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Football Played Key Role In Rhodes Scholar's Path To Success

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's Super Bowl Sunday. You knew that, but we wanted to take a few minutes to share a football story you might not otherwise be hearing today. We wanted to tell you about Caylin Moore. He grew up outside of Los Angeles in Carson. After his parents split up, poverty became the new normal as his mother struggled to support the family, especially after falling into a deep depression after surviving a sexual assault. Sometime after that, his father went to prison for killing a girlfriend.

Through all of this, Caylin Moore kept himself motivated by working hard at school and at football. Now he's on the verge of finishing his economics degree with a near-perfect GPA at Texas Christian University. He is a safety on the college football team which competed in the Liberty Bowl last December. And this fall, Caylin Moore is preparing to attend the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. I called him up recently, and I started our conversation by asking him to describe how he's seen his life change.

CAYLIN MOORE: I don't think it was really until I took myself outside of that environment to see what other people had that I kind of started to understand that, wow, we were really going through it.

I remember when I went to college, you know - I went to go wash my hands under the sink. And I turned the left knob, you know - the hot knob - and I felt that hot water on my hands. And we didn't have hot water at the house that I group up in, so it immediately brought me to tears just washing my hands with that hot water. And it made me think about, wow, I made it. I did it.

MARTIN: Well, what role did football play in your life growing up?

MOORE: Football played a very key role. So in the inner city where I come from, everyone around doesn't have positive male role models, so a lot of times you may fall victim to the streets or things of that nature. So my mom placed us in football, and that gave us positive male role models, gave us something positive to do and something to work towards and kind of gave you a vision of a way that you can make it out of poverty and out of your current situation. It gave us hope, to be honest.

MARTIN: You know, the - one of the things that I like about your story is it isn't like a football fairytale. You went to Marist College at first, and you were quarterback there which is a prime position. You even won a summer Fulbright to study in England over the summer, but then you got hurt and couldn't play. So you had to work as a janitor. I assume that you took that job as it pays pretty well. You know, it pays better than a lot of other campus jobs that you can take.

MOORE: Right.

MARTIN: So if you need the money, that's what you do, but it had to have been - I'm just assuming - it had to have been a little bit hard to go from being kind of star quarterback to then being a janitor.

MOORE: Yeah. It was extremely humbling. I remember - you know, I used to mop and sweep with my head down. And then one day I just kind of changed my mindset, and I said, you know, I started listening - the Wale album had just came out - so the same songs on repeat, "The Bloom" and a couple different songs on the album. And I would just mop and sweep to those songs, and I would dance while I did it because I started to have hope and encouragement in my heart that, one, I could play football again, and that, two, I would chase some academic pursuits that had never been done before.

MARTIN: Did anybody ever say anything to you, though, anybody who kind of knew you as a football player and then saw that you were cleaning up? Did anybody ever say anything to you?

MOORE: I had times where people kind of looked down on me or, hey, you missed a spot or, you know, little slick remarks here and there. But I made a concerted effort never to let it get me or never let it discourage me.

MARTIN: Why was it so important to you to get to a D1 school - or a division-one school? For people who are not aware, that's the most competitive level of college athletics. Why was that so important to you?

MOORE: I actually had personal reasons. But my father is in life in prison for murder, and I told myself I would never stop playing football. And so he could see me on TV. So, you know, I did that through eventually transferring to Texas Christian University.

MARTIN: Has he been able to see on TV?

MOORE: Yes, ma'am. He has.

MARTIN: And what does that mean to you?

MOORE: It's indescribable.

MARTIN: Why did you want to be a Rhodes Scholar?

MOORE: Ultimately so I can make a positive change in my word in my community. But I will say one of the short-term reasons is that I had heard about it long ago when I was in eighth grade from Myron Rolle. He was a role model for me, and I said, you know, I want to be able to succeed in football like this man and also use my mind to take me to different places that I never even thought of before.

So I kind of always, you know, had in the back of my mind, but I didn't really think I could become a Rhodes Scholar. And then my mom sent me a text in July to say, hey, make sure you apply for this. I had totally forgot about it, to be honest with you. And then I started kind of looking into it, and I thought about how the opportunity will open doors for me. So I had to jump on that opportunity.

MARTIN: Can you tell me about the moment that you found out you'd won?

MOORE: I had been in the waiting room after my interview just kind of like watching little dance videos and stuff like that to take my mind off of it. Everyone else was kind of like talking and, perhaps, comparing each other's accomplishments to each other because they wanted to see who would win.

But I was just super, super quiet. And when they called us in, they announced me. And when they announced me, I just stared at the floor for like an awkwardly long time, like about 37 seconds. And that - mind you, 37 seconds is a super long time for such a tense environment. And I just stared at the floor because I felt like if I move my body and move towards the lady to shake her hands that would be me acknowledging that anything is possible. And for those 37 seconds, I wasn't ready to deal with that yet.

MARTIN: Well, eventually you - hopefully you did move (laughter) and shake her hand, I hope.

MOORE: Eventually I did. I did.

MARTIN: What did your mom say when you called her?

MOORE: She always had a mindset that even though we live in the hood, the hood will not live in us. So it gives her confirmation that she did raise us right, that, you know, I was right. You know - her - she was right. So I think that's what it kind of did for her.

MARTIN: Your mom sounds very special.

MOORE: Very special.

MARTIN: That is Caylin Moore. He's a senior at Texas Christian University. He's been playing as a safety on the football team. He is headed to Oxford this fall on a Rhodes Scholarship. And we were really pleased to talk with him from Texas Christian University. Caylin, thanks so much for joining us. Congratulations on everything. The best of luck to you.

MOORE: Yes, ma'am. Thank you as well. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.