Aaron Moorehead: From Walk-on to World Champion

Nine games into the 2018 NCAA football season, the Vanderbilt Commodores have racked up 2,075 total receiving yards under the direction of Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead. This Saturday, Aaron’s receiving corps, who have already accounted for 14 touchdowns, will again be called upon to light up the scoreboard as Vandy battles the University of Missouri in SEC play.

This past spring, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Coach Moorehead, who looks like he could still suit up and play, in his spacious office in the McGugin Center down in Nashville. Check out our conversation here: https://www.goodathleteproject.com/podcast/

Aaron was a standout high school player at Deerfield High School in the suburbs of Chicago, but the option offense they ran didn’t provide many opportunities to highlight the skillsets of one of the area’s top receivers. He was a talented track athlete as well, finishing 4th in state in the 110m High Hurdles. His athletic ability was obvious. Still, the offers did not roll in as some thought they might, and he accepted an opportunity to walk on at the University of Illinois.

At 6’3” 185, the talented but undersized Moorehead redshirted that first year, opting to build his frame and work to more fully understand the offense and culture of Head Coach Ron Turner. His work paid off. He improved physically and mentally, ultimately earning a scholarship. Though he had a couple setbacks along the way (tune in to the podcast to hear the details) he bounced back, ultimately leading the team to a 10-2 record in 2001. Moorehead shined that season. The Illini won a Big Ten Championship, finished 16th in the nation, and went on to battle LSU in the Sugar Bowl.

85 career receptions, 1,293 yards, and 9 TD grabs later, he knew he wasn’t done. He was just hitting stride. Still, offers to play in the NFL did not roll in as some thought they might.  Aaron accepted an opportunity as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts.

By that time, he was no stranger to the process. He was used to overcoming obstacles and smashing expectations. So when most undrafted free agents were hoping desperately to find a spot on a roster, Aaron simply went back to work. Once again, that work paid off. Aaron made the roster, played 5 years for the Colts, and won a Superbowl in 2006 over the Chicago Bears.

That win was the perfect capstone to an athletic career. His father, Emery Moorehead, played tight end on the 1985 Super Bowl Championship – you guessed it – Chicago Bears. By beating his father’s former team, the Mooreheads became the first father-son duo to play for Super Bowl winners.

When his time in the NFL ended, Aaron was faced with an all-too-familiar dilemma. Life as an athlete is one of clear expectations, constant growth, and direct feedback from coaches. It is a life of physical exertion and psychological strain. It is camaraderie and setbacks, sacrifice and glory. It’s an experience that cannot be replicated in the “real” world. He wasn’t sure what to do next.

When the next step was unclear, it was his father Emery who told him it was time to get off the couch, pick something he was passionate about, and get to back work. Again, Aaron stepped up to the challenge. He went over to his alma mater, Deerfield High School, and volunteered assisting with the wide receivers.

From there, he started going to coaching conventions, met professionals in the field, and landed graduate assistant position at the University of New Mexico. When the wide receiver coaching position opened up a year later, he applied, excited to make the full transformation from college athlete to college football coach. Though many though he would, he didn’t get the job. Looking back on that disappointment, he says “they were right, I wasn’t ready.”

Once again, Aaron was undeterred. He went on to be the quality control coach at Stanford University, where he was able to play an important role in a major football program which was routinely in the national spotlight. Shortly thereafter, he accepted his first full-time job at Virginia Tech, working for previous podcast guest and Hall of Fame coach Frank Beamer. In 2015, Aaron went on to coach receivers at Texas A&M, where the Aggies were consistently among the top teams in the SEC.

Then he set Anchor Down in Vanderbilt. The Commodores have been flying ever since. Their only losses this year have been teams ranked among the Top 15 in the nation, including a one-score game against Notre Dame (#3).

He has seen success everywhere he has been, and he’s had to earn it. Still a young man with a bright future, he’s taken a simple mantra to every stage of his journey: “prove that you can provide value to your organization.” A simple strategy. A strategy that has proven to be successful.

Tune in to our podcast with Aaron to hear more strategies for success. It’s especially interesting to hear him talk about legendary coach Tony Dungy and some of his teammates with whom he went to the Super Bowl.

With Peyton Manning, there was no letdown… every snap was like the game was on the line,” he said.

His advice to athletes is amazing: “Be humble and don’t be short-sighted. Be somebody that the coaching field knows about.’

And his advice to us all is a necessary thought: “Take time to learn about people who are different than you are.”

So much to learn from Good Athlete, Kind Coach, and someone we’re happy to have as part of the Good Athlete Project family, Aaron Moorehead.

 

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