St. Frances football star Derrick Moore had one primary goal on Sunday when he was amongst the country’s finest playing in the 2022 Under Armour All-American Game in Orlando, Florida.
Recently named The Baltimore Sun’s All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end wanted to make his fallen St. Frances teammate proud, dedicating his performance to Aaron Wilson, who died in April at the age of 17 after a battle with brain cancer.
With Wilson’s parents watching in the stands, Moore, a four-star prospect committed to Michigan, wreaked steady havoc on the defensive line, finished with two pivotal sacks and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after leading Team Icons to a 23-17 win over Team Legends.
With a heavy heart in the days leading up to the game — Moore wore Wilson’s honorary UA jersey during Saturday’s practice — he found something extra when he stepped onto the field Sunday. He wore Wilson’s No. 8 jersey on game day and a T-shirt with Wilson’s image on it underneath. And Moore dominated.
“It was a great experience for me because I got a chance to go up against great competition and it made me better,” said Moore, who led No. 1 St. Frances to an 8-1 mark this past season.
“The part with Aaron — it was like during that whole week I was feeling down, like I wanted to go home and stuff like that. But I thought to myself that I had to put myself out there for Aaron and I was playing for him and keeping his legacy going. His family was also there at the game, so I wanted to make sure I showed off for him and his family. So I just pretty much went out and played for him and his family and continued his legacy.”
Moore met Wilson, a Florida native and fellow four-star prospect at defensive end, when the latter visited St. Frances after enjoying a sensational sophomore year at Ocoee High School in Florida.
Wilson transferred to St. Frances last year as a junior, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, he never stepped on the field for the Panthers. Early last year, he developed a grade 4 brain tumor that rapidly progressed. He had brain surgery followed by radiation treatments and during his attempted recovery, he worked out when he was able to, maintained his 4.0 GPA and inspired everybody around him.
Wilson’s impact on Moore, who he lived with during his time at St. Frances, was profound.
“Derrick always said to me if he thought his life was tough, he can’t imagine ever thinking anything is tough again after what Aaron went through,” said St. Frances coach Messay Hailemariam.
“We really understood that when he passed. It was truly a tough scenario for all of us because we couldn’t believe such a vibrant young person, such a giver, selfless [person would die]. Even through his moment of fighting, he had the greatest attitude.”
Going into the 2021 season, Hailemariam knew his Panthers were once again plenty talented. But after missing the 2020 season, he would lead them. It didn’t take long to find an answer. Like on Sunday, Moore made game-changing plays throughout the season, racking up 52 tackles (23 for losses) and 11 sacks. But his leadership stood out the most and proved most important.
“His teammates rallied around him and there was one alpha on our team — it was Derrick Moore. And it was a pretty good group of guys — a lot of alphas if you would have put them anywhere else,” said Hailemariam. “In that environment, I saw him step up and I saw him separate himself. It doesn’t take a whole lot of words with him because he’s pretty quiet but he leads by example and people listen when he talks.”
Hailemariam felt Sunday was a fitting close to the four years Moore spent at St. Frances.
“Derrick Moore, before he walked into that game, he was an MVP already for taking the focus off of him and trying to glorify Aaron,” he said.
An early enroller at Michigan, Moore is in Ann Arbor this week starting classes. He originally planned to go to Oklahoma but changed his commitment when Sooners coach Lincoln Riley left for USC. Moore says Michigan feels like home. His former St. Frances coach Biff Poggi is there as an associate head coach for Jim Harbaugh and he’ll reunite with two Panthers teammates — Blake Corum and Nikhai Hill-Green.
And Wilson will always be with him, too, in spirit.
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“Just seeing everything he went through, it taught me so many things,” Moore said. “It shows he was a warrior and he didn’t make any excuses. It was hard for him, but he still managed to work out and get straight A’s. So that’s one thing he left me — that I should never make any excuses and keep working.”