TCU’s second Rhodes Scholar doesn’t waste a minute of his day or an ounce of his talent.
by Caroline Collier
More from Summer 2017
More in Features
by Caroline Collier
Holding up his TCU football jersey, Caylin Moore ’17 stood in front of a class of kindergartners and announced he was there to deliver a message.
“Dreams are extremely important,” he told the class of Stephanie Bradley-Plotner ’08 in March. “No matter how old you are or what you do, you always want to have a really, really big dream. You want to dream about something that is so big, you don’t even know if it can really happen.”
Explaining how the jersey was proof that his dream of becoming a Horned Frog football player came true, Moore didn’t recount his long list of additional achievements, including his selection as a Rhodes Scholar, the second in TCU’s history.
Moore didn’t need to read from his résumé to impress the kids, Bradley-Plotner said. “They couldn’t stop talking about being as smart as he is.”
Moore’s mother, CJ Taylor Moore, said she knew her middle child would be special because of his punctual birth: “He didn’t come a day early. He didn’t come a day late. He came right on time.”
Taylor Moore, who practiced law and earned master’s degrees in clinical psychology and theology, raised her children in the Los Angeles area, inspiring them to be lifelong learners.
The family started off living in a five-bedroom house in Moreno Valley, California, with a motor home parked outside for good measure. But when Taylor Moore divorced her children’s father, Louis Moore, she lost the two-income financial stability and took her daughter and two sons to her childhood home in Carson, a city near Compton, California.
While times were tougher in Carson, Taylor Moore said she doubled down on the life-as-classroom approach to child-rearing. She included her children in frequent service missions. “They saw how I would go out of my way to feed somebody’s child before I would feed them,” she said.
Caylin Moore replicated his mother’s devotion to service upon his arrival in Fort Worth in 2015 by launching the Strong Players Are Reaching Kids, or SPARK, outreach program, in which TCU student-athletes volunteer to give inspirational, academic-focused talks to students at elementary and middle schools.
Moore said he started the group because college athletes, on account of hero status, can influence kids in ways other adults cannot. The student-athletes come with one mission in mind, he said: to “motivate [the kids] to pursue excellence in whatever they do.”
Excellence, especially in scholastic pursuits, is Moore’s calling card. He graduated cum laude from TCU in May. He majored in economics with minors in sociology and mathematics.
Moore arrived at TCU as a transfer student from New York’s Marist College, where he played quarterback on a football scholarship. When a back injury kept him off the field action for a time, he reconnected to his dream to play NCAA Division I football.
Moore said he could visualize being around TCU’s yellow bricks. Several spiritual signposts, including a surprise phone call from Paul Gonzales, an assistant football coach at TCU, inviting him to walk on the team and the Ross A. Forrest ’12 Endowed Athletic Scholarship, paved the path to Fort Worth.
Working out the details of the transfer process, Moore called Ray Walls MEd ’12, an assistant athletics director for academic services at TCU, to request help enrolling in upper-level economics classes. Even though the next semester was months away, Moore called Walls again the next day to ask for an update. On the third day, Moore emailed to say he’d already reached out to the academic department to finalize the details.
Walls said he knew right away that Moore would be a singular Horned Frog. “I haven’t worked with a student that’s this driven, this passionate about education,” he said.
Moore’s confidence made an immediate impression on some of his teammates, said Shaun Nixon, who asked him for a “small mentorship.” At the time, Nixon said he “wasn’t doing too well” in the classroom, but Moore’s dedication and optimism influenced him to excel. While Nixon’s quasi-mentor never outlined the specifics of how to shift course, “he’d always teach me to have confidence in myself.”
Moore, who played quarterback and then safety for TCU, made an impact on the team culture, Walls said. “We see kids who were making C’s and D’s now making A’s and B’s because of their contact with Caylin.”
Because of the intellectual climate cultivated by his mother, Moore said he always knew he would go to college. But for many of his football teammates at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood, college was out of reach. “The unfortunate fact of the matter was it was too late for some of my teammates, who were dealing with being on house arrest, or had a parole officer, or they already had kids.”
Troy Durk, a former assistant football coach at the private prep school, said he knew that Moore, a star quarterback, was bound to realize his higher-education dreams. “He could do whatever he wanted.”
Although Verbum Dei has been in the news in recent years for sending all of its graduating seniors to four-year colleges, Durk estimated that when Moore was on the football team, “about 30 percent” of the players went on to pursue a college education.
Verbum Dei has a work-study program in which students earn money that goes toward tuition at the private school, but paying the remainder of school costs was a challenge for Taylor Moore and her family. She said prioritizing education was the correct decision. “I made whatever sacrifices were required of me. … I wanted to place them in the best position possible for success.”
Moore said he was a “decent student” at the all-male high school, but a lack of basic resources at home, at times including electricity, held him back from achieving his potential. “Sometimes it was hard to get my hands on a computer,” he said.
Moore and his younger brother, Chase, devoted themselves to football in part to deflect attention from street gang members who hassled youth in Carson. But some of the brothers’ classmates were not as fortunate, and a few didn’t escape alive, Taylor Moore said. “While [Caylin has] been in college, he’s lost several friends.”
Moore remains dedicated to California buddies who never became college graduates, much less Rhodes Scholars. He said that while he studies in Europe for the next two academic years, he doesn’t plan to do any sightseeing or indulge in gourmet treats because he’s still carrying those less fortunate friends from Carson in his heart.
Economic deprivation and dangerous streets are in the rearview mirror, but Moore often shares his childhood challenges, especially with the kids he speaks to through SPARK. He said he wants those youngsters to know that life isn’t always perfume and roses in hopes that they feel less alone during inevitable rough spells.
“You never know who your story will touch, and you never know who it’s going to help,” said Michael Carroll, a TCU football player and SPARK volunteer. “If it helps one kid in the room, then I did my job.”
It’s all part of God’s plan for me, really. Whatever he puts in front of me, I just really focus in on that and just go all out.Caylin Moore
Taylor Moore said her son’s ambition and progression were no surprise. “He had a piece of paper on the wall where he wrote a list of goals,” she said. “And as he conquered each of those, he would just check them off. And then his list got bigger and bigger.”
“It’s all part of God’s plan for me, really,” Moore said of setting goals. “Whatever he puts in front of me, I just really focus in on that and just go all out.”
Moore chose the field of economics to comprehend and eventually transform the problems in Carson and cities like it, not to chart a career course. “I’m working hard and preparing myself for opportunities that I don’t even know I’m going to have,” he said.
Ron Pitcock, assistant dean of the John V. Roach Honors College, said Moore is “interested in the undiscovered that sits between academic disciplines,” which is why he gobbled up as many courses in as many disciplines as his schedule would allow.
When Pitcock, director of prestigious scholarships at TCU, saw Moore’s name at the top of a list of juniors who maintained exceptional grade-point averages, he planned to inquire about the student’s interest in postgraduate opportunities. But Moore beat him to it, emailing for guidance about applying for the Rhodes Scholarship.
TCU only boasted one previous Rhodes Scholar: Peter “Pete” Larson ’76. “At Oxford I studied with some remarkable tutors (professors),” Larson said in an email. “But the teachers I had at TCU — Ken Lawrence ’58 (religion), Spencer Wertz ’65 (MA ’66) (philosophy), Harry Opperman (English), Bruce Miller (physics), to name only a few — challenged and guided and opened up worlds for me every bit as much. They were not only dedicated to teaching, they were damn good at it, and for that I will always be grateful.”
Each year, the Rhodes program offers 32 college graduates the opportunity to do postgraduate study at Oxford University in England. Scholarship alumni include U.S. Sen. Cory Booker from New Jersey, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and singer-composer Kris Kristofferson.
To win a coveted spot, scholarship applicants must demonstrate through academic records and essays that they excel in four dimensions: outstanding scholastic achievement, boundless energy to drive toward their dreams, a desire to help the less fortunate and unassailable morals. “To be terrific in all four is difficult,” Pitcock said.
Hitting the Rhodes targets required considerable discipline. Moore, who wakes up at 4:30 a.m. each day, said he clears life’s hurdles in a methodical manner. “I start early and just find little pockets of the day.”
Besides lengthy to-do lists for homework, weightlifting and SPARK engagements, Moore carves out time for deriving meaning from his life. He said he writes down all of the day’s details and interactions in notebooks he carries everywhere. He uses the predawn quiet to reflect on what happened and what everything means. “I like to call it going in,” he said. “When I go in, I really go in.”
The aspiring policymaker said he has written seven unpublished nonfiction books. He started organizing bits of wisdom into chapters to give to his future children, but his current book project, It Won’t Make Sense on Paper, could be the first to be published.
Literary agent Jane Dystel heard of Moore’s determination and triumphs through the national media coverage on his Rhodes selection and offered to represent him, she said. “What drew me to Caylin is his extraordinary story.”
Moore said he is optimistic that It Won’t Make Sense on Paper can attract a large and diverse audience. “It’s going to appeal to people on the more liberal side because it’s talking about marginalized communities,” he said. “But it’s also going to appeal to people on the more conservative side, on the same point, because of how I proverbially pulled myself up by my own bootstraps.”
At Oxford, Moore will study sociology and public policy. Upon his return to the U.S., he has nebulous plans to pursue a doctorate at an Ivy League school. While he won’t give specifics of his career aspirations, Moore said youth outreach, policy and public communication are essential elements.
Whatever Moore does in the future, he said he would give full power to all of his dreams. “I just want to stand in front of God when I die and be like, ‘God, I don’t have any talents left. Because I used everything that you gave me.‘”
Your comments are welcome
What an awesome story and awe inspiring young man. I pray that you continue to excel and achieve every dream and goal you continue to set. I pray when you stand before God He responds “Well done my good and faithful servant well done.”
Your email address will not be published.
Former TCU tennis player forges on after a traumatic brain injury.
The sports writer’s ultimate road trip records the sights, sounds and smells of the Lone Star State’s legendary football culture.
Features, Sports: Riff Ram
A new coach and four senior believers lead TCU men’s hoops to new heights and the program’s first postseason tournament championship.