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Three rejections and a ‘why’: Inside Damontre Moore’s emotional return to an NFL field

Damontre Moore knows his career could have been over. Maybe it should have been over. He knows the numbers, and repeats them just about every time you talk to him. That didn’t change after a game—his first one since playing for the Oakland Raiders on December 16 of last year—in which he forced what was effectively a game-ending fumble on Arizona Cardinals receiver KeeSean Johnson.

“I’m blessed enough to say that I’m going into my seventh year… the average lifespan is only 3.5 years, so it’s crazy man, to come back into the game that we had and have that performance.”

Moore told KNBR about his journey to get to this point earlier this week. A projected lottery pick who fell into the third round, and then out of the NFL, he credited his newborn, sixth-month-old son, Sekani, as a reason, or as defensive coordinator Robert Saleh put it, a “why” for his renewed outlook on life. While he trained and waited for teams to call, he was able to spend invaluable time with him, and take a bit of the ease off his body from a seven-year career of NFL hitting.

He was signed following Ronald Blair III’s season-ending ACL tear and was given a heavy dose of snaps after Dee Ford came out of the game with a hamstring injury, which, if serious—as Arik Armstead told KNBR it is—would see Moore as the 49ers’ starting defensive end.

He told KNBR on Sunday that he had two other tryouts with the Indianapolis Colts and the Cleveland Browns, neither of which materialized. He’s had countless moments of doubt over whether he’d get a shot, but remained in contact in a group chat with the 49ers’ defensive linemen (texting them congrats after games) and with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and special teams coordinator Richard Hightower, who Moore said “kept his word” from the preseason and texted him every single week.

Moore felt personally aggrieved by a neutral zone penalty he fell victim to, saying he was trying to “do too much” to try and judge Kyler Murray’s snap count. He said that misstep motivated him to repay the trust placed in him by the 49ers organization.

“I felt like I owed it to my team to go out there and be a good eraser,” Moore said. “I owed it not to harm my teammates that I went to war with during training camp and the guys that welcomed me back with open arms. I owed it to my family, my son and everything that I put my family through over the years, and also I owed it to the guys upstairs.

“Coach Hightower, he kept up with me he texted me every week on the dot, at least once. He told me when I first came in, “I’m a big fan of you.” He’s kept his word. Coach Chris Kocurek, too. You want to do so good for them and I did. I made them happy, so that’s all I could ask for, just keep stacking games for them.”

Moore’s off-field issues including arrests and an altercation with a teammate were no doubt considerations for teams looking at him. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said he was the “54th man,” the last one left off the 49ers’ roster on cutdown day.

That was a cut Moore felt deep, he said, knowing that the 49ers were capable and likely to have a special season. He likened it to the Seattle Seahawks’ locker room in 2016, where Moore played with Richard Sherman.

On Sunday, Moore was nearly involved in a scrap with Cardinals players after a special teams play, but was held back by teammates. He knows his reputation, and said he’s still the same person, but his maturity and appreciation for his situation has grown.

“I feel legendary now because I made plays,” Moore said. “I feel legendary because, to see everything that I went through and come back, like people say, ‘Oh this and that.’ Like don’t get me wrong, I’m still the same person — a little more mature, but I’m also way more appreciative now because you never know when this game is going to be over with.”

The 27-year-old said he has both ADHD and anxiety, and was stressed before playing Arizona, just as he was before a two-sack game in the preseason over what he called a “billy club” hand wrap for a dislocated finger. It prevented him from grasping or doing anything that required the use of his digits. His remedy was a FaceTime call with his son.

Sunday was similar. While he didn’t get the chance for another call, he received messages of calm from his godmother Lee Hood, and godfather, Von Miller Sr. (the father of Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller). His wife, Tiara Janae Moore, was at a work conference, he said, so her parents watched Sekani and set Moore photos of him with the message “Daddy’s my hero.” That, and a visit from the 49ers’ team pastor, brought him the calm he sought.

He said that anxiety is something that happens for him every time he comes back to football.

“I get overwhelmed just because of my ADHD and my anxiety, sometimes I’ll panic,” Moore said. “He calms me down—between him, my godmother Lee Hood. Lee Hood, and my godfather Von Miller Sr… I didn’t get to FaceTime them today, but those pictures and those messages from them really helped and then the pastor came in here and prayed, so once the anxiety was gone, it was like riding the bike.”


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