Second in a series
Read part one “From street to saint: Denesheo Moore defies the odds.”
Former BYU linebacker Spencer Hadley served as a Mormon missionary in northern California when 16-year-old Denesheo Moore unexpectedly walked into an LDS Church on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009. Hadley — who served in a different congregation — introduced Moore to the set of missionaries assigned to his neighborhood. From that point on, Moore met with Brady Miller and his companion every day from 6 to 7 p.m. for several weeks.
“I think he would do whatever it took to find out if (the gospel) was real,” Miller said. “Because if it was real, he knew that’s what he wanted in his life.”
Miller described Moore as the epitome of living the gospel daily — it wasn’t something he only lived on Sundays. He even started attending early-morning seminary as a non-member.
Moore joined the LDS Church five short weeks after his friends left him hanging that first Sunday they had planned to attend church together. Miller baptized Moore on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009, and Hadley confirmed him the following day.
“From the get-go, you could tell this kid was somebody who had, his entire life, been walking through a spiritual desert and had found a source of water and was just taking in everything he possibly could,” Hadley said.
Hadley was also struck by Moore’s ability to believe in the testimony of others. In many cases, it happened almost immediately.
“It’s not a common gift, especially in today’s world, but it’s a gift Denesheo has in full force,” Hadley said. “He would hear something, and the Spirit would bear witness and he just knew it.”
Moore also developed a work ethic after joining the church. He said he never had any desire to accomplish anything other than sports before his baptism.
He originally wanted to play high school basketball and wrestle, but football coaches recruited him because of his size. Moore was quick for his large stature, but didn’t have the football knowledge to make the right play and didn’t put a lot of effort into conditioning.
He never did his homework because he spent as little time as possible at home. Moore’s grades declined and he became academically ineligible to play football his sophomore year. He was devastated. Moore worked hard to improve his grades and was able to compete in track and field later that school year.
“My world was so tiny before the church, it was just a day-to-day kind of thing,” Moore said.
Track and field is a team sport made up of individual scores, which gave Moore opportunities to refine his discus throws. He wasn’t able to afford the conventional frictionless shoes worn by discus throwers, so instead he researched videos on YouTube and practiced his throwing motion while wearing socks on a hardwood floor. Moore went on to sectionals and beat all of the opponents he lost to earlier in the year. He set 12 track and field records at San Juan High School.
Once Moore learned about the LDS Church while still a high school student, he wanted to serve as a missionary and play football at BYU.
Yuba Community College showed interest in Moore and wanted him to play football, but he had sights set on attending a four-year university rather than junior college. He prayed about it and decided to serve a mission before attending BYU–Idaho.
Hadley wasn’t surprised to hear that the kid who absorbed the Gospel Principles book in just 48 hours chose to become a missionary. Moore gained a sense of direction and focus in his life after joining the church.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Born on February 16, 1993, Moore grew up moving from one low-income neighborhood to the next.
Moore’s mother struggled with drugs since before she gave birth to him when she was 18 years old. In 2001, the drugs caught up with her.
Moore and his older brother stayed in foster care for the next two years, while his mother was in an addiction recovery program.
When his mother was released, 10-year-old Moore attempted to mend their relationship and chose to hang around the house with her. He helped with the household chores and felt things were getting better.
“We grew really close,” Moore said. “She loved having me around.”
Because he spent so much time inside with his mother, Moore was protected from the ghetto that lurked beyond his door.
“Even though I grew up in the ghetto neighborhoods, I wasn’t exposed to the stuff that went on,” Moore said. “Like the fights and the drugs and the police, because I wasn’t out there … I didn’t talk the same way that they did, I didn’t act the same way, I didn’t walk the same way they did.”
By the time he was in junior high, Moore, his older brother and his mother settled in Citrus Heights, California.
Hispanics lived on one side of the road. Blacks on the other. Police cars frequented the streets because most of the people there were either selling or using drugs. It wasn’t the ideal environment for a 16-year-old boy.
Unfortunately for Moore, the inside of his home was no better than the outside.
A cousin had recently moved in with them and she brought drugs, alcohol and frequent parties along with her.
“I never wanted to be there,” Moore said. “I’d go home, shower, go to sleep, wake up and go to school. That was just a recurring cycle every day of every year.”
The church offered Moore stability as well as a huge family — things that had been missing from his life before. And he couldn’t wait to share what he found with others who might be searching for something better.
“From the first day I started hearing about the church, I knew that was something I wanted to tell other people about,” Moore said.
Joining the church as a 16-year-old inserted Moore into the priests quorum of his ward with other boys his age. He absorbed the group’s heavy focus on missionary service and spent the last year and a half of high school living with the family of a church leader in his congregation. He attended family prayer, early-morning seminary and church with the Olson family.
As the time for his mission came closer, Moore explained to his mom that he’d be gone for two years. He could email her and send pictures, but he was allowed to call just twice a year.
She was surprisingly supportive, as long as he stayed in the states. As long as he stayed in California. Then Moore told her: “I don’t know where I’m going.”
He was called to serve in the Mexico Puebla North Mission.
His mom was scared at first. She warmed up to the idea of him leaving the United States after the mission president assured her it was safe.
Moore served under President Ralph N. Christensen, who described him as a “very effective missionary” who members, investigators and other missionaries loved to be around.
Christensen was impressed with Moore’s determination to learn about the gospel and apply it to his life.
“It is clear that the Lord influenced Denesheo and guided him to people who could influence him and put him on the right path,” Christensen said. “From there, he had to make choices to stay on the path and follow the Lord’s directions.”
In addition to Moore’s dreams of progressing in the gospel, perhaps his biggest goal then — and now — is to take the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium, wearing Cougar blue.
Next week, senior reporter Kristen Kerr concludes her series featuring Denesheo Moore’s conversion to the LDS Church as a turning point, not only in providing meaning for his life, but in the continuing pursuit of his dream to play football at BYU.