South Carolina linebacker and leading tackler Skai Moore grew up in Cooper City adoring the Miami Hurricanes, but the Hurricanes apparently didn’t love him enough to make a romance bloom.
The early morning of 2013 National Signing Day, the Canes called Moore to try to woo him from University School to Coral Gables, but by then it was a lost cause.
When Miami (6-6, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) meets the Gamecocks (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl, Moore will remember.
“Yeah, it’s a little personal,’’ Moore, a sophomore who played for University School’s 2012 Class 3A state title team, told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “I feel like I have something to prove in this game. The morning of signing day they offered me a scholarship, but that was a little bit too late for me.
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“I grew up a Canes fan my whole life. Everyone in my family is a Canes fan. We watched every game, and I grew up cheering for my hometown team.’’
Chad Wilson, a Hurricanes cornerback from 1992 to 1994, coached Moore for two seasons as University’s defensive coordinator.
“Mark D’Onofrio called me just before I left for our 2013 signing day ceremony,’’ Wilson said Thursday of Miami’s defensive coordinator. “Without going into great detail, he asked me if I thought Skai would be interested in switching to UM. I said, ‘I don’t know. You don’t need me to tell you this, coach, but it’s really late and he committed to South Carolina.’
“Skai always wanted to play for Miami, but I felt pretty strongly he’d stick with South Carolina. They put in their time recruiting him and developed a relationship, which you’re supposed to do in recruiting.’’
Moore did speak to coach Al Golden and D’Onofrio that morning, Wilson said, to let them know he was sticking with South Carolina.
This season, Moore, at 213 pounds and still growing into his 6-2 frame, has 82 tackles and ranks ninth in the SEC in tackles per game (7.5). He also is second on the team with three interceptions.
Moore led the Gamecocks in tackles last season as a true freshman and was selected by the league coaches for the freshman All-SEC squad. Though the Gamecocks are ranked 107th nationally in rushing defense, Moore is a force that will attempt to stop UM all-time rusher Duke Johnson.
“He’s a very active guy,’’ Johnson said. “Reads plays well, fits the holes. He’s not the biggest, but the way he plays, it really doesn’t matter.’’
FAU running backs coach Roger Harriott, who was Moore’s head coach in high school, said Thursday that Moore’s compassionate nature, high football IQ and “extraordinary athleticism’’ made him a rare SEC player who could start and excel as a freshman.
“His nickname was ‘Superman’ in high school,’’ Harriott said.
Former Hurricanes receiver Kevin Beard, now UM’s assistant director of football operations, coached Moore at University School when Moore played the first part of his freshman year as a receiver.
“He’s really good,’’ Beard said. “He was quiet but physical — a freak athletically.”
Wilson said Moore “clearly was the defense’s MVP,’’ during his high school career. “He made a lot of plays and did a lot of things you can’t coach. Athletic, fast, well put together and very smart.
“No doubt about it. I cried when he left.’’
In the title game against Madison County, Moore’s sack with 1:14 left and Madison at University’s 20-yard line, helped seal the victory. And in University’s season-opening, national television debut that year, Moore blocked a punt and had the game-clinching 41-yard interception return for a touchdown over Trotwood (Ohio) Madison.
Moore said his friends back in South Florida want him to do well, but not well enough to beat the Hurricanes.
“It’s like, ‘Good luck to you, but I’m still rooting for the Canes,’ ” he said.
No matter, Wilson assured. Moore will do his damage.
“He’ll get in the way and try to mess up everything UM does.’’