Cardinals' second-round pick has unquenchable drive to succeed Kyle Odegard
Rondale Moore sat at a Louisville lounge called 'Vibes' during the first night of the NFL draft last month, his mood anything but chill.
The 5-foot-7 jitterbug Purdue wide receiver was hoping to be a first-round pick, but as the hours ticked by, reality set in.
Five wideouts - Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Kadarius Toney and Rashod Bateman - heard their names called on April 29. Moore did not.
"Every time a receiver got drafted, it was like he wanted to throw up in his mouth," said Chris Vaughn, the founder of Aspirations Fitness in Louisville and Moore's trainer. "We were going to the car, going out back and he was trying to compose himself. He's just such a competitive kid. He wants to be the best and he takes it personal."
Some 20-year-olds would have flushed that sour taste from their mouths by partying. Others may have sulked. At 12:22 a.m., Moore chose a different remedy.
"Just to get some peace and some sleep," Moore said, "I figured I'd go wear myself out."
He met Vaughn at Planet Fitness at 1 a.m. and expended all that pent-up energy on unassuming gym equipment.
"Pure fury," Vaughn said. "I've never seen someone work out with more intensity. There was literally steam coming off him. He had the hoodie on. He had his earphones in. The only thing he said to me was, 'How many reps, how many sets and what's next?' I felt bad for those weights that night."
When Andrew Coverdale, Moore's offensive coordinator at Louisville Trinity High School, left the draft party, he saw anguish on his former player's face. The next morning, he received a text message teeming with resolve.
"This will be good for me," Moore told Coverdale. "I'm ready to go."
Moore, who was selected by the Cardinals in the second round later that day, is no stranger to adversity.
His mother, Quincy Ricketts, raised four kids in New Albany, Indiana on a salary of $22,000 per year.
"My mother did everything she could, and I never went without," Moore said. "The lights were always on. I always had my food in my mouth and clothes on my back. I'm forever grateful for that. I learned so many lessons about what it feels like to not have the luxury lifestyle."
Moore's athletic gifts were noticeable from a young age, but he was often smaller than the other kids, which allowed people to dismiss his long-term potential.
Moore's first love was basketball, and he was good at it - "a Tasmanian Devil" on defense, Vaughn said -- but never the main attraction on his team. That honor went to Romeo Langford, Indiana's Mr. Basketball who now plays for the Boston Celtics.
"Rondale was not the biggest deal in New Albany," Coverdale said. "Romeo Langford was a statewide sensation from the moment he was 13 or 14 years old. Wherever Romeo Langford went, they would sell out a gym, whether it was an 8,000-seat gym or a 2,000-seat gym or a 10,000-seat gym.
"Rondale, he was never going to have that spotlight, so he could grow and find his own way underneath the cover of Romeo getting all the attention."
While Moore's journey to stardom was a slower burn, he always stayed laser-focused on getting there, in large part to set up his mom with a better life. The first major step was giving up basketball and focusing exclusively on football.
"I'm looking at him as a sophomore in high school and he's 5-5," Vaughn said. "I'm thinking to myself, 'I don't like your odds here, buddy. I don't think you're going to hit that 6-foot mark. You're dynamic, but you're still 5-5.'
"I started sharing with him some of the slot receivers at the time that were making their mark, so he could clear out a path. Come sophomore year, he decided it was time to pop the basketball. Let that be Romeo's thing because he's 6-6. Go find home. Football is home for you. And he really started to flourish."
Moore transferred from New Albany to Trinity as a junior, intent on proving his worth at a football powerhouse.
He blended in well during summer workouts, but was ruled ineligible to play the 2016 season. While an appeal eventually overturned the decision, the process lasted so long that Moore didn't see the field until the second round of the playoffs.
"It just dragged on and on," Coverdale said. "It was torturous."
Moore dropped the very first pass that came his way - "He had 10 months' worth of energy all bound up into one play," Coverdale said - but after that, he took off. He totaled 464 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in four playoff games as Trinity won the state championship.
Despite the impressive production and the eye-popping athleticism, his diminutive stature made colleges wary.
"We're talking now about getting drafted in Round 2 in the NFL draft, but four years ago, I was talking to Eastern Michigan and schools like that, trying to get them to give him an offer," Vaughn said. "They were telling me he was too small. It's interesting that you're too small to play in the MAC and at schools like that but you can make it to the NFL. That kind of stuff has really stuck with him."
By his senior year at Trinity, Moore's gifts became too overwhelming to ignore. He had 537 rushing yards, 1,461 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns in 2017, earning Gatorade's Kentucky Player of the Year.
He chose Purdue over offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State.
Even though Moore's stock went through the roof, the fire to prove the doubters wrong never extinguished.
"When you're not naturally imposing, you'll hear a lot of people tell you what you can't do," Coverdale said. "He's internalized that and turned it around in really positive ways. I didn't meet him until he was 16, but he's always been very goal-driven. He's a kid that's always been able to begin with the end in mind, and then be ultra-disciplined in the steps that it takes to get there."
The first season at Purdue was a fairy tale. Moore caught 114 passes for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns at the age of 18, blowing up with a monster performance against Ohio State.
If he had backed that up with two more similar seasons, Moore may have been a first-round selection despite his height. But injuries limited him to seven games over the past two seasons, allowing other receiver prospects to surpass him.
The Cardinals' three-day rookie minicamp begins on Friday, where he can begin to dispel any size or durability concerns.
"In my head, I'm a first-round talent, regardless of the circumstance," Moore said. "That's how I'll continue to think."
Even though the draft wait felt excruciating to Moore, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim was happy to land a dynamic playmaker in the middle of the second round.
Keim said Moore's height, weight and testing numbers - he ran a 4.29-second 40-yard dash at Pro day -- compared to those of Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill.
"Explosive," Keim said.
Moore said it's a bit early to be garnering Hill comparisons, but only because he has yet to produce in the NFL. There is still that internal belief he will be a difference-maker at this level.
"Pressure is self-applied," Moore said. "The expectations that I have for myself will always be high."
Beyond just physical skills, the Cardinals grade each NFL draft prospect on football character and overall makeup. Moore received an 'A' for both, and it's easy to understand why.
He graduated in only two-and-a-half years from Purdue, which included a 2020 fall semester where he took an astounding 27 credit hours.
Moore's dynamic freshman season came to fruition because he arrived on campus early and immediately dug into his playbook. Throughout his college career, Moore would call Purdue coaches and teammates at all hours to discuss intricacies of his game.
"He's a football junkie," Keim said.
After the late-night workout following Round 1 of the draft, Moore finally went to bed around 4 a.m. Five hours later, he was back running routes and lifting. He made a stop at a cryotherapy chamber for recovery in the afternoon and then raced to his uncle Gino Rowen's house right before the second round began.
"From the time the first round ended, there were probably about 16 hours," Vaughn said. "He probably worked out, legitimately, like nine or ten of those hours."
Moore said that drive to succeed developed during childhood, where he took cues from his mom.
"That's where it roots from, and today, it's not wanting to go back," Moore said.
On some of Keim's draft-weekend phone calls, the prospects were delirious with excitement. Moore was certainly appreciative to be selected, but he was focused.
As has been the case throughout his life, there is a new batch of critics to prove wrong.
"I fully expect him to do special things in the NFL," Vaughn said. "In a few years we're going to look back at him as a second-round draft pick as a joke. That will be a permanent chip stored in his brain. Second-rounder, pick 49.
"He's always felt like he was overlooked. He's taken it personal to control everything he can. That's just kind of his makeup. He's an overachiever."