Then-sophomore wide receiver J’Mon Moore was a starter last season and was looked at as a leader, but he really didn’t feel like one.
Moore missed nearly two weeks in training camp with a separated left shoulder. It didn’t derail his climb up the depth chart, but it made it tricky to be assertive.
“It’s hard for you to lead a group of young wideouts when you’re not on the field yourself and haven’t experienced much more than the wideouts underneath you have experienced,” Moore said.
As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Moore made two catches for 33 yards, but he didn’t feel like a veteran during camp last summer.
After leading the Tigers with 29 catches and 350 yards last season, Moore — whose three touchdowns were second behind Nate Brown — no longer has any doubt about his place at the head of the wide-receivers group.
Still, such modest numbers won’t do in 2016.
“If he puts it all together, the sky is the limit,” new Tigers offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said of Moore. “He’s extremely talented. He’s had a great training camp, and we want him to continue to grow and mature as a person and as a player. But I like the road that he’s gone on and what he’s done here the first 12 practices.”
Moore said the team’s boycott last season, which he helped orchestrate after meeting hunger-striking student protester Jonathan Butler, was a turning point in his maturation into a team leader.
“That showed me that my teammates really do honor and trust the things that I’m saying,” Moore said. “I felt like it showed me that my teammates really do look at me as a leader. It showed me that I have to lead by example.
“That being said, looking forward to spring and into camp, I had to make sure I’m doing everything right, because I know everybody’s watching me and what I’ve got going on and what I’m doing.”
Moore — a native of Missouri City, Texas, from Elkins High — also had offers from Arizona, Miami (Fla.), Michigan State, Nebraska and others. He is listed at 6-feet-3 and 190 pounds, but he said he has added about 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason.
The gains in strength have helped Moore’s upward trajectory since the end of 2015, but the gains in focus and consistency are equally important.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Heupel said. “He’s matured in a lot of ways, and he’s much more focused on what he wants to accomplish on the field when he steps into the building every day. He’s not perfect yet, but I like where is trending.”
So do Moore’s teammates.
Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock said he has developed terrific chemistry with Moore as a deep threat, and junior cornerback Logan Cheadle guaranteed Moore would have a breakout season.
“I know my hard work is going to pay off,” Moore said. “My whole goal is to put the offense on my back and make it happen, play after play.”
Perfection is the aim.
“It aggravates me if I miss the block, don’t make the correct read or I miss the ball,” Moore said. “I’ve got to hold myself accountable and don’t just blow it off.”
Of course, with a renewed commitment to leadership as well, it’s not just his own performance Moore is worried about.
“I’ve been making sure that not only me but the whole offense competes,” Moore said. “I’m trying to hold everybody accountable and make sure everybody’s competing on the same level I am, so the whole train keeps moving forward. That’s what it takes.”