CHICAGO – When Rondale Moore arrived in West Lafayette in 2018, he was a soft-spoken 18-year-old. He was so young, he still wore braces on his teeth.
Now, the bashfulness is mostly gone, as are the braces, though he'd still rather talk about his teammates than himself.
But most people want to talk about him. Moore enters his sophomore season known across the country as one of the most explosive players in college football, and he arrived at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago sporting a confident demeanor. He was one of only two sophomores among the 42 players selected to represent their schools at the event.
And why not? Moore is Purdue's best player. He's coming off a season in which he hauled in 114 receptions, second-most in Boilermakers history, racked up close to 1,500 total yards and scored 14 touchdowns. He's the reigning Big Ten Receiver of the Year. Maybe most important, he is still hungry.
“I can't live off of last year's hype,” Moore said. “(Being considered one of the best players in the country) doesn't help me play at the end of the day. That doesn't mean (anyone) is just going to leave me open or I can just stop working or stop progressing.
“At the end of the day, my goal is to play at the next level and I know I'm not the best football player in America right now.”
If he's not the best player in America, he's certainly among in the top tier. Sports Illustrated ranked him the eight-best player in the country and his stiff-arm touchdown in the Boilermakers' huge upset win over then-No. 2 Ohio State in October became one of the defining images of the 2018 season.
Now, the New Albany native has to do it all again and do it better. He's more confident in the spotlight now, but what hasn't changed is his work ethic. He's always been a voracious worker and that has stayed constant since his star turn.
“If anything he's doing more,” linebacker Markus Bailey said. “He's not (regressing) or thinking he's got it now or anything. He's definitely still working. I see him out (on the practice field) catching extra, extra balls on the JUGS (catching machine), watching film and doing all the things you want your star player to do.”
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm considers it the coaching staff's responsibility to put Moore in the best position to translate his natural abilities to the field. He knows there will be added pressure, but Brohm doesn't seem to think the 5-foot-9, 185-pound receiver will have any trouble dealing with the increased expectations.
“I think he'll handle it great,” Brohm said. “He's exceeded our expectations, and our expectations were high from the get-go. He's somebody when the lights come on, it doesn't faze him one bit.”
The challenge for the coaches will be finding creative ways to get the ball in Moore's hands because he is clearly their best offensive weapon. At the same time, teams will do everything they can to take Purdue's superstar out of the game and the Boilers have to avoid becoming predictable. Other players will have openings because of the attention Moore will draw and Brohm and Co. will try to take advantage.
“There are going to be a lot of eyes on him,” Brohm said. “A lot of people trying to defend him different ways, double-team him, triple-team him, try to take him out of the ballgame. We've got to do our part (as coaches) to make sure we're moving him around some and making sure he's getting touches with the ball in his hand so he can showcase his talent.”
One area in which Brohm will try to get creative with Moore is in the return game. Moore had a couple of explosive returns last season but no touchdowns, and Brohm thinks the coaching staff can do a better job of getting him the ball in space on kickoffs and punts.
Moore said he's excited to contribute more on special teams. His versatility is part of what separates him from other wide receivers and has led other teams to look for similarly explosive playmakers. For those teams, Moore had a message: