I spent Monday with wide receiver DJ Moore, the Panthers’ first-round draft pick, in his hometown of Philadelphia. I saw where he got his start and met some of the people who have been with him since the very beginning, molding him into the person he is today.
Moore’s day started with a rigorous workout at Swift Fit. He was guided through leg exercises and footwork for more than an hour by the gym’s owner, Darren Swift.
At one point Moore collapsed into an exhausted heap on the floor, breathing deeply, cap pulled over his eyes as he tried to steady his breath. He got back up and went onto the next exercise, finishing the workout strong.
Another local business owner, Jequon Cook, who has a popular clothing line named Beyond Blessed, stopped by the gym with a box of merchandise for Moore and a couple of other guys in the gym. They talked about the NFL Scouting Combine and when Moore would be leaving for rookie minicamp. Then Moore had to leave to pick up his mother, Cookie, from work.
After picking up his mom, Moore wanted to make a stop at his high school, Imhotep Institute Charter, to see his former football coach, Kevin Norris. Moore was greeted repeatedly with congratulatory hellos from school staff and familiar handshakes from students.
Upon entering his old coach’s office, Moore all but tackled Norris with an enthusiastic hug. The bond between them was evident.
Norris’ office is packed with trophies and with posters of former players at the various college programs where they went on to play, including a poster of Moore at the University of Maryland. There’s also a huge white dry-erase board with a list of Imhotep Charter’s former players that spans the entire height of the board. Next to each name is the name of their college, and next to two of those colleges the letters “NFL” are written. Moore took a marker and wrote “Greatest” beside “NFL”.
After leaving the high school, Moore and his mother went to pick up Moore’s newest acquisition: a French bulldog puppy named Denny.
Denny had a vet appointment for a checkup and a shot. It was almost impossible for Moore to walk 10 feet without someone stopping him to fawn over his puppy. To be honest, with his tiny body, huge perky ears and smooshed face, he was probably one of the cutest puppies I have seen in real life.
The final stop for the day was Moore’s grandparents’ house for dinner. On the drive over, Moore fell asleep in the passenger seat while Denny napped in his lap.
Upon arriving, Moore and his mom were greeted energetically by Moore’s grandmother, Ernestine Ridley. Ridley’s husband, Donald, was in the garage and easily gave out hugs to his daughter and grandson. Walking through the garage and into the basement, there was a huge display full of framed family photos. More photos were on display upstairs on the walls and in photo albums on the coffee table. Needless to say, family is very important in this household.
As Mrs. Ridley prepared corn, sweet potatoes, broccoli and biscuits to accompany dinner, more family arrived. By the time dinner was ready, the Philadelphia 76ers playoff game was on the television and 11 family members were comfortably nestled in the living room.
Conversation centered on Moore’s next steps: When he would be leaving, where he would live, whether his dog be going, what would his mom do when he left, and all the usual familial questions when the youngest child is leaving the home.
Moore’s mom was kind, gentle and soft-spoken, traits that appear to been passed to Moore and his siblings. I saw a lot of happiness and pride in her eyes when she looked at her son as he begins to navigate his way through this next chapter.
I asked her if the reality of the situation had sunk in yet and she said, “It hasn’t hit me yet, but it just feels like everything is the same as it was. Maybe it will feel different later.” I mentioned perhaps the first time she sees him take the field in his uniform. Until then, he is still her youngest child whose nose was close enough to grab onto that night after dinner,just like so many parents have done to their children. It was a sweet moment between a mother and her son who one day could have the word “greatest” attached to his NFL career.