FELTON – Benjamin Moore always wanted to play football when he was younger, but his family circumstances didn’t allow it.
Now that he is able to play, he never leaves the field.
It’s his senior year, his final season of football at Lake Forest High School, and Moore does it all. He starts at slotback and linebacker, snaps the ball for punts and field goals, returns kickoffs. He even punts and plays defense on the kickoff team.
Moore works just as hard in the classroom. He has become a source of pride and motivation for his classmates, his coaches and the staff at the Elizabeth W. Murphey School, the group home in Dover that has been his residence for the last five years.
A difficult upbringing hasn’t stopped him. Limited contact with his parents hasn’t stopped him. Living in a cottage with six other boys from troubled backgrounds hasn’t stopped him.
Nothing has stopped Ben Moore.
“If most of the adults in his world went through half of what he’s gone through in his lifetime, we’d be lucky to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other,” said Michael Kopp, executive director of the Murphey School. “Let alone do well in school and also do well in a sport.”
He doesn’t talk much about the past, doesn’t go into detail about a difficult childhood. To Moore, a burning desire to succeed trumps everything else.
“You’ve got to have confidence,” he said. “You’ve got to tell yourself every day that you want to be somebody. … If you want to be successful, it can be done. If you just get up every day and do what you’re supposed to do and listen to whoever you have to listen to, like your teachers or coaches, God will bless you.”
Turn for the better
Moore was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, but moved to Woodside with his grandmother and mother when he was a year old. He was placed into foster care at age 12, a difficult step for anyone. But even then, he saw the bright side.
“It was a great transition for me,” Moore said. “When I was younger, I always wanted to play sports. My mom never really could afford equipment for me to play sports. Foster care opened a lot of doors for me.”
The second oldest of four brothers, Moore was often separated from his siblings. He doesn’t know them very well.
“It was a different situation. I was never home, my older brother was never home,” he said. “It wasn’t how a family should be. I didn’t really spend a lot of time with my brothers.”
He first met his dad when he was 13. Moore spent a summer with his father in Kentucky, but it didn’t work out well.
“It was just hard for me, because he had never been in my life,” Moore said. “It was hard for me to go and just meet this stranger and live with him. It was different, and I just really wasn’t having it. I just wanted to come back to Delaware.”
After a brief stay with a foster family, he was placed at the Murphey School by the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families. Murphey isn’t a school, but rather a group home for children on a 15-acre campus in Dover. The facility typically houses 30 to 35 children in nine buildings, with all living in a private room and receiving 24-hour supervision. Murphey also teaches transitional living skills to about 55 additional older teenagers who are close to leaving foster care.
Moore credits the Murphey staff for much of his positive development.
“Every day, they’re on me,” he said. “They’re telling me, ‘You can be successful if you want to be successful.’ I just take what they say, because they’re older, they’re wiser. They’ve been there, done that. I just live off of that and try my hardest.”
Lake Forest football coach Fred Johnson knows some of the staff at Murphey. When Moore enrolled at Lake Forest, the coach could see his potential in all facets of life.
“I’ve just watched him grow and mature as a person,” Johnson said. “He’s a really good student, and he’s turned out to be a really fine athlete. He’s a good, strong young man. He always responds with ‘yes, sir or no, sir.’”
Johnson is amazed by Moore’s ability to overcome challenges that often derail teenagers trying to transition to adult life.
“It just shows a lot about Ben as a person, and it shows a lot about his character,” the coach said. “I’ve seen people in situations very similar, and they don’t do well in the classroom, they’re always in and out of trouble, and then they wind up in a juvenile detention center or jail. But he’s managed to keep a straight and narrow path.”
Never a starter before this year, Moore has suddenly emerged as one of Lake Forest’s key players. His speed, aggressive style and willingness to do anything for the team has paid huge dividends.
“Ben and I have really been close ever since he came here,” said senior Noah Feague-Johnson, coach Johnson’s son and the Spartans’ quarterback. “He’s always been my workout partner. We’ve always lifted weights together, worked really hard. It’s good to see everything paying off for him.”
Moore, 18, is leading Lake Forest in rushing (46 carries for 397 yards) and receiving (six catches for 73 yards) and is among the Spartans’ leading tacklers this season. Lake Forest is 4-2 overall, 3-0 in the Henlopen South conference and currently ranked No. 3 in the state in Division II. The Spartans play at Glasgow High School on Friday night.
Some of Moore’s biggest plays have come when the Spartans needed them most. On Sept. 18, he scored on an 81-yard kickoff return late in the first half and added a 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as Lake Forest erased a two-touchdown deficit to edge St. Mark’s 14-13.
On Oct. 10, Moore led the Spartans with 15 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown in a 19-14 win over Delmar. Last Friday, Moore rushed five times for 80 yards – including the winning 57-yard touchdown run – in an 18-13 victory over Laurel.
“He does everything,” Feague-Johnson said. “He’s our go-to guy. It’s great to have him on the team.”
And football isn’t even his favorite sport.
“I’m new to lacrosse. I’ve only been playing it for about a year,” Moore said. “There’s nothing like it. Football is awesome; I love the contact. But I feel like I excel a lot more at lacrosse.”
As Lake Forest’s kicker, Austin Aguilar depends on Moore to make an accurate snap to holder Jordan Simpson. But Aguilar also derives inspiration from one of his best friends.
“Everything he does, he’s just so motivated,” Aguilar said. “It’s something that I’ve strived to be like. I just hope he knows that.”
Moore and Aguilar are even closer as lacrosse teammates. Danny and Tammy Aguilar, Austin’s parents, have been happy to have Moore spend the night at their house occasionally and help him travel to lacrosse tournaments. Like almost everyone who meets Moore, they want to do anything they can to help.
“I’m just so proud of him, because he’s focused on the positive and focused on working with his team,” Danny Aguilar said. “Whether it’s lacrosse or football, he’s always focused on what he can do best. He gives 110 percent. He’s got heart all the way, an amazing kid.”
Moore sees athletics as a bonding opportunity.
“I love the football team,” he said. “They’re like my family, like the brothers that I never really had.”
His coach sees football and lacrosse as key parts in Moore’s development, too.
“We try to press the issue of being a family here, so I really think him playing sports has helped him out a lot,” Johnson said. “The importance of being on time, working hard, being disciplined, getting along well with others, doing the right thing on and off the field.”
Kopp, the executive director at Murphey, said Johnson has played a valuable role in Moore’s life.
“Freddie is above and beyond a coach,” Kopp said. “Freddie cares about every one of these kids. He calls and checks. If we have worries, he’s right there to talk to us and advocate for us to Ben. I can’t say enough good about him.”
But even with a lot of good people on his side, Moore’s story is remarkable. Kitty Correia works with Kent County Family Court as a court-appointed special advocate for children like Moore, whom she has known for the last 2½ years. She has a simple way to describe his disposition.
“He turns lemons into lemonade,” she said.
Correia has eight years of experience in the field, and has advocated for 17 children ranging from babies to teenagers. In Moore’s case, she may help with school meetings, represent his interests in regard to medical decisions, provide support in selecting a college and help him transition to adult life.
“He always has a happy, positive outlook on things,” she said. “Even when things get rough, we get together as a team and he gets through it. He works hard. He doesn’t let anything slow him down.”
Off the field
Well into his fourth year at Lake Forest, Moore’s passion is just as intense in the classroom.
“I’ve always been kind of a smart kid,” he said. “I’m doing well in school. Tutoring is there if I need it, but I’m focused. I’ve got my head right. School really isn’t a problem for me.”
He has chosen to channel some of his past experiences into what he hopes may one day be his profession.
“I like writing,” Moore said. “I feel like I’m a good writer, because I’ve been through a lot and I’m good at expressing my feelings. That’s why I like writing.”
He hopes lacrosse is his ticket to college, where he would like to study journalism. He hasn’t decided on a destination yet, but when he does, Murphey will be there to help. The facility has a 100 percent graduation rate for high school seniors, and often helps them secure funding to continue their education.
A few years ago, a Murphey resident wanted to attend Syracuse University. Kopp said Murphey found a way to cover the $55,000 annual tab.
“In the 41 years I’ve been doing this, Ben is one of the rare kids,” Kopp said. “He doesn’t just make lemonade. He takes tough circumstances and turns them into benefits. He’s always going to do well because of it.
“Ben is a bright kid, and he’s an athletic kid, obviously,” Kopp added. “But he’s also a pleasant young man, and he has turned out to be a gentleman. As a result, I think Ben’s world is open to him. He has the potential and the capability to be anyone he wants to be.”
Johnson, head coach at Lake Forest since 2006, is eager to see Moore’s world open.
“I love coaching football, but in the end, it’s just a game,” Johnson said. “You win a championship, it’s a trophy. Everybody wants to win a conference championship and a state championship, and that’s all good.
“But what’s more important to me is when those guys come back and say, ‘Coach, I’m getting married, I want you to come to my wedding. I’m having my first child. I just bought a house. I got a new job.’ That’s what is more important to me, when I see guys come through this program and become successful and productive citizens.”
All of those things – and more – are possible for Benjamin Moore.
“I want to explore the world,” Moore said. “I want to get out there, just see what’s out there.”
Contact Brad Myers at [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ