Nick Moore got behind the coverage with ease on a slick corner route, fighting off the glare of the setting sun to haul in his first touchdown of 2016.
On his way back to the bench, the veteran B.C. Lions receiver spied teammate Loucheiz Purifoy, and in the excitement of the moment, the two leapt in the air to lightly bump shoulders in celebration.
Purifoy landed on his feet. Moore crumpled to the turf. And the euphoria of that 30-yard TD in Regina last July, one that gave his team the lead over the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was gone in an instant.
Moore had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and was done for the season. At 30 years old in a profession as unforgiving as football, it could have also meant lights out on his career.
“It was frustrating the way that it happened, obviously,” said Moore, who had also caught a 52-yard pass earlier in the game. “But you can’t change what you can’t control.”
What he could control, however, was his desire to get back on the field. Moore rehabbed hard back home in Tampa, Fla., and was medically cleared to play 7 1/2 months after surgery before signing a deal to return to the Lions.
“I feel great. It’s been a long year for me,” Moore said after a recent training camp practice at Thompson Rivers University. “Coming out here on the first day, there were some nerves, to be honest.
“But after a couple of plays the nerves left and I felt like the old me.”
Moore’s CFL career started in 2011 with B.C. before a breakout 2013 campaign where he registered 73 catches for 1,105 yards and six touchdowns.
That earned him a two-year deal from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in free agency, but his stay there was marked by injuries in 2014 before a bounce-back showing of 76 receptions for 899 yards and four TDs in 2015.
Once again on the open market the following winter, the native of Westerville, Ohio, a suburb outside Columbus, decided on a West Coast return to reunite with Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings, who went to his high school and is six years his junior.
Moore, who turns 31 at the end of the month, got off to a great start in his second stint with B.C., grabbing 15 catches for 205 yards and that score in three games and just over three quarters before disaster struck.
Lions head coach and general manager Wally Buono said the decision to bring Moore back as part of a talented receiving corps in 2017 was an easy one once he was deemed healthy.
“It’s a long, long season,” said Buono. “Injuries occur, but if you don’t disrupt your team too much then I think the opportunity to win is greater. Nick was a part of that plan.”
But Moore probably sits further down the depth chart than at any other time in the last five years, with Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham and Chris Williams, who is also coming back from an ACL tear, ahead of him in the pecking order.
After his future looked uncertain 11 months ago, that situation suits Moore just fine.
“It’s super exciting because you know the man next to you, he’s going to open you up and you’re going to open him up,” he said. “We’re all brothers. We all want each other to do well. It’s going to be fun.
“It’s going to be a pick-your-poison situation.”
Buono believes Moore’s knee was already damaged before his season ended, recalling how former Lions quarterback Dave Dickenson suffered a similar injury without contact in 2003.
“Dave played the last game of the (regular season), hurt his knee,” said Buono. “Didn’t think too much of it because after the bye he recovered a little bit.
“First time he goes out and throws the ball, drives with his right foot, plants it, tears his ACL.”
Moore said the legendary coach might be onto something.
“If you really go back and look at it, I didn’t really jump that high off the ground, and the way I landed it just kind of gave a little bit,” said the University of Toledo product. “There could have been some damage in there before, but you never know.”
Buono didn’t ban similar celebrations after the injury, but he also doesn’t have to worry about a repeat from Moore.
“Looking back at it now, I laugh,” said Moore. “It’s just a crazy, fluke accident.
“I can guarantee you I won’t be jumping up like that again.”
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press