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UC Davis senior Derek Moore ready to make run at NCAA title

You can't help but pull for a guy like Derek Moore.

The senior from the University of California at Davis has a remarkable story.

He's a model student-athlete - the first member of his family to go to college and a guy who carries a 3.0 grade-point average with a major in biochemistry and molecular biology. He's a four-year member of the Army ROTC. He's a bright, articulate young man who his coach calls "a very good kid."

He never placed higher than fifth in the state tournament in high school and has never been a NCAA All-American. He joined the UC Davis wrestling program as a walk-on, but Moore has emerged as a legitimate threat to win a NCAA title in his final collegiate season.

He's ranked second nationally in a 141-pound class that is wide-open with last season's departure of two-time NCAA champion Teyon Ware of Oklahoma and NCAA champion Nate Gallick of Iowa State.

Moore is off to a 11-0 start this season, including winning the title last weekend at the always-tough Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas. He already owns wins this season over No. 3 Nathan Morgan of Oklahoma State and No. 6 Dominick Moyer of Nebraska. Only Northwestern's Ryan Lang is ranked higher than Moore at 141.

"Derek has progressively made strides his whole career," UC Davis coach Lennie Zalesky said. "He's come a long way since he started here as a walk-on. He's a really good competitor who has come up another notch from last year. He's experienced and confident and knows he can wrestle with the best guys in the country."

He's shown amazing resiliency and resolve despite battling his fair share of setbacks and adversity. He fell one win, and one point, short of being an All-American his first two seasons in college. But he still has not landed a spot on the championship podium at the NCAA Championships.

Moore was 23-4 and won the Pac-10 title last season. He entered the 2006 NCAA meet as the No. 8 seed, but injured his knee in his second-round match and was forced to pull out of the tournament.

Moore plans to reverse his fortunes this year. He not only wants to climb onto the All-American podium this March at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich., he's shooting for nothing lower than the top step. Lofty aspirations for a guy who wrestles for a school that is still looking for its first All-American since moving up to Division I 13 years ago.

"Becoming an All-American isn't even part of the goal - a national championship is what I'm shooting for," Moore said. "I know I have a realistic shot at winning it. I have a lot of work ahead of me and there are some tough guys in this weight class, but I'm really looking forward to seeing what I can do at the end of the season."

The 5-foot-10 Moore, tall for a 141-pounder, uses his height and length to his advantage.

"Derek has excellent leverage and his length really helps him when he's in the top position," Zalesky said. "He's a hard guy to wrestle because of his size. He's quick and athletic, and stronger than you might think. He's also very strong on his feet and hard to take down."

Moore said being long and lanky at 5-10 is definitely an advantage.

"Most people I wrestle look stronger than me," he said, "but when I get on top they don't feel any stronger. I use my length to my advantage and try to keep my opponents down on the mat."

Moore said he is hoping to wrestle internationally after college as part of the Army's World Class Athlete Program. He was successful in Greco-Roman and freestyle in the Cadet ranks, placing second twice in Greco-Roman and once in freestyle at Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D.

Moore, from Redding, Calif., placed seventh as a sophomore and fifth as a senior at the California state high school tournament. An excellent student, he drew recruiting interest from Brown, Columbia and Army. But he instead elected to stay closer to home despite not having a scholarship offer from UC Davis.

Zalesky said Moore also benefits from being a former gymnast.

"He has great balance and I think a lot of that comes from gymnastics," Zalesky said. "He stays in good position and always knows where he's at on the mat."

Balancing wrestling, school and the ROTC is a chore in itself.

"You really have to manage your time well," Moore said. "It's difficult to balance everything. You just have to set out a schedule and really stick to it."

Moore's teammate, Ken Cook, is ranked 11th at 174 pounds.

"Ken's a real good wrestler," Moore said. "We're doing some good things at UC Davis. We have a real good coaching staff - they have done a good job building up a lot of young guys like me who weren't state champs in high school."

A turning point for Moore came during his redshirt freshman year when he knocked off Cal Poly All-American Darrell Vasquez, a four-time state champion in California who was one of the nation's top recruits.

"That was a huge win for me," Moore said. "It was an eye-opener for the possibilities of what I could do. I have always had that 'I'll show them' type of attitude since I wasn't recruited coming out of high school."

Moore lost heartbreakers at the NCAA Championships at 133 pounds as a freshman and sophomore. He lost 9-8 to Michigan's Foley Dowd in 2004 in the match to become an All-American. A year later, he fell 6-5 to Pittsburgh's Drew Headlee in the same round. Moore drew two-time NCAA champion Travis Lee of Cornell in the first round both years before wrestling all the way back to nearly placing.

Moore was 22-8 as a freshman and 23-9 as a sophomore.

Moore moved up to 141 for his junior season. He recorded a fall in his first-round bout at the 2006 NCAA meet in Oklahoma City. He had a 2-1 lead early in the second round against No. 9 seed Brandon Rader of West Virginia before suffering an injury to his knee. He tried to continue, but ended up being pinned before he defaulted his next match.

Moore suffered a torn Medical Collateral Ligament in the match with Rader.

"Every time I walk into the wrestling room I think about the frustrations of the last three years," Moore said. "It's been pretty rough and pretty heartbreaking for me at nationals. I had really high hopes last year. I was winning the match and then he turned and drove into my knee. It was horrible. Those experiences really drive me and motivate me. I want to go out on top."
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