Kellen Moore’s childhood coaches remember him spending his free time scouring the Internet for any information about offensive game plans.
He played video games, not only trying to make the sweetest spin moves but also with an eye toward how the plays were designed, different formations and what options might be open against a certain defense.
"He always loved watching film and studying football," his father, Tom Moore, said in 2008.
By the time he was a freshman in high school, Moore was calling his own plays.
Even coming from little Prosser, Wash., the record-setting Boise State quarterback seemed destined to be great.
But a finalist for the Heisman Trophy?
"Yeah, I don’t know if anybody knew he was going to be this special," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said.
When Moore arrived in New York for today’s Heisman Trophy presentation, he entered a rarified fraternity of finalists from non-Bowl Championship Series schools. Since BYU’s Ty Detmer won the honor in 1990 only seven players from outside the big six conferences in college football have even finished in the top five in Heisman voting, the last being Hawaii’s Colt Brennan, who was third in 2007.
Moore will become the second Boise State player to finish in the top 10 of the voting, joining Ian Johnson in 2006.
"It’s amazing, you go from little old Prosser and before you know it, you’re having the opportunity to go to New York for really the greatest possible award in college football," Moore said this week. "It’s amazing how a few years can provide so many opportunities."
While most of the focus this year has centered on Heisman favorite Cam Newton, Moore has efficiently put together another remarkable year that by the end will likely surpass his nearly flawless sophomore season in almost every category.
In 12 games, Moore has thrown for 3,506 yards, 33 touchdowns and five interceptions. While he doesn’t lead the country in any one category, Moore ranks in the top 10 in six different categories — ahead of Newton and Stanford’s Andrew Luck in five of the six.
The only passing stat where Moore trails Newton: pass efficiency rating. Newton is at 188.16. Moore is at 185.0.
"Every time I put the tape on, even when I watch him play, I go, ‘Wow, I forgot about that,"’ Petersen said. "There’s obviously some smart football people that are watching and voting on these things. If everyone got our game film and was watching him with a fine-toothed comb they’d be even more impressed."
With a year to go, Moore owns most of the Boise State record books. He’s the school’s all-time leader in yards passing (10,528), completions (803), touchdown passes (97) and 200-yard passing games (33). It would take a dramatic final year for Moore to approach Tim Chang’s NCAA record of 17,072 yards passing, but there is a more impressive record that Moore could own by the end of his senior season: Colt McCoy’s NCAA record of 45 victories as a starter.
Heading into Boise State’s bowl matchup with Utah, Moore owns an astounding 37-2 record as the Broncos’ starter, his only two losses coming to TCU in 2008 and Nevada just a few weeks ago that likely knocked Boise State out of the Rose Bowl.
"I think these awards are all about Boise State and where this program has gone," Moore said. "People are recognizing that we play such a good quality game up here, we play good football and we’ve played it this way for a long time. This isn’t a program that just came out of nowhere and had a couple of good seasons."
Moore announced he was going to stick in the minds of Heisman voters when he led the Broncos to a stirring 33-30 victory over Virginia Tech in the season opener on Labor Day night. Given the national stage, he threw for three touchdowns and led the final drive that culminated with his strike to Austin Pettis for the winning score.
"For us to come out with the victory the way we did was amazing," Moore said.
From there, Moore proceeded to throw for more than 300 yards four different times, including a career-high 507 yards against Hawaii when he didn’t play in the fourth quarter. He threw for at least two touchdowns in every game.
Yet, much like his team, Moore seems to be forced into legitimizing his performance. He’s used to it by now, whether it was proving himself coming out of high school or now with the Broncos and contending with the critics who have railed on their weak conference schedule.
While his high school numbers were record-setting, recruiters didn’t consider Moore big-school material. His school played in a lower classification in Washington state, against what many considered lesser competition and in a small town of less than 5,500 that’s known mostly for its wineries.
That’s why no offers ever came in from Pac-10 or even Mountain West schools. They weren’t willing to take a chance on an undersized kid who played in a spread offense they believed was catered to his skills by the head coach — his dad Tom.
The only Football Bowl Subdivision schools to offer Moore a scholarship: Boise State and Idaho.
And now he’s a Heisman finalist.
"As a little kid probably anytime you scored in the backyard you dropped the Heisman pose ’cause that’s what you’re told to do growing up," Moore said. "That’s college football. That is the award."