- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Quick: Name the SEC’s leader in sacks and tackles for loss.
Jarvis Jones? Obvious choice after he led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss last year, but no.
How about Jadeveon Clowney? He’s a freak, but think again.
Both were solid guesses, but both are staring up at the new kid on the SEC block -- Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore.
The former outside linebacker has taken to his new position and run with it … right over opposing quarterbacks. He’s tied for first in the nation with 11.5 sacks and stands alone nationally with 19 tackles for loss.
Jones’ impressive 2011 debut might be a blip on the radar compared to what Moore could do in the next month.
“He’s definitely come a long way,” defensive line coach Terry Price said.
“He’s really turned his game up and accepted the challenges that are put in front of him to be the hardest playing defensive end in the country.”
He was a star in the Big 12 last year with his 8.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss, but his numbers masked a glaring issue that his new coaches immediately noticed on film.
They saw a primo athlete who was also very sluggish at times. When he was on, he was dominant, but he was only registering around 30 or 40 plays a game. When Kevin Sumlin took over at A&M, he realized that if Moore was going to succeed in the line-driven SEC, he had to get into better shape.
Sumlin’s extra workout sessions with strength coach Larry Jackson pushed spring practice back two weeks. It was something that irked Moore, who was antsy without his pads this spring, but as he prepares for his 10th game of the season, he looks back at the grueling punishment his body took and is thankful for the extra work.
“Those two weeks helped me build up my conditioning,” Moore said.
“I’m able to run a lot longer than most big men my size. That was the advantage on my end and I’m able to work at a high level consistently and go 60, 80 plays down the line. When other people are dying off, I’m building up or staying consistent where I’m at.”
Moore is basically a new man. He’s physically and mentally tougher and his endurance has cranked his motor up to a level he didn’t have in 2011. He’s gone from taking himself out of games to taking wide receivers down from behind -- in a dead sprint.
That extra conditioning has also helped him adapted better up front. Having to constantly throw one’s body into someone with more than 60 pounds on him each play can take a toll on someone’s stamina, especially when you aren’t used to so much contact.
But with Moore’s one-track mind, he’s too obsessed with hammering quarterbacks to worry about being out-muscled. Quarterbacks have something he wants -- the football – and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to either get it, or make them feel sorry for ever deciding to take it.
“It’s like a horse when you put on their blinders when they’re about to race,” Moore said. “They only see that one thing in front of them and that’s how I feel. I see that one thing in front of me and I lock in on it and I hone in on it and I go get it.”
Moore might be regularly terrorizing opposing backfields, but he’s still managed to stay in the shadows of Jones and Clowney. League seniority will do that, but it doesn’t bother Moore.
He isn’t offended. He’s motivated.
Moore understands he still has a lot to prove and he knows he has a great opportunity to earn more respect against the nation’s top offensive this weekend in Tuscaloosa. Alabama features two future first-rounders in Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker who will make Moore work for everything, and try to wear him out of 60 or 80 plays.
Moore relishes the opportunity. He’s bested most who have stood before him, and while he isn’t favored Saturday, he likes his odds.
“I don’t mind being the underdog,” he said. “I love proving people wrong.
“I like it when people say, ‘You can’t do that.’ That way, when I go in there I have that motivation, that drive, that will and that want-to just to prove that I can do whatever I put my mind to.
“If you tell me I can’t do it, then I’m going to go do it.”