Three-sport star Dennis Moore said this week he will miss Elgin High.
Perhaps not as much as Elgin High will miss Dennis Moore.
Beyond the fact he was an all-area football and basketball player and helped two relay teams qualify for the state track meet, his coaches say Moore, named the 2011-12 Daily Herald Male Athlete of the Year in the Fox Valley, will be missed for the example he set for other athletes and the Elgin student body in general.
"As good an athlete as he is, he's a better person than he is an athlete," Elgin basketball coach Mike Sitter said of Moore, who recently graduated with a 3.2 grade-point average. "There's no better person to give this award to."
To understand Moore's value to his teams, one need look no further than how the 18-year old behaved when things didn't go as planned. After working with a personal trainer in the spring of 2011, he entered the school year with high hopes as one of the area's best-conditioned athletes only to suffer major injuries in both football and basketball.
A big part of Moore's story of success is how he handled adversity, which hit him almost right away.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound running back/defensive back suffered a high-ankle sprain on the second possession of the football season opener. Still, he finished that game with 181 yards rushing, including touchdown jaunts of 80 and 50 yards, not to mention a 99-yard kickoff return for another score.
Though the injury forced him to miss most of the next 3 games against Bartlett, Streamwood and Geneva, Moore never stopped contributing to the team any way he could. He was at every practice, teaching his replacements the lessons he had learned in three varsity seasons. He barked encouragement from the sideline, called out formations, added his two cents when appropriate.
"I did the best I could when I was on the field, but when I got hurt I felt I could still help my teammates," Moore said. "If I couldn't be on the field, I could be an extra coach out there. So that's what I became."
He returned in Week 5 against rival Larkin and rushed 18 times for 127 yards and a touchdown in a 1-point loss. The following week he was held to 67 yards against St. Charles North, but he scored on an 84-yard kickoff return.
Just as the explosion was returning to his legs, Moore suffered a more serious injury in Week 7 against Batavia. Playing defense, the Elgin co-captain jumped and successfully broke up a pass only to land hard and break a bone in his left.
With his hand in a cast, Moore returned the following week against St. Charles East. The workhorse carried the ball 27 times for 92 yards, though the Maroons lost a turnover-plagued game 10-0.
That was it, however. With the Maroons out of contention at 1-7, Moore was held out of the season finale to prevent further damage to his broken left hand with basketball season fast approaching. Still, he worked with his team throughout the final week of practices.
"Even though we came up short, you could see we made progress from the beginning to the end of the year," Moore said. "We had multiple injuries besides me, but we never quit. We stayed at it and ended the year the way we started it: all together and working hard."
Despite injuries that limited him to 4½ games, Moore finished among the top 10 rushers in the area with 590 yards on 97 carries (6.7 avg) and 4 rushing TDs. Defensively, he made 21 solo tackles from his safety position and averaged 35.9 yards per kickoff return. He was named the program's Bob Duffield Desire Award winner as a result.
"You want to talk about resiliency and fighting through major disappointments, he just kept fighting back," Elgin football coach Dave Bierman said. "I think that tells you what kind of toughness the young man has. Nothing deters him from his goals and what he wants to do."
Moore immediately switched into basketball mode for what promised to be a thrilling senior season on the hardwood. Entering his third-year of varsity hoops alongside longtime friends like Kory Brown and Arie Williams, Moore and the Maroons were poised for a huge season.
That's exactly how things played out. Moore was in the starting lineup for the season opener at Buffalo Grove. The broken left hand had healed enough for him to score 10 points and make 2 steals in a blowout victory.
Elgin went on to win the Buffalo Grove Thanksgiving Tournament for the second straight year, then upset nationally ranked prep power La Lumiere (Ind.) in the title game of the Elgin Holiday Tournament in one of the more memorable games in recent program history. It was Elgin's first title at its own tourney since 1999, and it improved the Maroons to 12-1.
Moore was one of the team's best defenders, assigned to the other team's best perimeter player every night. He was playing well and the team was rolling along at 13-1 when the injury bug struck again.
Playing rival Larkin in front of a big crowd at Chesbrough Field House on Jan. 11, Moore went for a steal and broke his hand, the right one this time.
Rather than lament another physical setback, he set the goal of returning for the second Larkin game on Feb. 10. He missed 6 games, including back-to-back, 2-point losses to St. Charles North and St. Charles East. It was Elgin's only 2-game skid all season.
As he had during the football season, Moore became another coach while sidelined. He came to every practice and participated in every drill possible when not rehabbing his right hand. He made certain he stayed in shape.
"If you lost a free-throw contest or one-on-one at your basket in practice, you had to run," Sitter said. "But Dennis would run no matter what, win or lose. If someone misses practice and a day of conditioning, they would have to run after practice. Dennis is a captain. He would run with those people just so they wouldn't have to run alone.
"He just wanted to be a leader and show everyone he was still a part of this team even if he couldn't play."
Moore was cleared by doctors to play in the second Larkin game. Not only did he play as promised, he excelled. Wearing a brace on his right hand, the speedy guard scored a season-high 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting, grabbed 5 rebounds and made 3 steals.
"It's Elgin vs. Larkin and you don't want to lose that game," Moore said. "If I couldn't score I wanted to make sure everybody was pumped and ready to play. But my shots were falling and it ended up being a good game for me."
The Maroons went on to share the title in the River Division of the Upstate Eight Conference with St. Charles North, then defeated South Elgin and St. Charles East to win their second straight regional title. A sectional semifinal victory over McHenry followed, setting up a Sweet 16 date against Rockford Auburn for the sectional title.
Moore, Brown, Williams and the Maroons gave it their best shot, but Wichita State-bound guard Fred Van Vleet and the Knights pulled away for a 67-56 win.
Moore scored 9 points in his final basketball game. He finished the season averaging 7.1 points with 47 assists and 30 steals for a team that went 26-4.
"His numbers were down as a senior, but he played better basketball," Sitter said. "He just defended the tar out of everyone. During the postseason run we put him on the toughest person to guard and just let his athleticism show. His leadership and ability to handle the ball and shoot free throws in pressure situations was amazing."
Moore had sat out the 2011 track season to work with a personal trainer during his recruitment phase, but that issue was settled on Feb. 2 when Moore committed to play running back for three-time Division-III football national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater.
With his college plans settled, Moore returned to the track this spring to scratch a nagging itch. He and his relay teammates had narrowly missed qualifying for the state meet as sophomores.
Determined to make amends, Moore and 800-meter relay teammates Terrell Campbell, Devante King and Derek Moorman not only qualified for the state meet by finishing first at the Class 3A St. Charles North sectional, they did so in school record-breaking time. The quartet finished in 1:27.83 to smash the previous mark of 1:28.90. The same foursome also made it downstate in the 400-meter relay (42.66).
Would Elgin have enjoyed such success had Moore not opted to return to track as a senior?
"Probably not," veteran Elgin track coach Kevin Cleveland said. "He was a key part. Without him we maybe would have had a slight chance because we have a good freshman coming up, but Dennis ran two years for us and that experienced helps an awful lot. Him coming back his senior year was one of the last little pieces to fall in place.
"He also provided a lot of leadership. He's very positive. When people get down he turns them around and gets them back up. He's just a great example for the other kids. I can't say enough good things about him."
So what was Moore's favorite sport looking back?
"I love football because I like hitting people and running people over, but basketball the last two years takes it," Moore said. "We had so much fun and those guys are like my brothers. Kory and Arie and I hang out all the time. It made it better to be successful with your closest friends with everybody supporting you."
Moore gained plenty of experience mentoring others when sidelined with injuries. He's getting more experience in that role with his summer job, working as a day camp counselor for 9-12 year olds at the Taylor Family Branch YMCA on Elgin's west side.
It's just the beginning of a life of mentoring. He said this week he intends to major in physical education with a minor in coaching.
"I'd like to be a coach," Moore said. "Between your freshman and senior years coaches play a huge part in the way you develop as a person. I've had amazing coaches at Elgin who've told me what to expect in life and get me ready for it. I think for me to be a part of that with kids when I'm a coach would be great."
It's a career choice that will benefit any youngster who crosses Moore's path in the future.
"The very best thing about Dennis is he's an awesome young man as far as character," Bierman said. "He's a hard worker, a dependable, solid kid. You just wish you had a bunch of him. It was great to have the experience to work with him.
"Obviously, we're going to miss him dearly."