Bengals get Moore heart

Kashif Moore

Kashif Moore, Connecticut's combine comet, gets the wide receiver's No. 83 next weekend at Bengals rookie minicamp. But it will always be No. 6 on the heart on the sleeve.

The kid from Miami called "Jazz" wore No. 6. And, when you think about football and, really, everything else, it is always about the numbers. Whether it is the stats, or the milestones that masquerade as yard lines, or just the flat-out odds, in the end it is always a game of numbers.

Moore may have gone undrafted, but his character grade was a 1 because of No. 6.

That's the number Jasper Howard wore playing cornerback for Connecticut until the night he died squinting into his friend's face, listening to Moore asking him to live. Then a year later in the biggest game of his life Moore wore it for the Huskies in the Fiesta Bowl and for the rest of his career.

"It changed the way I play the game," Moore says of the night that changed everything. "It changed the way I live. Jazz always said you had to out there and play like every play could be your last."

This is the way Moore lives his life now. Last weekend he invited Howard's mother JoAngila to his home in Burlington Township, N.J. for the NFL Draft, picking her up and dropping her off at the airport and in between agreeing to a free-agent deal with the Bengals.

"I felt like he would have been there with me. I think he would have been drafted. He wanted to play in the NFL," Moore says. "His family is part of my family, so it was important for her to be there."

Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban was also there shortly after the draft. On the phone. Quickly. So were 14 other teams.

Take a number.

You can say the 5-9, 180-pound Moore missed getting drafted by a couple of inches. If he'd been 5-11 with that combine to rule all combines (a 4.37-second 40-yard dash and a 43.5-inch vertical leap that came within an inch of a record), he would have gone, say, third round? And not in the second only because he played in the Big East?

He's got NFL speed that can be put on the outside, an NFL Films heart, YouTube athleticism, and now he has to see if he has the hands and all the rest.

"I'm a little surprised he wasn't drafted; he's unbelievably fast," Urban says. "He brings us a different set of skills. He's a different style of player with speed being one of his big attributes."

Moore liked the sound of these Bengals. After A.J., Green, it is a blank slate at receiver. He got the sense he'd like to play for the up-tempo, upbeat Urban. And there was head coach Marvin Lewis.

"He's one of my favorite coaches. I've always liked him ever since I watched Hard Knocks," Moore says. "It just seemed like he really takes care of his players. He got on the phone after Coach Urban and said, 'How come you're not a Bengal yet?' Yeah, I guess that sort of sealed it.

"They're a young team. They made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback."

Moore caught 126 balls for a 13.5-yard average during his career in a program that didn't exactly chuck the ball around the yard. The man who recruited him, current Maryland head coach Randy Edsall, turned the Huskies into a top 25 program using the formula of mentor Tom Coughlin with stout defenses and punishing, mistake-free offenses.

"I can get downfield and block and get on the DBs," Moore assures you.

Which is one of the many reasons Edsall swears by him. Coughlin's secondary coach in Jacksonville back in the  late '90s, Edsall thinks Moore has a shot to stick in the league as a niche player on offense and a gunner and returner on special teams.

"I'd hire him in a minute. Yeah, as a player, coach, whatever," Edsall says. "Great kid. Hard worker. Team guy."

It was Edsall that had the gruesome task that surreal night in Storrs of identifying Howard's body. It was Oct. 18, 2009, just hours after Howard's 11 tackles had helped beat Louisville at Homecoming, and no one can still make any sense of it even though there is a person serving an 18-year sentence.

A dance at the Student Union Center. A pulled fire alarm. A comment made about a girl. A scuffle. Campus cops breaking it up. Another scuffle minutes later. Howard running to his friend bending over, stabbed in the stomach, an artery slashed, a dream dying as Moore cradled him.

"I just wanted him to know that he had somebody with him. I told him, 'I'll never leave you. I'm always here,' '' Moore says. "I'm pretty sure he heard me. It was dark. But I could see his eyes squinting at me."

Edsall left the hospital to break the news to the team. No one has been the same since. Moore was one of the rocks that Edsall could turn to steady his devastated Huskies. A military son (his father retired after 24 years as an Air Force staff sergeant) and a helper in the community who worked Mondays with middle-schoolers in what he calls the tough areas of Hartford.

"Kashif was always a good kid. That experience made him that much better. How he conducted himself, it was tremendous," Edsall says. "What happened to Jazz had a big effect on all of us."

Once upon a time, when he was a backup quarterback at the pre-Carrier Dome Syracuse, Edsall wore No. 6. A year later the Huskies were still honoring Howard by displaying his jersey on the sideline. Edsall thought they could do more and he approached Moore the week before the 2011 Fiesta Bowl.

"It was nice to have it with us, but we felt we'd rather have somebody wear the jersey," Edsall says. "Kashif was the closest to him and he really embraced it."

"I was honored to wear it. We kept it a secret all week," Moore says. "When I ran out of the runway onto the field, it was a touching moment."

Moore caught four balls for 62 yards with a long of 28, but the Huskies lost to Oklahoma, 48-20. And the memory lingers. Next weekend he's in the NFL. But he has kept his vow from an October night and does it by Jazz's side, thinking of that night and friend every day.

"We had the same type of energy," he says. "He had a big smile. He liked to make jokes. He stayed at my house if he was driving back from Miami. We made each other better. You know, receiver vs. corner."

There is no bitterness at going undrafted here. Mike Osborne, Moore's receivers coach at Burlington High, has known him since eighth grade and he was the same on draft day as he was the day he was a 5-6 freshman that dunked a basketball while being one of the most polite kids in school. Everything yes sir, no sir.

"We only live a couple of minutes away and it was during the draft and he came over with a couple of friends to visit," Osborne says. "They just wanted to get out for a little and I think go out and get something to eat. He's got a huge heart. He's been up to so many challenges and I think trying to make it in the NFL is just another one for him."

They live about 20 minutes from Philadelphia, right near the Burlington–Bristol Bridge, which crosses the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. It's where Staff Sgt. Moore settled his family at the end of his Air Force career and where his son remembers a regimented household full of chores.

"I never met anyone so self-driven. At any age. It's rare," Osborne says.

When he heard Moore signed with the Bengals, Edsall texted him thusly: You're going to try and make the Bengals, but remember that 31 other teams are watching the tape of those preseason games.

"I think I'm a deep threat. I want to show that I can catch, take a hit, do kick returns," Moore says of what he hopes to show in the roster numbers game.

"I'm going to play every play," he says, "like it could be my last one."

The numbers say he will.

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