Anatomy of an Era: Bruce Moore, Part 1
Excerpted from Chapter 57, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 1 by Paul Koch
You’ll find the road is long and rough, with soft spots far apart,
Where only those can make the grade who have the Uphill Heart.
And when they stop you with a thud or halt you with a crack,
Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.
-Grantland Rice, Alumunus Football
Seventeen miles north of York, Nebraska on US Highway 81 lies the town of Stromsburg, birthplace of William J. Froelich (1901-1980), the first chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in 1933, but more notoriously known as the 1931 co-prosecutor of Prohibition gangster Al Capone. Meting out justice and providing stability for a troubled populace in that short, tumultuous span of the nation’s history, we now come upon another local from the area who levied a slightly different brand of prairie justice on the Blackshirts’ offensive foes of the early 90’s.
Bruce Moore was one of Charlie McBride and his defensive staff’s pack of punishers, exhibiting speedy displays of athleticism, doling out severe sanctions and ferocious fines on the enemy scofflaws palming the pigskin. Let’s hear his story and how he contributed to the great mix of the 60 & 3’s student-athletes, uphill hearts every one of them…
Notable quote #1:
“Kids want to be pushed and kids want to be challenged, but (the coaches) also need to know there’s gotta be a balance and that you’re human, and you’re gonna need a pat on the back sometimes.”
Walk-on, Outside Linebacker, York, Nebraska
Where are they now? Gretna, Nebraska, Coach
Question: What was your first year on Lincoln’s campus, Bruce?
Bruce Moore: It was in the fall of ’89.
Q: So your last game playing was the…
BM: The two-point loss to Florida State.
Q: A heartbreaker to say the least. Moving on to your first few days on campus, what is most memorable?
BM: Well, I actually went home for a day. Making the jump from high school -where you’re pretty much bigger than most other people- and being a walk-on from a small town, then you get down to the University? I graduated college with Kevin Ramaekers and Lance Lundberg and those people, so those guys were huge when I came in. And here I’m 6’7” and probably about 210 lbs. -if I’m lucky- and those guys show up weighing around 250-260.
And when you practice wearing only sweat clothes in high school nobody touches each other. If you do so, the coaches will rip you a new one. But you get to the University and it’s basically full contact, almost; guy’s trying to earn their job the first week. I had my shoulders beat up and my hands were swollen and I was like, ‘What in the world am I doing?’ So I went to talk to Coach Osborne and I’m like, ‘I’m struggling.’ (Because you have to make new friends and all that process, and I was pretty isolated) That was a huge jump, and I hadn’t really expected that side of things to affect me that much, so I went home and slept for about a day (laughs) and got caught up, talked to my Dad and things. I think the biggest thing is you wanted to make sure you were doing it for all the right reasons and not because of the other people’s expectations.
Bruce Moore (left) in Tokyo (Courtesy Debbie McBride)
And then I went back the next day with a clear conscience, so that was kind of the biggest thing: adjusting to the atmosphere, the pace of practice, the totally new environment that you get thrown into. You get a new dorm room and a guy you’ve never met before. And the roommate I had was from North Platte and he had a mohawk and he liked to party all the time. He was a wild man. And it wasn’t like I was some angel coming out of high school, but he partied a lot more than I was used to. (laughs) It was a totally different environment for me to get used to, but after that little bit of going through that it was all downhill from there.
I had a good freshman year and got my feet moving, and then you go through your redshirt season and you learn to practice and things start to slow down for you. And then I lettered every year after that.
Q: Anybody stand out? Anyone you started bonding with?
BM: The guys on the defensive line, obviously, were huge influences. Kevin (Ramaekers) was on the freshman team and I got to know him, and there were a couple other guys on the freshman squad. Gerald Irons was on that freshman squad, Greg Fletcher at defensive end. You started getting that camaraderie built up just being on that side of the ball. Matt Penland, who’s down at the University with his ministry now. You had Darren Williams and Troy Branch, Mike Anderson at linebacker and Chris Demuth was an offensive lineman from Seward. Zeke Cisco, Jeff Lindquist (who transferred to Wesleyan after his first year or so). So there are just some names that I remember getting to know right away.
Freshman year seemed like kind of a blur, because you’re trying to do all the school work and get all that taken care of. Then you have the coaches. Steve Stanard was our freshman defensive line coach, and that’s kind of how I ended up coaching later at Wesleyan, knowing him from that situation. A lot of different people helped you get your feet on the ground, I suppose.
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Q: So you’re on the freshman team your first year and redshirted your second year. What was it like when you first start having contact with Charlie McBride?
BM: Scary. Like hearing horror stories and stuff like that, (laughs) because you’d hear so many rumors from people. The upperclassmen, they’d want to put the fear of God in you, almost, telling all these crazy stories. And that first spring practice when they introduce you to stuff? That first spring was probably my most memorable spring with Coach McBride, and I didn’t make a lot of major mistakes because I picked up the schemes very fast from a mental standpoint.
Physically? Trying to put on weight was probably my biggest issue. But Kevin Ramaekers -we were on the grass fields and Kevin was trying to figure out goal line technique and Coach McBride was trying to explain to him what an Inside Eye Technique was for the noseguard position- and Kevin, for some reason, that day could not get that thing figured out. You know, his outside eye was on the offensive guard’s inside eye and he was just not getting it, and McBride just went off on him one day. He was just yelling at him and screaming at him, “You take your foot and you put it…” And I remember him stomping on his foot where he was supposed to put his foot at, you know? (laughs) And Kevin was just standing there and you could just see the looks in everybody else’s eyes saying, “Please don’t let me screw up next.” That was the first major ‘McBride Freakout’ type of thing, and after that you were so puckered up trying to make sure you didn’t make a mistake and get Charlie to yell at you.
Q: That wasn’t the same day where Charlie ended up throwing his tobacco, was it?
BM: No, I think that might have been the next year. I remember he had that big, nasty, ugly green football that he had painted green. Anyway, he painted this football green -and Kenny Walker couldn’t hear, obviously- and Kenny took off and did the wrong technique and McBride couldn’t get him stopped, so he just picked up this ball and just drilled Kenny in the numbers. And Kenny was, “What!?” It was pretty funny.
But I remember that day he threw his tobacco at Kevin. I don’t recall what it was, but McBride just started walking away after that and we didn’t know what was going on: ‘Are we done for the day or what?’, you know? And he ended up walking over to Kevin Steele and got a new dip of tobacco from him and came back. (laughs)
Kevin Ramaekers vs. the Sooners. (Joe Mixan)
Q: Did having Kenny Walker in your group rub off on you guys in any way?
BM: Kenny was such a gifted athlete and he worked so hard. And everybody had their different little things they contributed, too: You had Joe Sims during that time period and he was so laid back, you had Kent Wells and you had no idea what he was gonna do. At the end of my freshman year we were allowed to come up and practice with the varsity, and when you get up there with those guys -it was Mike Murray, Kent Wells, Ray Valladao and that group, they were just crazy. Those guys just weren’t right in the head, you know?
But that whole culture, that was your indoctrination to the Blackshirts. Those guys wouldn’t let you forget that they were the first team guys and that they were wearing those Blackshirts for a reason. When you were in practice and you weren’t going to step up in practice they’d throw you down and let you know, “Hey, if you’re not going to bring it, then you’re gonna get taken.” So that was kind of a, “Hey, this is how we practice. When we go, we go hard.” You had that old-school pecking order kind of thing, but it also makes sure you learn the ropes the right way.
And McBride made sure that when you worked, you worked hard. And then there were times, he’d slip in times where you were able to sit there and let your hair down and just stop practice, and everybody would stand there together and he’d tell jokes and stories about the good old days, about guys that he coached and stupid things they’d done and what have you. He always had a good sense of when people were at their edge. He always wanted to keep you nervous and keep you moving and made sure you never got totally comfortable, but he also was good at realizing when you needed to have a diversion of some kind, make sure you knew that he was still human, that he still cared about you as a person.
I remember one of the first times that I had a good one-on-one session. (You remember Chris Zyzda on the offensive line? I had a good bullrush on Chris Zyzda one day. And you go through that process and you learn that you don’t brag about it, because that could be you the next day.) But anyway, I kept it on the down low and didn’t really say much about it. And the guys pat you on the back during film work that next day, but after it was over he pulled me back in and told me, “You did a real nice job there.” He didn’t do it in public, and he’d always say, “I’m gonna kick you in the butt when you need to be kicked in the butt, but I’m gonna hug you next and let you know what it’s all about.” I think there was a lot of those type of things, that you understand that kids want to be pushed and kids want to be challenged, but they also need to know there’s gotta be a balance, and that you’re human and you’re gonna need a pat on the back sometimes. You just can’t be fire and brimstone all the time.
I see that with Bo Pelini now. But sometimes when they know there are people down there they’re on their better behavior. (laughs) Charlie never worried about his behavior when there were people around, but I bet Bo has a little bit of a sense of that because of the position he is in. (laughs)
Q: Your first week, when you went to Coach Osborne you said you… “weren’t really sure if this is for me”?
BM: Yeah, right after like a week of practice. I think it was a Thursday. I got up that morning and had my car packed and got over to the stadium and sat down with Coach McBride, and he took me over to Coach Osborne and we chatted for a long time. He said I was welcome to take some time and think about it, and he said, “I’ll be honest with you, most people who take this route don’t come back.” And I just told him, ‘I need to think about where I’m at and what it is.’ And I drove back home about 45 minutes away, walked in the door, and mom and dad were away at the time. Dad was working and mom, I didn’t know where she was at. I don’t even remember what time I got back at the house, but I just laid down on the couch and slept ’til like 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I just passed out because I was so beat up and tired. We talked for about an hour that night and had dinner, and I turned around and the next morning I went back.
And they took me back without saying a word. That was the nice thing: they accepted you right back and I didn’t hear anything from the players or anything. Nobody questioned where I was at for a day or so. That was the most comforting thing, they allowed you to do what they allowed you to do and they didn’t hold it against you, you know?
Q: Can you imagine being one of those guys who’s fifteen-hundred miles away from home and dealing with homesickness, also?
In The Deed The Glory (Unknown/Uncredited)
BM: I can’t, because I was only an hour away. And what Coach Osborne and Coach McBride said -it really had nothing to do with friendships and high school kids, because I knew they were all gone- because they reiterated, “You know, it’s not gonna be like it was back home, like it used to be. High school is over and people have moved on. It’s just gonna be a different atmosphere.” Knowing that you could just jump in a car and be home in an hour? Boy.
When I left high school I was close to taking a scholarship offer from Wyoming. They had offered me a scholarship for a long period of time and recruiting visits got kind of tied up and didn’t pan out… and Paul Roach I think, was the coach at that time. Anyway, I chose to walk-on and signed the letter and those type of things, and I understood after my redshirt year and with playing time I would get a scholarship. On the dime team is when I started playing my sophomore year.
Q: So, looking back to your freshman and redshirt freshman year -when you’d gotten a better feel of what was going on- can you then jump ahead to your senior year and reflect on the changes that took place for you, personally?
BM: Personally, you do a lot of growing up. Things slow down the longer you’re at practice and you get a better idea of what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Obviously, you get physically stronger, you get to know a little more about Charlie McBride and what his expectations are, the technique that he drills into you.
I mean, one of the things I learned about and makes a huge difference in some coaches is the attention to the little details. McBride was just a monster on technique, “Your foot has to be here, your hand has to be here, you’re foot has to be here, your hand has to be here.“ He drilled those little, tiny things over and over and over, and it takes a while for you to learn those skills where they become a natural thing and you stop thinking about it and you get to lose those bad habits you picked up in high school. So you just kind of learned the process and learned the details, those kinds of things helped a great deal.
As for the team dynamic? It’s kind of interesting to think about that process, because we had some good teams as we went through those years. We had Gerry Gdowski as quarterback and they played very well but they couldn’t quite get over the hump, still playing the 5-2 defense, still had that old mentality. There for a while we were still playing against Oklahoma’s wishbone, Iowa State still ran the option, triple option, Colorado was still running the half-bone, Missouri still had kind of a wishy-washy identity, so that defense still worked for the most part.
Playing some of those Big 8 schools it was always fun. And then we’d get to the bowl game and we’d run into a team that was a multiple-offense and was more balanced and that 5-2 defense would struggle a great deal, because it was such a change in kind of a mentality and sort of a process. So you go through those Keithen McCant years and we went through a process and played Washington and stuff at home when they had the national championship run. I think from that point the transition started -defensively, anyway- as well as the team identity.
The offense? Osborne really had a pretty multiple offense at the time depending on the type of quarterback he had, and I think slowly from Keithen McCant’s year to making that transition to Tommie Frazier where Mike Grant was kind of around for a few games in ’92. After the Washington game I think Tommie really started getting more of a grasp of what he was trying to do, and then by that Missouri game he pretty much had taken over that year as a true freshman. The offense, obviously, then was being a little bit more molded, but I remember seeing a little more shotgun. That started being developed and Osborne started moving that in, and the shotgun had the spread stuff to spread the field, and Osborne started running the option out of the spread. You look at that spread option package that everybody’s running now, and Coach Osborne was doing that back in ’91 or ’92 already.
(Courtesy Hail Varsity)
Q: And nobody will ever give him credit for it, you know?
BM: Of course they won’t. Because nobody thought that, “Hey, this is a good thing.”
And then at that point the defense started doing a lot of dime work and that’s how I got on the field. We were doing more nickel and dime situations, and that’s where we started doing more of a 4-man front. And Kenny Walker kind of got his start in that process, really, where he was playing defensive tackle in more of that nickel situation against teams like Washington and some of those people that had more of a spread offense. And as we went through the year in ’92 we started running more and more dime, and the coaches were leaning towards that.
And my senior year they made that big jump. I went to the defensive end position. It was one of those things where you always wish you had another year, (laughs) because they made that transition after four years and things went really well in ’93, defensively. I think we made a lot of jumps in statistics and played real well defensively, especially that last game against Florida State when people didn’t think we had much of a chance. It’s just the change in that thought process of ‘how we were going to attack?’ kind of thing. You need to give Coach Osborne and all that staff credit there, because they didn’t just sit on their laurels; they kept looking for a combination of something that would move us forward.
Q: Going to rush end in the dime package, did you start working with Coach Samuel?
BM: Yeah, after the spring we started making that transition. I started out playing both: I’d be with Coach McBride in meetings and those kind of things for a period of time, then I’d go over and play rush end. I started out playing both, so I’d go over and play defensive line in passing situations -third down and that kind of thing- and then I would go back and play rush end and those kinds of things, and after awhile things just kind of gradually diminished. It was hard to jump back and forth from a continuity standpoint because the defensive line -you guys work together, you’re running stunts and those kind of things- and then to come back over and do it for a little while but not full-time, when you’re trying to learn a different position. And I just didn’t pick it up as well as I think they wanted me to, so I ended up playing mainly rush end.
Q: So Chief, tell me about Coach Samuel.
BM: Yeah, (laughs) “Chief, how’s it going?” Utterly different coaching style, so much more laid back. He was interesting, because you’d go through McBride’s technique stuff -and you knew that if you didn’t grade at least 90% or better on Charlie’s stuff, you wouldn’t play. His phrase was, “You won’t see the green grass of Memorial Stadium.”
And when you go over to Coach Samuel the technique really was so watered down, it wasn’t near as driven as, “You’ve got to step here, put your hand here, do this...” It was a couple of things he taught over and over, and then the rest of it was really kind of freelancing, almost. My first scrimmage I graded like a 94% or something like that and I was, ‘How can this be? I haven’t played this position, ever.’ With McBride 90-92% was the highest grade I’d ever gotten, because you step one foot in the wrong way and he’d give you a negative grade, so I had to adjust to not being as regimented as McBride did it. It was much more laid back.
You had a lot of personalities there: Trev Alberts, Jerad Hickman was a sophomore there. He ended up being my roommate and stuff. David Leader, and Dante Jones was real young, Dwayne Harris was real young. But they were young, free spirits. I remember Jared Tomich, because he was a defensive tackle with me for McBride, and he moved over and played defensive end, so he was still developing a little at that point. So you kind of think back to the guys you played with and how they played in the NFL in some point in time, and it was a pretty talented group across the board, that they made the transition with.
Q: And talking with Coach Samuel, do you recall him telling you it was up to you to ‘make the play’?
BM: That’s what I meant by more of a ‘freelance’ kind of thing. He taught… the drill I can remember doing a million times was the fullback cutback to boot. You just made sure that you never gave up contain and you always knew what your basic responsibility was, and after that it was up to you to find a way to beat that offensive tackle. His main philosophy was: you were basically doing a bullrush or speedrush on every play like it’s a pass, and then you just react to it.
Basically you were just flying as hard as you can go to the ball and trying to make the play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The previous defense we were just pretty much trying to read and just kind of stay on the line of scrimmage the whole time. This one? We’re pressing it three yards deep and trying to put as much pressure on the quarterback as we could through that process. I just remember drilling over and over again, “Front side play, front side play” and then just being aware of trying to find the fullback. I think every single practice we drilled bootleg, bootleg, bootleg, just so that you never got burned. And the misdirection stuff? You’re going as hard as you can but you’re watching for the misdirection keys or unbalanced or anything different that they’d throw at you. But like I said: technique-wise, it was so simple. It allowed you to do a lot of that stuff.
Tony Samuel, front row 2nd from right (Nebr. Sports Info)
Q: Do you think Coach Samuel’s philosophy was that you could make up for lack of technique with more effort, greater intensity?
BM: You know, I think so. But it really lent itself to being a little more athletic. I think that I was kind of a hybrid: I felt better when I could engage somebody, because that’s how I trained all the time. (laughs) It’s one of those things where you almost wished you were gonna play front side, and play front side defense and take the tight end where they were at. I would have been a lot more comfortable letting the other guys come off the edge sometimes. It’s a totally different thing playing out in air and forcing the issue rather than having a guy out in front of you that will take you to the play. But like I said, it just took a while and I felt pretty good about it after I got three or four games into the year. And then I had a groin pull and got a little dinged up.
To be continued….
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