STILLWATER — While standing on a mostly empty field in Tucson late last Saturday, Tracy Moore proclaimed to reporters his desire to be a leader for a team that had just suffered a shocking defeat at Arizona.
In the days that followed, Moore met with Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and offensive coordinator Todd Monken to tell them the same thing.
“Obviously (scoring) four touchdowns wasn't enough,” Moore said this week. “Something else has to happen for this team to be successful, and I'm trying to figure out what that is.”
Moore displays many of the necessary qualifications to be one of OSU's anchors. He's the Cowboys' top returning pass-catcher and has been open about his goal to replace one of his close friends, Justin Blackmon, as OSU's bona fide No. 1 receiving target. He's already had his share of big moments, including seven catches for 112 yards and a touchdown last season against Louisiana-Lafayette, the opponent that visits Boone Pickens Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday. And he's got a charismatic personality.
But with a career peppered with missteps and a continuously building image as a knucklehead, does he really have any right to say he wants to take on a leadership role? Can he even be trusted to stay on the field and out of the doghouse?
It's a complex issue.
“It's easier said than done, when you've put so many scars (on yourself),” Monken said, “and the team knows you for certain things, maybe not always on the field, but off the field or body language issues.
“You can't control that, but what you can is moving forward, leaders bring people with you.”
Moore's four-touchdown performance in his first game playing on offense since Bedlam shows how valuable he can be, and why coaches have raved about his transition from inside receiver to the outside. And it's put him in a spot where he automatically commands the attention and respect of his teammates.
“Just the way he performs in the games, and then the way he is on the sideline,” sophomore receiver Josh Stewart said. “It's just great to have one of those players. After he scored a touchdown, he was just so hyped. And just to see that, it makes you want to get into it more than him.
“I feel like that's the type of leading receiver we need. I really think that's my role model right now.”
It wasn't always that way. Moore has a history of poor body language in practice and was demoted to just special teams duties in the Fiesta Bowl for mouthing off to Monken. Since then, though, Monken has called Moore's practice habits “tremendous.”
So it appears Moore has figured it out on the field. But what about off the field?
Since March, Moore has been cited for a public intoxication complaint, outraging public decency and suspicion of providing alcohol to a minor. He was also in the car when Justin Blackmon received his first DUI during the 2010 season. He has never been charged with a crime, but the final incident resulted in Moore being suspended for the Cowboys' season opener against Savannah State.
Monken said he understands Moore's desire to go out and have fun as a football player in a small college town. But if Moore wants to be viewed as a complete leader, then he needs to tweak his personal life.
“If you want to be something different, then you've got to change,” Monken said. “That's all of us. That's not just him. So if he really wants to be that, then show it. The guys will respond.
“The first part to leading is you've got to be a good player…Now it's like, ‘What else can I do that they really think I'm all there? That I'm not part-time there?'”
Moore has been trying to make those changes during the past two-plus weeks.
He said he's spent the majority of his free time playing video games with teammates or chatting on the porch with his neighbors. He attempted to ignore the hate mail he received on Twitter, then got emotional during the Cowboys' pregame prayer ring at Arizona.
“I busted out a couple tears,” Moore said. “Because I didn't know if I was ever going to get to play in another stadium again or anything like that. I didn't know what was going to happen. It was definitely a wake-up call, and it hurts to watch.”
Gundy said he has not put any additional restrictions on Moore, other than the team-wide curfews on Thursday and Friday nights on game weeks. Moore needs to make the choice to stay out of situations that could get him in trouble, Gundy said, and realize the next incident will likely have serious repercussions.
“A lot of people don't agree with that, but that's just the way we do it around here,” Gundy said. “He has to make good decisions.”
Gundy and Monken both said they ultimately believe Moore is a good person, stressing that he wouldn't still be part of the program if he wasn't. But they also recognize he still has a lot of room to grow.
“Does he qualify in a lot of areas that we as parents would want him to? No,” Gundy said. “Does he qualify to help us lead out here on the football field? Yes. That doesn't make him a well-rounded leader.
“Hopefully, that'll help him in the long run in the other areas, but he should help us out here leading our football team.”
Moore knows the only way he'll prove he can be relied on for the rest of the season is by staying out of trouble and staying on the field. Perhaps, along the way, he'll develop into one of the Cowboys' leaders, both statistically and in the locker room.
And he hopes that by the end of his OSU career, he has repaired his reputation.
“I feel like this season is going to help my image a lot,” Moore said. “Just taking it game by game, staying out of trouble and playing hard. Staying at home and playing those video games.”