Gardner-Webb sophomore wide receiver Kyle Horton when Runnin’ Bulldogs junior quarterback Tyrell Maxwell threw to him. As Horton ran past the intended pass, Moore read Maxwell’s pass and jumped in front of the route for the interception at the Gardner-Webb 39-yard line.
“It was good pressure by the defensive line,” Moore said. “They forced a good quarterback to make a bad throw.”
Elon was able to get a field goal after Moore’s pick, one of two turnovers that Elon turned into field goals. It was the only way Elon scored Saturday in a 31-6 loss, which Moore said was all that mattered to him after the game.
“It’s not about me at all,” Moore said. “I could care less about the pick or any tackle or anything. I’m more concerned about preparing for next week. It’s just devastating losing, but I’m ready to get back in the woodshed with the fellas and get back to work.”
With injuries to sophomore defensive backs Tariq Lane and Greg Liggs Jr., Moore took advantage of the available reps in practice and impressed Skrosky.
“[Moore] was pushing anyway. He was going to play, but now he’s going to play more,” Skrosky said. “I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. Love him. The good thing is, he has confidence in himself.”
Moore received similar praise from junior defensive back Chris Blair, who will start at safety on the same side as Moore, who is starting at cornerback.
“He came in prepared,” Blair said. “He worked hard this whole summer. He got his opportunity when Coach called his number, and he’s showed off. The rest is on him.”
Skrosky said Moore has been around the ball a lot during fall camp, and made enough plays to earn the starting spot. He believes that Moore is advanced for a freshman.
“He’s got an athletic maturity about him,” Skrosky said. “There’s a lot of guys that have talent — they can run, they’re big and strong. He’s a very athletic kid, but he’s got a maturity. He understands the pace of the game. He doesn’t panic. He plays with a lot of composure.”
Skrosky said Lane’s injury is currently seen as minor, but enough to keep him out of the first game and likely the second. He also added that Liggs had surgery before classes started and is out until conference play at the earliest. With two veterans out, Moore feels he has a responsibility to step up and fill in for them.
“They’ve put me in a position where one would look at it as a lot of pressure, but I see it as a chance to rise to the role, and I’m ready to take on the challenge,” Moore said. “It’s big shoes to fill with Tariq and Greg not being out there to play, so I’m really trying to hone in and make sure I know what I’m doing. I want to go out every Saturday to do my job and contribute as best as I can.”
Moore will play his second collegiate game in his hometown Saturday when the Phoenix travels to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.