Recently, I caught up with former Missouri standout and fan favorite TJ Moe. In part one of this two-part series, Moe discusses his recruitment, living out his childhood dream, Missouri’s transition to the SEC and the adjustment to life after football.
Raggs: So what led you to come to Mizzou?
Moe: Well, I’m from Missouri; I was raised in St Louis. Since I was a little kid, that’s where I wanted to go. Mizzou was actually really bad at that time. I think Brad Smith got there when I was 11 years old. Prior to that, they had Corby Jones and even through the Brad Smith era, the team just wasn’t great.
When I was in high school being recruited, Mizzou, at one point, was number one in the country, so obviously they were pretty good on the field. I connected really well with the coach. It never made sense to me to go represent Wisconsin and their school. I could have gone to Stanford, and though that probably would have been a better life decision, I just wanted to represent my state and my school and play there.
R: What other major offers did you have? I know you said Stanford and Wisconsin; did you have any others that you can remember?
M: Yeah, Stanford was actually contingent on me going out and seeing the school, so I don’t have it in my closet of written offers, it was just a verbal offer. But Wake Forest, Wisconsin, and Kansas were the written offers that I had. They’re still at my house.
I had some places that I could have gone. I probably could have gone to Iowa State [or Kansas State] if I really wanted to, but I hadn’t shown enough interest for them to make me an offer.
R: So once you got to campus, was there a pivotal moment when you realized you could actually play at the D1 level?
M: That’s a tough one. Honestly my freshman year, I was pretty hobbled by an injury. I had a Lisfranc fracture, which is a mid-foot break and tear/sprain and that hobbled me for quite a while. I had surgery. I missed all of two-a-days my freshman year.
I still didn’t redshirt, but I missed a lot of time and so that freshman year was tough. I didn’t know if I could play at that level all through freshman year. Sophomore year during spring ball I started to get a little better. I started to think, “Oh, I can probably do this.” And then when we got into two-a-days my sophomore year, I was performing pretty well.
My first game I started, I had 13 catches and 100 yards, so by that time I was pretty well aware that I could compete at that level. But it takes time, it’s different for everybody. You’ve got to be the one convincing yourself that you can do this, even if it doesn’t feel like it or look like it. Nobody else is going to do it for you.
R: So you said you had the injury your freshman year, what were the mental hurdles that you had to overcome? How tough was that for you to come back from?
M: Well the hardest part is when you start out being injured, you never had a gauge of where you’re at. Had I gone in there as a freshman and been really good and understood, “Here’s where I’m at,” then got injured ... well then I would have known I’ve just got to get back to that and know I could compete.
But for me, I walked in injured, so I didn’t have a barometer. So I spent a lot of time just working, working, working. And again, it’s kind of a battlefield-of-the-mind thing, convincing myself that I would be good enough to play and compete at that level because while I was there as a freshman there was no evidence of that. I was not at full strength; I had some skills and I could keep up mentally — none of that stuff was a problem — but as far as going out there and doing it on the field, that didn’t happen my freshman year because of the injury.
It’s a difficult thing. Anybody that goes through an injury will tell you that. It feels when you’re in the middle of it that you’re never going to be yourself again and you may never get back to normal. A lot of guys are going through depression. There’s quite a bit to it, and that’s why you’re starting to see some of the sports psychology stuff get pretty popular to help athletes deal with that stuff.
R: Why did you choose not to redshirt your freshman year since you were dealing with your injury?
M: That’s a good question. Honestly, it was more that the coaches decided I was not going to redshirt. I would have loved to be on that 2013 team. Obviously they went to the SEC Championship game and played well against Auburn, and that would have been great.
But the other side of that is, if I do redshirt, I don’t know if I’d have the season I did in 2010. I was one of the leading receivers in the country by my sophomore year and a lot of that you could argue was because of the experience that I gained as a freshman, and not necessarily playing.
I played five to 10 plays a game, it wasn’t like I was playing a ton. It was learning how to go in and prepare for the game, how to study the game plan and get used to the speed of the game and special teams. Just being out there in front of 70,000-100,000 people and realizing how to do something right, getting rid of your nerves.
When I went out there as a sophomore, I still had nerves, but the initial awe factor was gone. And some guys take a while to get through that.
I’m not sure which side I would have fallen on. Coach Pinkel always talked about at that time, the guys who you think are going to be big cornerstones of the program need to get that experience right away so you can get there as soon as possible
R: Looking back on the way that your senior year went down, do you regret not redshirting because of all the team injuries?
M: Honestly, you can look back and wish it was this or that. I loved my time there. So, you can go back and change the things you want.
Think about this: Does Andy Hill, the receivers coach, have the confidence to put me out there and start in the Edwards Jones Dome against Illinois, when I’d never seen the field before, in the first game in 2010? Does that happen? Because if he doesn’t even have the confidence to put me out there, I don’t start my career off with 13 catches and a touchdown and then get off and rolling and it had turned into a pretty good season. So, it all plays out one way or another, so who knows?
If you could tell me 2010 would be the exact same way it was whether I was redshirted or not, I would have probably loved to redshirt.
R: What was the transition for you playing in the Big 12 for three years then the SEC your senior year?
M: The difference is in the culture. That’s the big thing, and I think people are starting to understand that now. Down in the SEC, you live and breathe football. And not just any football, it’s college football. Alabama doesn’t have a professional team. South Carolina doesn’t have a professional team.
These people live and breathe college football. All their fans follow all the recruits; they know all the high school kids’ names that are pretty good. It’s just a different culture and world down there, that we weren’t used to in the Big 12.
That was pretty evident when I went to media days. At the Big 12 media day in 2011, I met all the players, it just wasn’t a big deal. I think we were there for a little while, kind of wore a dryfit polo and some pants. Then you go to a SEC media day and everybody is in a full suit and tie, you’ve got security following you everywhere, there’s 1,200 credited media members, and everything you say and do is national news.
R: Was there really any difference as far as the playing style or physicality of the game?
M: Well, the style is different. [Andrew Wilson] and I were just discussing this year’s team, and we sort of know how that feels because of 2012, when things just sort of fell apart on us.
But that 2012 team, you can go back and look and say we really got it handed to us against South Carolina, against Alabama, and there was a third game that we had no chance against (Texas A&M). I know Georgia went to the SEC Championship game that year, but I think we could have beat them. And that was with a team that was in shambles.
Then you look at the Vanderbilt game. If we don’t have a botched snap on the extra point, that’s a totally different game. James Franklin had a really good start the first three series then he hurt his knee and he’s out and we’re trying to play with a backup.
And then Syracuse, it was the same thing. Our entire team is predicated on what a good defense we had in 2012. E.J. Gaines, who’s one of the best corners in the league right now, gets beat on a fourth-and-10. Just everything went wrong. If there’s one guy you want in that position, it’s E.J. Gaines. In the last 20 years at Mizzou, he’s the best corner we’ve had. He gets beat on fourth-and-10, we lose the game.
So you could go back and say, “well, you could have won the Georgia game, you could have won the Syracuse game, you could have won the Vanderbilt game.” At the very least that was an eight-win team if you just pull through. And even against Florida, we lost by seven points to Florida down at their place and we had like four tries from the 25-yard line to tie the game as time was expiring.
I mean, we were right there at a lot of these games. We just could not pull through. That was a competitive group. We just didn’t get the breaks and guys just didn’t make the plays when we had to. And so we ended up with a five-win team, that I think could have been a nine-win team.
The very next year we were a 12-win, top-five ranked team. I will say that the SEC over the last two years has come back down to earth quite a bit. But, while I was there in 2012, the SEC from a coaching standpoint was a lot more solid. I mean you had all-timers. You had Steve Spurrier, one of the best coaches of all time. You had Mark Richt, who’s the best coach Georgia’s ever had. You had Gary Pinkel who is the all-time wins leader at Missouri. Les Miles.
R: You got signed by the Patriots after you left Mizzou?
R: And you ended up getting injured, correct?
M: Yeah, I tore my Achilles in OTAs with those guys.
R: You started your Mizzou career with an injury and then your NFL career with an injury, how frustrating was it to deal with that all over again?
M: Well see, I played football for 17 years and never missed a game. I was seven years old and went all the way up to my senior year of college and never missed a game due to health or anything. I just didn’t miss games.
Even when I was injured — I had torn my labrum in my shoulder, I had torn my elbow, and I never had what would have been Tommy John surgery, I had foot surgery in the offseason so that I was able to play during the season — I never missed a game. That was the hardest part.
I had another opportunity. I had been released from the Patriots a year later, so I spent one year with them. I was injured the whole time and got released. Then I was in training camp with the Rams. But you get done, and everybody goes through somewhat of a battle with depression. It’s something that probably every athlete goes through at some point. And it’s just kind of withdrawals from life that you haven’t ever done. You’ve spent your whole life competing in a sport, and everybody talks about how they dedicate their life to something, and that’s become a bit of a cliché. But really it’s the truth.
I spent every waking hour in college thinking before I did something, “Is this going to make me a better football player?” Like I should not eat that because it’s not healthy, it’s going to screw me up playing football. I need to go to sleep at this time so I can wake up at this time, so I can play football, so I can train, so I can work out.
Your life was built around that so when you do get injured and you can’t do those things, that really takes away your joy. What you do in life every day, all day long, everyday, you can no longer do. At least with basketball, that’s something you can continue to play throughout your life, or golf, even baseball, you can go play softball.
Once you’re done playing football, that is it. You’re not playing football ever again, anywhere. They don’t have intramurals. Once you take that helmet off for the last time, you’re finished.
R: So did you consider going to a CFL or arena football? Or was NFL the best for you?
M: No, I had some offers. I could have gone and played, but I wasn’t interested in doing that. My goal and what I want to be doing was making a career of this in the NFL. Once I couldn’t do that, then I just wanted to get rolling in life.
I never want to be one of those guys just holding on for 10 years, not making any money. And then you come back here when you’re 32 years old with no money, no life set up. I just didn’t want my life to be in that position. Not to say that a lot of guys don’t do some really cool stuff and love what they’re doing. But I just didn’t see that as an avenue for me.
R: What was your major at Mizzou?
M: I was a business major. It’s interesting, I’ve gotten into broadcasting quite a bit since then, but yeah, I was a business man. I’ve gotten into business — I have two Smoothie Kings in St. Louis, and I’m getting ready to open up a third next year, so I’m using the business theory in some fashion there.
But I have gotten into broadcasting, I’ve done quite a bit of radio stuff, and I think long-term that’s what I’d like to be doing. It’s interesting the way that goes. You know, guys will spend four or five years in a journalism school and then they work and work and work and then they have to become interns and producers and all of these different places just to get a voice on the radio. But if you’ve played people are willing to give you a job almost right away.
So, I came out my first year out of football, I had a radio show with Jim Edmonds and Tim McKernan. Mizzou gave me more than I could ever pay back.
R: How does the whole education process go down when you come to Mizzou and you’re picking your major? Do they steer you towards majors, or do you pick what you want? I know a lot of guys end up with Agriculture or General Studies degrees, and there’s no way they could have originally wanted to do that, so how does that work exactly?
M: You want to know why guys do that? Because it’s easy. It’s not like they’re super interested in those things. You’re talking about a group of 18-year-old football players that only care about beating Georgia in football — they don’t care about what’s going on in the classroom.
I was never scared by any of the academic staff, but basically you look up and realize what’s easy and what’s difficult, and often the 18-year-old kids are saying, “I don’t care much what my degree is going to be four years from now. I care about making sure I have something easy enough that I can spend time playing football, which is why I came here.” I was never at any time steered to or away from anything, but ... I wouldn’t have been one of the guys that they would steer one way or the other.
Here’s another thing: You think about the academic staff, their job is to keep you eligible. So if you’re in a degree that is too difficult for you, they have to make adjustments. People love to say, “If you study harder and you work hard, you’re going to be okay and you can pass.” There are some guys that wouldn’t be in school if it weren’t for football. So, when you get into Mizzou, you need to pick a major that you can pass.
There’s a ton of people that try to go into economics that aren’t good with numbers and could never figure that out. Like, don’t go into accounting if you’re not good with math. But some guys try to do that and it’s just too hard for them. So at that point, it’s the academic staff’s job is to keep you eligible. If you’re putting in max effort, and it’s too hard for you, then we need to figure out something else that is going to be productive and good for you and your life, but you’re not going to be able to stay eligible if you stay on that path.
R: Yeah, I was just talking to some other former athletes that felt like Mizzou did them a disservice by allowing then to be general studies majors. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but it’s not the easiest thing to transition into a real job.
M: No, you’re right. But if you’re good at football, you’re going to have so many opportunities.
Do you know how many job offers I’ve had after college just from people that watch me play and said, “Listen, I love your work ethic, I love what you did, and I loved how you fought, you need to come work for me”? They never cared what my degree was. “You’d be good for my company.”
Obviously that’s not going to work for everybody. I was fortunate enough to be a guy that people took notice of and everybody’s eyes were on. There were a lot of guys on the field that were a lot better players than me, but I became one of the fan favorites because I was the underdog, I was undersized, I had to try a lot harder than everybody else just to make it happen.
So I get that. It’s not going to be that easy for everybody, but you go into some industries, for example — if you’re going to be a doctor you must have gone to school for that. If you’re going to be an accountant, you had to go to school for that, or a nurse, or a lawyer, et cetera. But there’s a ton of industries that you get into that your degree has nothing to do with that.
R: So as far as journalism or broadcasting, what’s your goal? Do you want to stick to radio? I know that you’ve been doing some writing stuff recently.
M: Yeah, so writing’s not my thing. I don’t write. But I write things just to get into the house through the side door. Ideally, I’d like to be in media. So, I’ll do some writing at first, I like radio, I’d love to be doing some TV stuff at some point.
In St. Louis everybody’s pretty welcoming. It’s fascinating. I know all of the media people in St. Louis and they’re all really good guys, good people. I’ll have some opportunities to do that, but for now, radio. Yeah, I like doing sports radio. I do realize that the climate of the industry is rapidly changing here, and now we can assume sports media is going to look really, really significantly different over the next five to 10 years, so you’ve got to pay attention to that. But, for where I’m at right now, I think that’s where I’m headed.
R: Transitioning away from sports a bit, obviously you were opinionated about some things that happened on campus last year. What led you to be so vocal about the events that unfolded at Mizzou?
M: People ask me all the time, “What do you think you’re getting out of this?” And for me, I wasn’t getting anything out of that. I got yelled at a lot, I don’t think I was getting anything out of it.
For me, I was trying to make people understand that it didn’t make sense to me what was happening. And so, what I was seeing was a group that was so divisive, and it was tearing apart my university that I love. So I was trying to give a counter to that and say, “Guys hold on a minute, this doesn’t make any sense.” And I was trying to lay out some logic.
You can go look at my Twitter mentions at that time — I had five or six thousand in a single week, and it was either people saying, “Finally, somebody speaking their mind,” or people saying, “You’re an idiot, kill yourself.” Right, you’ve got both sides. And I don’t mind.
For me, I never cared too much what anybody thought about what I said or think. That doesn’t bother me. But I did think that it was important that I’m not going out there and just spewing ideas for attention. Because overall, the attention is not helping me any.
You just don’t go along with the mainstream idea just because people have a cause behind it. It has to make logical sense, and people still have to use their brains before you go and make some rash decisions. And I think that’s what we did during that time. So that’s why I tried to speak up and give a counter idea to what I thought made no sense.
Stay tuned for part two.