Jan 2, 2013, 7:52 PM EST
The sixth in a series on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to the national title game. Others include Zeke Motta, Danny Spond, TJ Jones, Prince Shembo and Theo Riddick.
It wasn’t too long ago that Kapron Lewis-Moore looked like the odd man out. As the fifth-year senior worked his way back from a season-ending injury knee injury, he returned to spring practice without a starting spot. After holding down a starting role for the better part of three seasons, the fifth-year senior from Texas was now looking up at an underclassmen on the depth chart.
Earlier in his career, that sort of thing could have thrown Lewis-Moore off his game. But after a few tumultuous seasons in South Bend, multiple defensive line coaches and two head coaches, the elder statesman of the defensive line knew he was better off worrying about getting better and letting things simply sort themselves out.
Things certainly did sort themselves out. Whether it was the starting job that fell back into his hands after Aaron Lynch transferred midway through spring practice, or recommitting himself to conditioning and the weight room, Lewis-Moore, once identified as one of Charlie Weis’ guys, became one of Brian Kelly’s best leaders.
Named one of the Irish’s four captains after a grueling summer conditioning schedule, Lewis-Moore was honored to be given the opportunity to lead his teammates by his head coach.
“He called my name last and I wasn’t really expecting it because we have a lot of guys on the team that are worthy of being captains,” Lewis-Moore recalled to The Observer. “To hear my name was really something special.
“I got a little teary eyed. I knew this season was going to be special but to be captain is just something I can’t really explain. It’s speechless.”
With the added responsibility of leading, Lewis-Moore’s production also rose to the occasion. Anchoring the end position opposite Stephon Tuitt, the senior has played his best football for the Irish down the stretch, putting together a tremendous final season as he helped anchor the stingiest defense in the country.
Lewis-Moore has continued to play solid football at the point of attack, using his 306-pound body to help anchor the Irish rushing defense. But after totaling just six career sacks heading into his final season in South Bend, Lewis-Moore added some pass rush skills to his repertoire, doubling his career total with six more this season, while making eight TFLs and forcing two fumbles.
“He’s been a better football player for us this year,” Kelly said of his senior captain. “He is an extremely productive player, is playing with a lot energy, and has been a great leader for us.”
With the season on the line, Lewis-Moore played perhaps the best game of his career, filling up the stat sheet with five tackles, 1.5 sacks, two TFLs, and a forced fumble against USC. With young star Stephon Tuitt kept in check, it was “Old Man Kap” that did the damage in the pass rush.
It was the penultimate stop on a very long journey that took a skinny tight end out of Weatherford Texas and turned him into one of the building blocks of the toughest defenses in college football. And with his collegiate finale just five days away, Lewis-Moore will get a chance to play on college football’s biggest stage, a game that feels like a lifetime away from the early trials and tribulations of his career.
“To think of my freshman year, getting snowballs thrown at me and now about to play for a national championship is something special,” Lewis-Moore said. “It’s hard to believe, but this team, we’re fighters.”