Caylin Moore held up his hands, palms facing, about 2 feet apart.
“Normally, between those two points,” he said, “a lot of people would be lost. I would venture to say most.”
Moore was trying to explain his journey: From a childhood steeped in poverty in Carson, Calif., a suburb of south central Los Angeles, to Marist College in New York to TCU, where the senior football player holds a 3.9 grade-point average in the Honors College.
Now, Moore has a chance to claim something even more prestigious.
This month, he was named a finalist for the Rhodes Scholar award, which provides a scholarship for graduate studies at Oxford University in England. He applied for the award this year through his home district in California.
Of about 200 finalists nationwide, 32 will receive Rhodes scholarships.
Past winners include Bill Clinton, singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson and retired NBA player Bill Bradley.
TCU officials believe Moore is the fourth student in school history to be named a Rhodes finalist. TCU’s lone scholarship winner was Pete Larson in 1975.
The award calls for a well-rounded profile — not just academics, but also community involvement.
To be frank, I come from the slums
At TCU, he founded SPARK — Strong Players Are Reaching Kids, an outreach program to motivate children to attend college. Before he arrived in Fort Worth, he studied in summer institutes at the University of Bristol in England (where he received a Fulbright Scholarship) and Princeton.
He is majoring in economics and minoring in math and sociology at TCU, where he is scheduled to graduate in May.
“Student-athletes like Caylin Moore are why we work in intercollegiate athletics,” TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte wrote about him in September.
Said TCU Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr.: “Caylin's life experiences have forced him to think deeply about the world and his place as a leader. He believes in his power to influence change; he models courage in every activity he tackles, and he articulates a vision to make the most of his natural gifts.”
‘I came from the slums’
But Moore, for all his honors, knows there’s a chance he could have never made it out of Southern California.
“To be frank, I come from the slums,” he said, referencing the gang-riddled area of Carson where he grew up.
He was raised by a single mother. He said his father is serving a 52-year prison sentence for murder.
As a child, Moore would dig in the trash for cans and bottles to exchange for money. Some kids, he said, graduated to selling candy in school and then drugs on the street.
“I come from not exactly knowing where your next meal is going to come from,” he said. “Money is so short, so kids resort to all that.”
Moore, instead, focused on football and school. He remembers finishing runner-up in a spelling bee in second grade.
“That taught me maybe I can do something with my academics,” he said.
He played football at Verbum Dei High School in Carson before heading to east to Marist, where he played backup quarterback.
‘I found a way’
There were other moments, too.
In seventh grade, he and his teammates were running wind sprints at a park. An old man with a gray beard walked up to the boys. They hadn’t seen the man before, and wouldn’t see him again, but he offered up some advice: “The race is not won to the swift, but to he who endures unto the end.”
“I felt that in my chest,” Moore said.
After playing three years at Marist, a Division 1 school in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), he transferred to TCU with the hope of gaining exposure. He wanted people back home in Carson to see him on television and know there might be a way out.
Injuries set him back, though, and he hasn’t seen game action. But as his off-the-field honors have piled up, his teammates have grown curious, Moore said.
“The colloquial way we refer to it is, ‘Man you found another way out of the hood,’ ” he said. “I found a way that doesn’t involve rapping, that doesn't involve tossing the ball into a hoop and doesn’t involve dabbing in the end zone.”