Huskies To Watch: Part 5

LB Sio Moore keys UConn defense (US PRESSWIRE)

STORRS – His full name is Snorsio Alston Moore. Connecticut linebacker Sio Moore says his first name means "God is the greatest." Shortened to Sio, it simply translates to "Greatness."

A name like that can come with pressure. But instead of letting it drag him down, Moore takes the same approach as he does on the football field. He attacks.

Moore has been at UConn since 2008 and he begins his senior season Thursday night when the Huskies play UMass at Rentschler Field (7:30 p.m., SNY, IMG-UConn Radio Network) in East Hartford. The 6-foot-2, 229-pound outside linebacker is without a doubt one of the key players on a defense he says can be one of the top five defensive units in college football this season.

He has more tackles (202) than any other returning Husky. He is on the preseason watch lists for both the Butkus and Lombardi Awards.

But numbers and lists do not tell Moore's story. He is a player on a mission. He wants to help turn this program around, return to bowl play this season, improve his overall game and prepare for the NFL. Moore takes it personal. He spent the summer building his body for the battles that will be fought in games.

And the fact he has gone through an incredible journey to get to this point, leaves him hungry for an even better life ahead.

"I want to be somebody special," Moore says. "I'll do whatever I can to help this team win."

The journey began when he was born May 2, 1990 in the West African Republic of Liberia. He came into the world at a time when his country was being ripped apart by civil war. The Liberian civil war raged from 1989 to 1996 and according to reports one of every 17 people in the country lost their lives. Many others were uprooted.

Moore doesn't remember any of the atrocities. He never lived in one of the refugee camps in neighboring countries. He was five months old when his mother, a deputy auditor general for the government, fled the country and brought Sio to New York.

"I've been told a lot of stories," Moore said. "I know that they ate my dog. They took our banana tree. But I don't remember. I haven't been back yet. I want to go back and I will. I have a lot of family there – aunts, uncles, cousins. If it weren't for civil war, I wouldn't be here. My mom would have stayed. She had a very successful job and a very comfortable life. My mother and sister have been back and they tell me about the living conditions there, compared to the opportunity here.

"I've really tried to make the most of this opportunity. I'm the first male in my family to graduate from college. I'm taking courses [this semester], but I went through graduation in May and got my degree in political science."

Moore credits his mother, Assunta Phillips, his grandmother and his sister for getting him past that finish line. Despite her abilities as an auditor, Phillips found it difficult to get a job when the family moved to the United States. They moved from New York to Pennsylvania and eventually to West Haven, Conn. While she worked multiple odd jobs at one time, Moore's grandmother raised him.

He had no father figure and he struggled to adjust. After ninth grade, with his academics in disarray and feeling he didn't fit in, he asked is mother if he could move to Apex, N.C., and live with his sister, Tiplah Broadnax.

"I have two brothers and my sister," Moore said. "She is 18 years older. My sister could have had me. I really appreciate my sister. She gave me the opportunity to be here [at UConn] and play football. Without moving to North Carolina, I wouldn't have any of these lessons I have now. She came to America after high school and came to UConn and got her degree in computer engineering."

Broadnax took the role of mother – not sister, not best friend. She monitored his academic progress and she set rules. That first year in North Carolina, he did not play football.

"It was kind of tough," he said. "I missed my sophomore season. After that, I had a 3.0 [grade point average] and that spring I was able to run track. [Not playing] was a punishment. It was tough because I loved football. I wasn't doing well in school up here [in West Haven], so my mom and my sister made the decision. They didn't want me to fall into the same things.

"My family is very cultural. My mom has multiple degrees. My sister has two degrees and is in law school right now. For them, sports are very extracurricular. They wanted to make sure I got back to the right priorities."

Moore realizes his mother and sister are his lifesavers. Without his mother's decision to escape civil war, he might be living in horrible conditions – or worse. Without his sister's maternal-like guidance during his high school days, he never would have turned the corner. And without recruiters and coaches noticing his football skills, he never would have found his way to UConn.

Sio Moore grabs a loose ball against Western Michigan in 2011 (US PRESSWIRE)

It says something about his mother and sister that Moore wants to "work with kids" as a career. Whether it is coaching or some other scenario, he knows that is something he loves.

But that will be long after this season at UConn and quite possibly after a long NFL career. He credits his UConn coaches – Randy Edsall, Todd Orlando, Terry Richardson, Paul Pasqualoni, Don Brown and Jonathan Wholley – for always being on his back, always pushing him, always encouraging him and more.

"Coach Brown has completely changed my life," Moore said of UConn's second-year defensive coordinator. "Coach Brown is the catalyst and the chaos. I always tell him, ‘I was never this wild and crazy guy until you came around.' I didn't know about eating cupcakes off a QB's head. That's what we call sacks. When a coach comes in and says, ‘Hey, I want you to go sack the quarterback, there's no way you can ever be angry with him.' "

Can Moore make it in the NFL? Can he eat more cupcakes at the pro level? Who better to answer those questions that Pasqualoni, a former linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins?

"He has excellent measurables," Pasqualoni said. "He's got excellent speed, he's strong, and he's explosive. At the end of the day, the guys that play linebacker in the National Football League are the guys who know what to do. All the measurables are great but at the end of the day, it's right place at the right time and consistently playing at a winning level. The only way of knowing that is going through your senior season and seeing exactly what kind of production and consistency you can put together."

Moore understands those tings from talking to former Huskies who have gone on the NFL, guys like Kendall Reyes, Darius Butler, Greg Lloyd and Scott Lutrus.

"I've diversified what I can do here," Moore said. "I'm a playmaker. Those guys tell me to make plays and don't lose sight. You can't get complacent. There's no such thing as satisfaction.

"I've got to keep working and keep learning. I don't want to be just another guy. I want to be somebody special."

It all goes back to greatness. And after everything Moore has been through to this point, that's a pretty special goal.

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