Photo submitted by Latasha Moore
It’s June of 2016, and Tarvarius Moore is pondering his NFL future.
He’s sitting in the living room of his Quitman, Mississippi childhood home, chatting with his two biggest fans, mother, Latasha, and younger sister, TavyAnna. The three talk about the prospect of an NFL career for a relatively unknown Southern Mississippi safety who slogged through junior college a year ago. Moore is quiet and humble, but his confidence manifests in conversations like these, surrounded by these two people.
As his junior year looms, Moore knows his NFL ticket ultimately depends on his pro day performance.
“I am going to run this 4.3 (40-yard dash), and we gone,” Moore told his family.
Fast forward to March 29, 2018 — Moore blazed his way to a 4.32 40-yard-dash time, vaulting him on NFL radars and eventually sending him to San Francisco with the No. 95 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Latasha was at Moore’s pro day to watch his promise unfold.
TavyAnna was not.
Ten months earlier, she died suddenly in her sleep when a blood vessel in her brain ruptured. She was 16 years old.
TavyAnna was Moore’s only sibling. They were best friends, relying upon each other as they grew up without a father figure.
Two weeks before TavyAnna passed, she gave Moore simple advice ahead of his senior year at Southern Mississippi: give your 110 percent. It stuck with the hard-hitting safety as he stared down an NFL fate that did not always look promising.
The start of his professional career begins Sunday when the 49ers travel to Minnesota for their Week 1 matchup. TavyAnna’s memory has given Moore newfound motivation.
“I know she is watching down on me,” he said.
Latasha always told her two children that all they had was each other. And that was fine by them.
When Moore was seven years old, he played in his first football game, despite Latasha’s efforts to steer her only son toward other sports. That became more difficult when he ran for seven touchdowns in his debut.
Like most firsts in Moore’s life, TavyAnna was there on that fall day in Wayne County, Mississippi, later posing with Moore in the first football picture he ever took.
“It just became (TavyAnna’s) way of life,” Latasha said. “That’s what she knew. ‘Well, we are going to the football game.’”
Moore grew up playing football, soccer, basketball, baseball, and running track. TavyAnna played basketball, softball, ran track, and was a cheerleader. They both wore No. 23 in basketball.
When she was in the eighth grade, TavyAnna joined Moore on the varsity track team. She had a way of following her big brother’s path.
“If I went somewhere, she was always with me,” Moore said. “We were always with each other no matter what.”
Moore starred at safety for Quitman High School. During his senior year, he amassed three interceptions and 108 tackles, 89 of which were solo. He earned second-team Class 3A All-Mississippi honors, while leading Quitman to its third straight Class 4A South state championship appearance.
Like most of his accomplishments, Latasha’s memory of Moore’s All-State honor is perpetuated in the form of a photo, with Moore’s and TavyAnna’s arms wrapped around each other, smiles spreading across their faces.
Moore was not widely recruited. His college football prospects were inherently scarce growing up in Mississippi, in a high school class with 91 students, in a 3,000-person town. Though he was offered scholarships from Alcorn State and Jackson State, two Division I schools close by, he figured going the junior college route would ultimately pay off.
“It’s easy to get overlooked in states like that,” Moore said. “I felt like I got overlooked.”
Before he could play college football, though, he had to meet the requirements in his own house. Latasha, a ninth grade world history teacher at nearby Meridian High School, would not let Moore play sports if he made below a B grade. That wasn’t an issue.
Both her children were honor roll students. Moore was naturally smart but didn’t advertise it, while TavyAnna was prideful of her academic accomplishments. Her ultimate goal was to be named valedictorian, which Latasha has no doubt TavyAnna, who had two years left of high school, would have achieved.
Moore always wanted to play in the NFL, though Latasha can’t remember him saying it until college. She told her kids to have two backup plans in case Plan A doesn’t work out. Moore’s Plan B was to be a strength and conditioning coach. His Plan C was to join the military.
TavyAnna had her sights set on being a physical therapist. Months before she passed, she put together a video project for a mentor group that awarded scholarship money to exemplary high school students. The video was designed to detail the rehabilitation process for injuries, combining both the mental and physical aspects of recovery.
TavyAnna asked Moore if he could make the hour-and-fifteen-minute drive from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to star in the video. After all, he chose to attend a college close to home for reasons like these.
“(That is) one of things that can show just how close they were,” Latasha said. “The average brother wouldn’t come home and be in his sister’s video.”
The short film depicts Moore going through several physical exercises. Many ideas communicated in the video encapsulate the values TavyAnna and Moore shared: hard work, motivation, dedication, and investment.
But the video is unfinished. TavyAnna passed before she could present it.
TavyAnna died on the night of July 26, 2017. She was staying with her uncle, Willie, Latasha’s older brother, at his home in Chicago. Latasha had visited with her earlier in the week but returned to Mississippi for work obligations.
Latasha was up early shopping for school supplies at Walmart when her phone started blowing up. She had several missed calls but did not know why. She called TavyAnna once, then once more, to find out what was going on. No answer. Latasha sensed something was wrong.
She called Willie next. His wife answered and delivered the news.
Meanwhile, Moore was in the middle of a training camp practice at Southern Mississippi. He returned to his locker room and saw his phone had dozens of calls and text messages. Later that week, Latasha sent two family members to Hattiesburg to tell him in person. Moore drove back to Quitman for the funeral and spent the following two weeks with family and friends.
“It was a rough time,” Latasha said. “It really was. I worried so much about him when he went back to (Southern Mississippi).”
Everyone copes with tragedy differently. Moore, never much of a talker, largely internalized his grief. He still does not talk about TavyAnna much, even around his mom.
Latasha contacted a chaplain who would speak with Moore whenever he was struggling. Both he and Latasha relied on their strong Christian faith, though their separation made an unfathomably difficult situation harder.
“If I did not believe we are all placed here for a plan,” Latasha said, “and when we served our purpose, it’s time for us to go, if I did not believe that, I probably would not be still here myself.”
Latasha finds peace in knowing all that her daughter accomplished in 16 years of life. Latasha used to ask TavyAnna why she was in such a hurry to accomplish her goals. She chased them without waiting around.
“I am so proud of her because she came here and did what she had to do and then she was gone,” Latasha said. “And that’s just what it was. She came and completed her task quicker than I did. I am still here.”
One of Moore’s tasks was still in front of him: reaching the NFL.
“I think he was motivated to work harder,” Latasha said. “I think he turned that pain into work.”
Sights on the NFL
Moore attended his first NFL game in December of 2017 at New Orleans. Watching from the stands, he felt odd whenever he stood up and clapped.
“Is this what y’all do in the stands?” Moore asked Latasha.
At some point, he looked at his mom and told her he was supposed to be on the field.
“The next time you come to a game, you will be watching me,” he said.
But Moore still had plenty to prove his senior year, his first as a full-time starter at Southern Mississippi.
He had spent his first two collegiate seasons at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Mississippi. Moore had briefly committed to the University of Louisville. But Latasha got sick for about a month, later discovering she was diabetic, which helped convince Moore to stay close to home. He chose Southern Mississippi, the program he always wanted to play for.
During his junior year, he contributed 17 tackles, two interceptions, and two passes defended in nine games. During his senior year, he developed into one of the top safeties in the country. Moore compiled a team-leading 87 combined tackles, three tackles for a loss, three interceptions, and 10 pass breakups. He developed a reputation as hard-hitting and cerebral, accentuated with elite speed.
Moore earned honorable mention Conference USA honors in 2017. Pro Football Focus named him a first-team All-American and ranked him as the No. 3 safety in the class behind Florida State’s Derwin James and Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison.
The 49ers’ scouting staff had targeted Moore during his senior year. When 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters and his staff showed defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley Moore’s tape, he didn’t believe Moore would drop far in the draft. The Southern Mississippi product had flown relatively under the radar — until his pro day performance.
“I was like, ‘All right, here we go,’” Hafley said. “Everybody is going to want the kid (if) he runs a 4.3.”
The 49ers had planned to organize a private workout with Moore. After his pro day, that was no longer possible, leaving them nervous about his draft availability.
Moore’s 4.32 40-yard dash time was sixth-tenths of a second faster than anyone at the 2018 NFL Combine. It was the best time he ever ran. He also added a 39.5-inch vertical and 11-foot-1 broad jump, solidifying him as one of the top athletes in the class.
“I had to have my best day for everything to give myself a chance,” Moore said.
Moore expected to be drafted sometime in the second or third round. The Dallas Cowboys had expressed interest, much to the disdain of Latasha, a lifelong Cowboys hater. But they passed on Moore with the No. 81 pick, and he started getting anxious.
He had to wait 14 more picks to hear his name called. The 49ers used their No. 95 selection on Moore with the plan to convert him to cornerback. The 49ers brass liked how Moore’s 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame added size in a Cover 3 scheme that requires it.
Change is nothing new for Moore, who has adapted to his new position quickly.
“A lot of stuff comes easy to Tarvarius,” Latasha said. “It’s about what he wants to put his effort into… If he sets his mind to something, says he is going to do it, he usually does it.”
And that was always football. When he was told he would switch positions, he took it in stride. His coaches have complimented his patient feet, which is rare in young, inexperienced corners. His biggest learning points have been mastering the technique and learning new terminology. He is still understanding the intricacies of the position.
“The cool thing I respect so much about him is he is excited for the challenge,” Hafley said. “He is all in.”
More than 13 months after TavyAnna’s passing, Latasha still does not feel normal. Photos of TavyAnna adorn the walls in her home and classroom, reminding her of her daughter every day.
“I still wish and long for her to be here,” Latasha said. “I kind of hate it more for (Moore) because I know how close they were. I know the kind of effect it has on me losing a child, but at the same time, it bothers me so bad (for him).”
Moore also thinks about his little sister on a daily basis. He says he is not struggling as much as he was in the immediate aftermath of TavyAnna’s passing, but he has his moments. Whenever he was cooking in college and needed help, he would FaceTime TavyAnna, who guided him through next steps.
“You miss having her around,” Moore said. “I try to use her and all the good thoughts and memories we shared. I try to do everything I can for her.”
On July 26th, the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s passing, Latasha customized black and pink, TavyAnna’s favorite colors, wristbands to commemorate her life. The bands read, #DOIT4TAVY, the same hashtag found in Moore’s Twitter bio. He wears the band on his left wrist at all times.
“That has been his thing,” Latasha said. “He carries (the bands) with him. He gave them to his friends. He doesn’t really talk about it, but that’s just his way.”
Moore and Latasha talk every day, though their 2,200-mile separation is not ideal. She only missed two college games throughout his four years. But she plans to attend San Francisco’s first home game in Week 2. That Sept. 16th matchup with the Detroit Lions will be the first NFL contest she attends since her New Orleans trip with Moore.
He still plans to keep his promise to Latasha, earn his degree, and keep his B-plan in place. He will just honor his promise to TavyAnna first. On Sunday in Minnesota, Moore will be on the field, staying true to his word, even if she won’t be there to see it.
“He says she was his motivation,” Latasha said. “I think he was her motivation.”