Running For Pops
Cal freshman running back Damien Moore is motivated every time he steps on the field, every time he carries the ball.
He's running for Pops.
Pops is Fred Moore, Damien's grandfather, who passed away two years ago.
Damien was very close to Fred all through his childhood. Fred had a huge part in raising Damien, and the two saw each other practically every day.
Moore, who writes "Pops" on his wrist tape before games, had a breakout performance for the Golden Bears last week, carrying the ball 10 times for 121 yards in the Big Game against Stanford.
He knew Pops was there with him.
"He's something I think about every time I go out there, whether it's the ups or downs of the game," Moore said. "When you have your downs, you look for motivation at times and he's definitely someone I think about. I know he wouldn't want me to be discouraged."
Moore recalls Pops being at every single one of his football events growing up, whether it was practice or a game, two to three hours before it started, in the same exact spot.
"If I didn't have the best practice or the best game, he was always so positive about things and helped me get through," Moore said. "I still think about those conversations now and it helps me still now."
Moore, a product of La Puente, Calif. has added depth to a strong running back group that also features junior Christopher Brown Jr. and redshirt senior Marcel Dancy. With Brown slowed by an injury in the shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it gave Moore a chance.
"You're never quite sure how the freshmen will transition, but he has done a really good job," Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said. "Each rep he gets, every time he touches the ball, he seems to get a little bit better. He's a real natural runner. He's patient and sees things well. He gets positive yards, and I think he'll continue to do a good job and get even better the more he plays."
With each passing game and carry, Moore gets more accustomed to the speed at the college level. He's focused on protecting the ball, learning his pass-protection responsibilities and running hard. He credits Cal running backs coach Aristotle Thompson with helping him make a quick adjustment to the Division I level.
Despite growing up in the Los Angeles area, Moore was actually an Eagles fan when it comes to the NFL. But he has something in common with another former Golden Bear great and NFL All-Pro running back.
With his performance against Stanford last week, Moore became the first true freshman running back at Cal to rush for over 100 yards in a game since Marshawn Lynch in 2004.
"Whenever I'm mentioned with a legend like Marshawn it is an honor and I'm definitely grateful for that," Moore said. "I also know that I have to keep going and keep working. I have to keep getting better for the team."
Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave sees only more to come from Moore as he gets accustomed to playing at the Pac-12 level.
"We're fortunate enough to see what he does each and every day," Musgrave said. "He does something unique, special and outstanding every day in practice, and has since we started back in October when we could get back on the field and kick it into gear. He impresses us every day."
The Bears are back in action Saturday for a matchup with No. 23 Oregon at 4 p.m. inside California Memorial Stadium. The game will air on ESPN.