The subwoofer of a voice box cuts across the Notre Dame practice fields on almost a daily basis. It’s hard to get the blood pumping for three hours of tedious training when the temperature starts to plummet. Kapron Lewis-Moore makes it a little bit easier.
Kapron Lewis-Moore's statistics have dipped this season, but he's still having his best year in a Notre Dame uniform.
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco refers to it as filling up your energy bucket. Players rely on each other to provide the enthusiasm they need to work hard. Whether it’s telling jokes and singing in booming bass or busting out dance moves that have received seriously mixed reviews, Lewis-Moore is their well — an energy oasis unmatched in the Irish locker room.
“He’s loud even when he tries to whisper,” senior running back Theo Riddick said. “He tries to dance. And he’s not that great of a dancer. That’s definitely going to catch our attention, but then you add his obnoxious, loud voice and you’re definitely going to be looking at him. Once he starts jumping around and things like that everyone starts to get going.”
And so begin most afternoons on the South Bend campus this fall. Notre Dame’s oldest captain is a 310-pound walking contradiction. The story of the silent warrior who roars into the spotlight during games is a time-honored football archetype. Lewis-Moore is the opposite. He’s got the beard presence of James Harden and the stage presence of James Brown, but when he’s done singing, he’s happy to be unsung.
The veteran defensive end has never been the centerpiece of the Irish front line. Classmates surged ahead of him while he worked to fill out what was once a 225-pound frame. When he made weight, a gold rush of young superstars stole his thunder. Lewis-Moore quietly kept pounding away. He has played in every game of his four-year career save six of them, which he missed after detaching his MCL from his knee last October.
That hushed productivity has come to a head this season. Lewis-Moore won’t match the career-high 62 tackles he made in 2010 — he has 31 heading into Saturday’s home finale against Wake Forest— but coaches and teammates agree he’s having far and away the best year of his career.
“I wasn't aware of that, that his numbers were down from other years,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “He's been a better football player for us this year. It's night and day in my eyes outside of the statistics as to his impact last year to this year.”
Lewis-Moore keeps busy by clearing paths for the linebackers behind him and tutoring the rising stars that line up next to him. Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, both in their second year of football eligibility, count on Lewis-Moore’s experience and his baritone voice to get them in the right spots before each snap.
“Him being like an eighth-year senior, he knows everything,” Nix said. “Sometimes we might have a brain fart and forget a few things. He keeps us in line and makes sure we’re doing the right things. He manufactures the ‘D’ line basically.”
It’s been five years since Lewis-Moore arrived on campus, although he admits it feels more like eight some times. That defensive line was a weak link then, to put it politely. Now, it’s the driving force behind the nation’s best scoring defense and a certain BCS berth.
Scorekeepers may not have noticed the impact Lewis-Moore makes on his team, but coaches — both college and pro — have. He started the season in the top 250 players on most 2013 prospect boards and his stock is on the rise. It would be a shock if he didn’t hear his name called on draft day, according to Mike Mayock, NBC color commentator and NFL Draft analyst.
Lewis-Moore isn’t equipped to be the type of elite pass rusher that teams hunt for in the first round, even though his ability to get to the quarterback has improved dramatically this year. He set career highs with 4.5 sacks and seven hurries so far this year. Mayock said he’ll likely be a steal for an NFL team because of his underrated athleticism and his ability to play both inside and outside in different schemes.
“The NFL world is starting to take notice of him a little bit more,” he said. “He is a really solid football player. His numbers aren’t great but he does what Notre Dame asks him to do within the confines of their scheme.”
His biggest asset to the Irish remains that overflowing energy bucket. Teammates say he is without fail the first to boost their confidence when needed or congratulate them after a big play. He rallies the team during each pre-game warm-up and prior to each opening kick. His magnetic draw is the main reason Kelly and his staff named Lewis-Moore one of the team’s four captains in his final season.
That was a shock to him, one that brought him to tears when he first addressed his team as their leader. He promised them to keep it light from there on out.
“I’m going to keep being goofy and funny. I’m going to dance a little bit, I’m going to keep being me,” he told them. “I just gotta be me.”
A lot has changed since Lewis-Moore recovered a fumble in his first collegiate game against Nevada in 2009. But 39 wins, 169 tackles and some 85 pounds later Kapron Lewis-Moore, in all his sonorous essence, is still the same.