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Rod Moore grew up in Clayton, OH — just an hour’s drive from Columbus — with many of his closest family and friends as Buckeyes fans. While they’ve always supported Michigan’s sophomore safety, they refused to shift their allegiances in the rivalry for Moore’s first matchup against Ohio State last November.

That’s why, in the aftermath of the Wolverines’ upset win, Moore couldn’t help but relish in the result.

“I was going back talking to all of them,” Moore said. “Telling them like, ‘What happened? I told y’all we were going to beat them.’ ”

This confidence radiates in Moore’s play on the field, exemplified by the career-high nine tackles he made that day. As a true freshman and former 3-star recruit, though, he didn’t always expect to be starting against the Buckeyes after arriving on campus just that summer.

But Anthony Broering, Moore’s football coach at Northmont High School, certainly did.

“When he left our program, I told the coaches he’ll have a chance to get on the field first before all the other guys because he’s so fast,” Broering told The Daily. “I predicted that Rod would have the best chance to get on the field early.”

Broering has coached football for three decades, spending the last 13 years at Northmont. He knew Rod was different when he first saw him running track in eighth grade. The Thunderbolts play in the Greater Western Ohio Conference, one of the most talented high school football leagues in the state. To keep pace with the competition, Broering typically rolls out juniors and seniors who’ve had a couple years to develop in the program.

But Moore was too good to be kept on the sideline for that long.

“He was literally the only sophomore out of 22 that played,” Broering said. “We knew that he was going to be really good when he was really young.”

Despite his youth, Moore set himself apart with his blazing speed. The summer before his senior year, he ran a 4.38 forty-yard dash at a camp hosted by Pitt and that trait translated to the football field.

Throughout his high school career, his sideline-to-sideline quickness made him an asset covering ground from the free safety position. Moore combined this speed with physicality to stifle opponents on the ground. He frequently crashed down from the secondary to get directly to the ball, turning what looked like an easy gain into a loss.

These natural traits helped Moore to excel on the football field. But he also possessed a relentless dedication to improving, whether that was hitting the weight room, studying extra film or keeping up with his academics, which allowed him to establish himself.

“We kind of imprinted on him how important (that work ethic) was,” Broering said. “But he put that upon himself because he is such a hard worker, he wants to know the answer. So, he studies really really well. And he’s super smart.”

Moore’s individual success then carried over to the rest of his team. The Thunderbolts went 8-0 in the 2020 season before their playoff run was cut short due to COVID-19. 

Despite his ascent on the field, where Moore racked up 68 tackles for the year, he never wavered on his initial commitment to the Wolverines he made back in the spring of his junior year. In December 2020, he officially signed his letter of intent.

Unlike many of Michigan’s recruits, though, Moore didn’t arrive on campus until July — missing valuable time to learn a complex defensive scheme during spring practice. Moore, as the the 538th ranked player in 2021 class, was underrated already and now was at a further disadvantage. 

But, just as he felt at Northmont, Moore was confident he could earn playing time quickly — and his work ethic was a byproduct of this mindset. In fall camp, Moore constantly watched film, studying tape of himself in practice to fix his mistakes. When the season began, Moore  watched the film from team meetings again before practice to get a better feel of what he needed to focus on.  

That dedication didn’t go unnoticed.

“You can just tell how much he was studying from the beginning of training camp,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said last November. “The hours he was putting in on his iPad watching tape was the most of anybody on the team.”

The coaching staff didn’t think Moore would come along so quickly. But Moore’s trust in his natural abilities and extra effort off-field made noise which could only be ignored for so long. 

Ahead of Michigan’s pivotal showdown at Penn State last season, with the Wolverines’ College Football Playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Moore earned the starting nod. He hasn’t relinquished that role since.

“It was hard at first,” Moore said of his freshman season. “But as I continued to go and got my chance, I just made the best of the opportunity that was given. And it just went up from there.”

In his debut, Moore held his own, accumulating six tackles. Just two weeks later, Moore drew the start against his hometown Buckeyes, making an impact in Michigan’s biggest win in two decades.

This season, Moore was one of the only returning players to the safety group. With Dax Hill and Brad Hawkins both departing the program, Moore became an obvious player to slot in as a starter from the opening game.

But Moore didn’t want to just be plugged in for lack of a better option. He believed he could elevate his game. To do so, he just had to slow down.

“He tries to do a lot,” Michigan defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said. “That’s probably the biggest thing I tell him, ‘Just don’t do so much. Do your job. Let it come to you. The ball will come to you, the players will come to you.’ And he’s starting to embrace that.”

He has clearly received the message. Moore is dominating two primary facets of the defense, leading the secondary with 32 tackles and the entire team with three interceptions throughout the Wolverines’ first nine games.

Moore came to Michigan unheralded, but just as he did at Northmont, he has quickly asserted himself as a leader on the field. That growth — both that Moore has experienced personally and that the Wolverines have felt as a program over the last two years — will come to a head on Nov. 26.

Winning The Game in Columbus is a task Michigan hasn’t accomplished since before Moore was born. But, just as he always treats adverse situations, Moore remains unfazed.

And even if his friends and family reignite the trash talk, Moore — ever-confident — will try to make sure he can talk back this year, too.