Nick Moore sits in the passenger seat of Mookie Betts’ black BMW 750Li. It’s the last day of spring training for the Boston Red Sox, 2015. The car is a man down as their ‘third amigo’ and teammate Kendrick Perkins was cut last week. Moore knows he could be next. Moore knows he is next.
“Wish me luck,” he says, turning to ‘Mook,’ who he’d grown close with. “I’m probably going to get cut today.”
Mook parks, and a long concrete path awaits the two. The setup of JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida, has a 400-yard stretch from the parking lot to the minor league doors. Two pairs of footsteps hit pavement for the first half. It’s quiet between the two. The silence then grows, with Mook turning off from the path and heading toward the big-league side, leaving Moore to walk alone.
Moore nods and continues forward. As he approaches the all-glass building, he spots his manager, Joe Oliver, waiting for him. Moore enters and Oliver turns the corner and puts his arms around him.
“It’s time,” Oliver said.
Moore embraces Oliver and breathes a sigh of relief. The anxiety begins to wash away. He can finally let go.
The two then meet with Red Sox Farm Director Ben Crockett and Field Coordinator David Howard.
“We appreciate everything you’ve done for us over the course of the last couple of years,” they say. “We’re proud of everything that you’ve accomplished, and all your hard work. At the end of the day this is a business, and we don’t really have a spot for you. So, we’re going to go ahead and release you. Do you want us to send out your information?”
Moore, in acknowledgment of his childhood dream ending, declines. It was time.
Three days later, Moore found himself on a circuit of college campuses, pursuing football. Georgia Tech on Monday, Georgia on Tuesday, Alabama on Wednesday and Mississippi State on Thursday. A second visit to Georgia solidified his feelings, and he became a Bulldog, walking on as a linebacker and fullback. However, his competition was fierce, including now-current teammate Roquan Smith.
Making it on the Georgia roster as a walk-on was valiant, but Moore couldn’t crack the travel squad his first year, which distanced him from others at his positions. So, he spent the season gaining experience and getting back into a full football regimen.
Moore’s sophomore season, with a new coaching staff headed by Kirby Smart, brought about an opportunity.
“Can any position players long snap?” Smart asked the team.
Moore notified the staff he could, a credit to his father Dale Moore, who showed him in sixth grade. But it’d been a long time since he’d been dishing snaps, spending the past four years in baseball, and even then, he hardly snapped when playing high school football.
That fall, the original starting long snapper, Trent Frix, was out with injury. In Week 2 following Monday’s walk-through, special teams coach James Vollono informed Moore he was the new starting long snapper, and he would play that weekend. He just had to make it through the week. Not a day later, catastrophe struck.
Punt period on Tuesday began with Moore in the starting unit. The first three snaps landed into the hands of punter Marshall Long without consequence. The fourth, however, Moore sailed over Long’s head. Immediately, Coach Smart trudges over.
“Get this guy the f--- out of here,” Smart shouts, while pointing Moore to the sideline.
Glenn Welch, who also sat above Moore in the fullback depth chart, entered and began taking Moore’s reps at long snapper.
After practice, Vollono brings Moore and Welch into his office and gives them the skinny.
“Glenn, we’re going to let you play. If he makes mistakes, [Moore’s] back in and we’re just going to go back and forth until we figure this out,” Vollono said.
No mistakes were had by Welch, and Moore was relegated to the bench for a second straight season. His junior year saw little headway, too. He was juggling fullback and long snapper and not getting much run in either. When Moore sat down with Coach Smart to begin his senior year, he was given a choice.
“Do you want to play fullback or long snapper,” Smart asked.
“I don’t want to play fullback,” Moore answered.
“Then you can just do long snapping and be done with it.”
Making the full-time switch came easy to Moore, and the specialization paid dividends. He played in all 14 games his senior season and was awarded Special Teams Most Improved Player at the Bulldogs’ post-season awards gala, and the Bulldogs weren’t the only ones seeing Moore’s development. The Minnesota Vikings had taken notice of Moore’s snapping and told him they were interested in drafting him.
Moore sat at home watching the 2019 NFL Draft. The Vikings held two seventh-round compensatory picks, Nos. 247 and 250. He awaited a phone call as the picks flew in, minute after minute in the last round.
At No. 247, the Vikings took wide receiver Bisi Johnson out of Colorado State.
It’s fine, they still have a pick left.
Pick No. 250, a long snapper’s name comes across the television screen. Air Force’s Austin Cutting.
“When I saw Austin get called I was a little caught off guard, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it,” Moore said.
Four picks later, the NFL draft ended, and undrafted free agency began. Thankfully, two teams showed interest in Moore: the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints. They both offered him a spot, and Moore chose The Big Easy.
“I ultimately picked New Orleans because I saw Morgan Cox as a guy that was unbeatable,” Moore said. “At that time, I was naïve, thinking I knew everything. As most young kids would say, I didn’t know that I needed help. I didn’t know I needed a little bit of polishing.”
Moore then corrected himself.
“Well, not a little bit. A lot of polishing. And a mentor. [But] I went with New Orleans because I felt I had a legit opportunity to compete for a job.”
Moore competed for the starting job with Zach Wood, participating in OTAs, training camp and playing in two preseason games. But the incumbent got the better of him and seldom in the NFL is there a backup long snapper spot. As final cuts arrived, Moore was notified he’d been let go. But rather than feeling he’d met his professional sporting end a second time, he felt reassurance.
“That was a reality check in the sense that I needed to polish up,” Moore said. “I learned quickly that I still gotta figure out how to do this, this, and that. But there was never a doubt where I was concerned or thought ‘I can’t play at this level.’ [Getting cut] was frustrating and it was discouraging in a sense because I lost my job, but at the same time it put fuel on the fire. The hardest part then was getting a second chance. It’s hard enough to get one, but it’s really hard to get that second one.”
Moore hoped the tryouts he landed with the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars would stick, but neither team signed him, which brought him back to his parents’ home, where he and his now-wife, Ashley, lived.
“I told my girlfriend at the time, ‘I’m gonna give myself four weeks of training. Just training,’” Moore said. “My buddy at the time, he had four weeks before he left for [military] boot camp and we both were not working.”
Moore and his friend, Christian, put themselves through hellish workouts described by Moore as “a bunch of dumb shit.”
Running five miles side-by-side, passing a 40-pound sandbag to one another. Running up their hill-filled neighborhood with a 45-pound plate above their heads and passing it off when they could no longer carry it in the hot, humid Georgia climate. Many sessions ended with one-mile sprints or 600-yard bear crawls at the nearby high school track.
At the end of the four weeks, the phone rang once. The Baltimore Ravens were on the other line, telling Moore to “stay ready” in case they needed him down the line. Though he stayed ready, working out for two hours Monday through Friday each morning, he also began to move on, working as a financial accountant for a company outside of Atlanta. He also helped coach high school football with his father. Both were short-lived, as four weeks later, Moore found himself drafted for the second time in his career. This time, to the XFL.
For five months, Moore worked on his craft with the Tampa Bay Vipers under Head Coach Marc Trestman. Each week, Moore was snapping and gathering NFL game film of his favorite NFL snappers, as it was provided through the XFL. Moore tuned into every snap of Cox in Baltimore, lauding him the ‘G.O.A.T. of the position.’ He copied his techniques and patterns, as he made the most of the opportunity given. Abruptly, it came to a screeching halt when the COVID-19 pandemic folded the XFL five games into the season.
“It was the weirdest time in the world. There was so much uncertainty for everybody, not just me,” Moore said. “Everybody just knew that sports are over, don’t go to the office, don’t go to work, stay at home. We ended up driving home not knowing that we were going to be basically shut down.”
On the drive home, Moore got his second chance.
“The Ravens were quick on the tail. Right when the season ended, I spoke to them on my drive home from Tampa,” Moore said.
It was the call he’d been hoping for and the team he wanted to join if given the option.
“[The Ravens] are the only ones I know for a fact that called me,” Moore said. “But even if there had been other teams, I had gotten to a point where I was trying to mimic Morgan Cox to the best of my ability. If there was some [other teams interested], I didn’t know because this is where I wanted to go. This is the guy I needed to help me, to polish me up and get me ready to play in the NFL.”
Cox called a few weeks after Moore had been signed, letting him know he was invited to meet up with kicker Justin Tucker and punter Sam Koch for some offseason workouts. Cox was kind enough to pick him up from the airport, where he got his first impression of him.
“Nick was a big Call of Duty player and he brought his Xbox when he came to Baltimore the first time and I thought, ‘Man, what a nerd,’” Cox said.
Cox admitted after the gaming setup he has in his home office now is due to Moore getting him into it.
“He’s like complaining about lag times and stuff and then he gets me into it,” Cox said. “Now, I totally understand what he’s talking about.”
The two became “fast friends,” and on the field Cox recognized real talent in Moore.
“I actually remember Nick, when he first went to training camp in New Orleans,” Cox said. “He was a rookie and was competing with Zack Wood. I remember watching the film, he had a high field goal snap and I think that’s kind of what won Zach the job at the time. So, when Nick and I got together and started snapping I’m like, ‘That snap isn’t his everyday thing.’”
Cox saw the physical traits in Moore at first glance. He passed the eye test with his snaps and Cox saw he had an NFL future.
“He passed the eye test for me from a snap-speed standpoint,” Cox said. “He threw, in my mind, a better spiral [than me]. A more consistent spiral. And even, we tested it. It was [only] a matter of time before we just kind of had to fine tune some things and get him snapping consistent revolutions.”
The fine tuning of their offseason training bled into training camp, and then into the regular season. Moore landed on the practice squad with the Ravens following roster cuts. He also became a weekly mention for the new COVID-19 practice squad rules.
Throughout the 2020 season, practice squad rosters were extended, and the NFL implemented a “protection” ruling that allowed teams to deny other clubs from signing players from other practice squads. In 2020, Moore was protected each week. While it gave suggestion to the Ravens seeing Moore as a piece for the future, at the time, Moore wasn’t under such impression.
“I was a little bit frustrated. Only because I didn’t know that their plan was to keep me. I had no idea,” Moore said. “I wanted to play. I had learned so much from Morgan and in training camp. I was so confident going into the season. We had a scrimmage right before the season started with just our team and I’d done really well. I was like, ‘Man, I’m ready to go. Give me a chance.’ And then it was protect, protect and protect. It makes sense now but at the time I’m like, ‘Why are they protecting me when they got Morgan Cox?’ I’m never gonna play here.’”
Cox, an 11-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler, earned First-Team All-Pro honors and went to his fourth Pro Bowl by season’s end. But still, the Ravens saw their future in Moore, even with a talent of Cox’s caliber on their roster. It never crossed Moore’s mind that he’d be staying in Baltimore.
“I was in disbelief at first, honestly. I was at that point, the season’s over, I’m leaving Baltimore. I’m going somewhere else,” Moore said. “So, I have my 30-minute discussion with my position coaches and then as I’m leaving I see [Head] Coach [John] Harbaugh on my way out the door and he’s checking in on me asking what I’m going to do for the offseason, all this stuff, and then eventually I came up like, ‘I appreciate everything you’ve done for me but it’s time for me to move on and find my home somewhere else.’ And he’s like, ‘No, you’re not leaving us. You’re a Raven. You’re staying here.”
Shortly after, a meeting was held with Harbaugh, general manager Eric DeCosta and special teams coach Randy Brown where they ultimately decided to go with Moore, and part ways with Cox, at the behest of Moore’s request.
“I didn’t want to compete against him anymore. We had done the competition thing and he won. He played the whole season,” Moore said, describing his feelings.
He then shared what he said in the meeting.
“It’s not that I don’t want to have competition,” Moore said. “I just don’t want to do it against Morgan.”
The team acted on Moore’s request, with the announcement of Cox’s release a week after signing Moore to a reserve/futures contract.
With Moore becoming the fresh face in one of the NFL’s greatest special teams units in history, Moore knew the workload only increased. After all, he was joining the most accurate kicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker, and the highly-respected punter/holder, Sam Koch. They demanded perfection, the standard set by ‘The Wolfpack’ over the past nine years. Perfection wasn’t delivered for the first three days, and things were heated.
“Justin was upset that Morgan was no longer on the team. So, in OTAs, he was very critical of me in the beginning. Rightfully so, I had a lot to prove,” Moore said. “Every rep, he would critique me in the middle of it. If it wasn’t perfect, he would vocalize it.”
Though there was conflict, all three were aiming to correct things behind the scenes.
“I may or may not have gotten some phone calls and texts from all three parties when that was going on,” Cox said. “I was kind of living it from afar.”
While Cox was playing for the Tennessee Titans, he was taking calls and texts from his former veteran teammates asking what they could do to get Nick on the same page. Meanwhile, Moore was sending film and asking what he could tinker and adjust to sync up with the two. A few days later, Cox’s phone stopped ringing as the trio solved the issues.
“It’s a testament to that system that they work until they figure it out,” Cox said. “And to all three of their credit, they figured it out pretty quickly.”
It was critical of the unit to get on the same page quickly, as three weeks into the regular season, Moore was thrust into the spotlight. The Ravens were down by two to the Detroit Lions, and on the far 48-yard line with three seconds remaining. Coach Harbaugh opted for his field goal unit over a Hail Mary attempt. Moore then delivered the perfect snap into the open palms of Koch, where the ball pinned to the turf and booted by Tucker for an NFL record-breaking 66-yard field goal.
“That was a perfect snap,” Moore said. “Justin, Sam, and Morgan even, they would say that. You have to [be perfect] in a situation like that. You don’t have a choice. If there’s anything that’s off at all, whether it’s a slight turn of the laces or if the timing is off by just a fraction of a second, you’re not going to make it.”
The play earned 2021’s NFL Moment of the Year, and it showed Moore had the mettle to Koch and Tucker; to the coaching staff and front office that their decision to keep Moore was correct. And it showed Moore the polish was beginning to shine.
The 2021 season finished as a high-water mark for Tucker when judged by his peers, leading all kickers with a field goal accuracy of 94.6% and the third highest in his career. Moore notched four tackles and started in all 17 contests.
In his second season, Moore matched his tackle total, but the cohesion with Tucker, and rookie punter/holder Jordan Stout, was recognized by the Associated Press. Moore and Tucker earned second-team All-Pro honors.
“I’ve been through a lot at my position,” Moore said. “I’ve dealt with getting cut, I’ve dealt with playing in a second league, I’ve dealt with practice squad, a lot of different things… I mean, I was a late-round draft pick in baseball, a walk-on at college. To get that kind of an honor was a big deal, and I was very proud of it.”
Moore wasn’t the only one proud of his efforts.
“We’re proud of Nick,” Harbaugh said. “Nick is one of the best snappers in the National Football League, for sure… We’re proud of that. He’s done a great job.”
Moore’s journey to becoming an NFL pro was filled with tribulation. He was cut from his dream of playing in the big leagues. He walked on at Georgia, changed positions and then failed the first time he was given the starting role. He went undrafted, was cut, worked a nine-to-five and played in a second league before getting a second chance. But with a relentless pursuit, Moore now finds himself among the NFL’s best snappers with the recognition to prove it, and a part of the best special teams unit in the league.
Moore, in reflection of his journey, stared down at his newborn son while we spoke.
“I’m just glad I got a second chance.”