MINNEAPOLIS - With a team-high bench press max of 430 pounds, Gary Moore is one of strongest Gophers football players. He's also one of the most open about his vulnerabilities.
Moore grew up in a poor section of Mobile, Ala., where "there was a lot of crime going in the area, drug dealers," he said. But his father was the neighborhood mechanic and worked to steer his namesake down the right path.
"I think that was the best part: My dad was always there, up until high school," Moore said.
During Moore's sophomore year in high school, his father passed away after suffering a massive heart attack on the front porch of the family's home. Two years later, Moore was a to-be senior when his son, Parker, was born.
Gary had promised his dad he would graduate from college, and considered staying close to home at Southern Mississippi to help raise his son. But Gary's mother, Nicky Moore, insisted he go to the school with a scholarship offer that had the best education available. In the meantime, Nicky would help Parker's mom raise the boy.
When Moore arrived in Minnesota in the summer of 2014, learning disabilities in speech and reading set him back. He would read a passage multiple times but struggle to comprehend it. Teammate Jerry Gibson, also from Alabama, would translate what Moore was saying in their introductory speech class.
Five years later, Moore has fought his disability, and yearning to be with his son, to earn an undergraduate degree. Now working on a master's, he also is set to start his third straight game this season when the Gophers face Miami (Ohio) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at TCF Bank Stadium.
In April, Moore was presented with the Richard "Pinky" McNamara Student-Athlete Achievement Award, a distinction given to those who inspire others through their success amid adversity. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive tackle will be doing the dirty work in the middle of Minnesota's defense while wearing No. 19 to honor his father Gary, who passed away on Oct. 19, 2011.
"No one told me (their story), so I felt like I should tell people mine to help out from the standpoint of people that are coming up to not be nervous of asking for help," Moore said.
Moore said he should have asked for help sooner, but Gibson understands why he didn't.
"When we first got together, he was shy and he knew he had it, but he wouldn't talk about it," said Gibson, a fellow defensive lineman. "He didn't really try to push through it. We were young, and you don't want to admit that you have a learning disability."
Moore received help from the Lindahl Academic Center, which provides personal tutors to student-athletes. Stephanie Shuey, its coordinator of learning services, worked with Moore in the Bierman Field Athletic Building from the start and she saw a "work ethic that was second to none."
"I joked with him early on that he would have to change his address to Bierman because he was here so much," she said.
Gibson sat in on a couple of Moore's tutoring sessions while doing his own school work and saw Moore use certain software on an iPad to help him learn.
"Even though he has it, he doesn't let it handicap him," Gibson said. "... When we first got here, it was a big issue. But now he's doing fine with it."
Shuey also gauged Moore's emotions on any given day, knowing he would go through spells of sadness, especially near the October anniversary of his fathers' death. "She helped me out a lot," Moore said.
"After losing his dad," Shuey said, "he's making sure that he's putting himself in a situation to make a better life for his son. And so, yes, football is definitely what helped get him here, but it's by no means his motivation day-in and day-out. I think having that intrinsic motivation versus the extrinsic motivation of his sport has made a huge difference in him being able to be successful."
With an undergraduate degree in Youth Studies, Moore is set to earn his master's in Youth Development and Leadership in December. He hopes to have Parker come up for the graduation ceremony, if not earlier for one of Gary's last home games this fall.
During times when he has felt down, Moore called on the U's Sport Psychology Services for help.
"I done talked to a bunch of them when I was in depression when my dad passed, during that whole month of October my junior year," Moore said.
Through the service's recommendation, Moore adopted Jewel, an American Bully, which was Moore's dad's favorite dog breed. Moore has registered "Jewels" as an emotional support animal.
"She helped me through the way," Moore said. "Her tearing up things and getting into things made me think about how Parker was when he was younger and getting into the pots and pans. It felt like I was raising a little kid again."
Gophers offensive tackle Donnell Green is close to Moore. "Every time I see him walking on the street in Dinky(town), they are with each other," he said.
The U's available psychology services staff is invited to be around the program, and head coach P.J. Fleck said he meets with freshmen every week to gauge what emotional needs they might have and if he can answer any questions.
"The emotional part is very important to me," Fleck said. "Maybe one of the most important parts of this program is the emotional well-being of our players, which I hope to think we are on the forefront."
While Greene said Moore's physical strength is "unreal," Moore felt weak when he came up from Alabama at the start of his college career. While he was roommates with Gibson, and ex-Murphy High School teammate KJ Maye also was on the team, he still felt homesick.
With the help of U's support staff, Moore is now thriving.
"He will be able to go live a life that he wants to live and be a supporter of his child," Fleck said. "His story has been really impressive. I'm just so glad that those types of guys that have that type of story stayed, because sometimes when those guys have that type of story, it's easy to run. It's easy to go start over. It's easy to go somewhere else where it could be a little easier.
"I give Gary a lot of credit, because it hasn't been easy."