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POTATO BOWL WEEKEND: UND running back Phillip Moore remembered for durability

Former UND running back Phillip Moore is the school's all-time leading rusher with 5,697 yards -- a record that doesn't appear to be in jeopardy any time soon.

Phillip Moore is UND's career rushing leader. He will be inducted into the UND Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend. Photo/UND Athletics
Former UND standout Phillip Moore runs for yardage at Memorial Stadium. Moore will be inducted into the UND athletic hall of fame this weekend. Photo/UND Athletics

Former UND running back Phillip Moore is the school’s all-time leading rusher with 5,697 yards -- a record that doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy any time soon.

There’s another, perhaps less-known mark, that Moore holds in the record book. In a game against Minnesota State Mankato in 1998, Moore carried the ball 46 times.

That might be one of the most untouchable records in all of UND athletics.

It’s that reliability and durability that lead the legacy of Moore, who will be honored Friday night when the 43-year-old is inducted into the UND Athletics Hall of Fame.

“He didn’t look big, but he was solid and strong,” former UND guard Joe Bailey said. “Out of the corner of me eye, he would blow right past me. He was gone. We really depended on Phil. He was resilient.”

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Moore starred at Grand Forks Central, as both a track athlete and football player. At the state track meet, he won the 100 meters, long jump and triple jump and took second in the 200 meters.

Before they were teammates at UND, Bailey played high school football at Fargo South, where he got to experience the elusive nature of Moore.

“He was like a greased pig,” Bailey said. “He was so slippery and so fast.”

Moore was coached at Central by long-time legendary coach Mike Berg, who now serves as the UND footbal radio analyst.

“He was a starter from his first day and really never left the field,” Berg said. “Despite being recognized for his offensive skills, he was probably the best defensive player I ever coached.”

Berg saw Moore’s toughness early in his playing career.

“He was always an unselfish, team player, but he could dominate games just by showing up,” Berg said. “As an opponent, you didn’t want to kick the ball to him, you didn’t want to see him in the backfield, and you certainly didn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of his tackles. He was a pleasure to coach.”

Moore would turn down an offer from Wyoming to play at UND, where he was asked to replace another star back in Shannon Burnell.

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“Burnell was a bruiser,” Moore said. “He was a big bowling ball and tough to tackle. Their pitch to me was, ‘We want someone to take the next step and take it to the house.’ They knew the speed was there, but they didn’t know if I was durable.”

Moore, who credits his durability to teammates and the medical staff at UND, would go on to become an NCAA Division II All-American as a junior and senior, as well as a two-time finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding player in NCAA Division II football.

Moore graduated as UND’s all-time leader in rushing yards (5,697), rushing attempts (1,101), rushing touchdowns (51), total touchdowns (53) and all-purpose yards (5,587, since broken).

Moore owns the top two single-season rushing performances in UND history: 1,771 yards in 1997 and 1,722 in 1998. He broke UND’s single-game rushing record three times over his final two years, including a high of 282 yards against Augustana on Nov. 7, 1998.

Moore developed a physical reputation despite a build of 6-foot and 180 pounds.

“He had an overwhelming sense of team and toughness,” former UND tackle Greg Lotysz said. “He never complained. He always wanted the ball because he thought he was a difference-maker, and he was. He was a guy you enjoyed blocking for.”

Lotysz said you never saw Moore take a clean hit from a defender.

“He was unshakable,” Lotysz said.

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Lotysz remembers a game during Moore’s freshman year against Minnesota State Moorhead when the team called a sweep play to Moore, who would be running behind Lotysz, center Marcus McKenzie and tight end and future NFL veteran Jim Kleinsasser.

“When we called the play in the huddle, there was a big smile on (Moore’s) face,” Lotysz said. “We took care of business and once Phil found that gap he was gone.”

Moore now lives in Delano, where he satisfies his competitive nature with CrossFit.

“It’s a little surreal,” Moore said of his Hall of Fame nod. “It hasn’t really set in. I think over time it will have an impact on me emotionally, as I realize what that all means. I’m a Grand Forks kid, and I couldn’t ask for a better place to grow up. I have so much appreciation and gratefulness for the local community and the experience they allowed me to have growing up in Grand Forks.”

Despite the huge amount of carries he received at UND, Moore said he rarely didn’t want the ball.

“There were times … in those cold Memorial Stadium games when the turf felt like concrete and you couldn’t feel your hands, but overall that’s what we did,” Moore said. “It was beat ‘em up in the beginning, then wear them down so at the end of the game the train was moving and we were going.”

 

UND HOF inductees UND will induct the following into its athletic hall of fame this weekend:

  • Dean Blais, hockey coach 1994-2004
  • Dawn (Dakken) Jacobson, golf, 1995-98
  • Becky (Leppard) Erickson, cross country, track and field, 1997-2001
  • 1999-2002 men’s hockey team. Team won the program’s seventh national championship
  • Phillip Moore, football, 1995-98

Thomas J. Clifford Award

  • Greg LaDouceur, who has spent the past 28 years as a high school tennis coach and currently is the Grand Forks Red River coach, will receive the award

Honorary Letterwinner Award

  • Dave and Diane Bender, who are longtime contributors of UND Athletics. Both are retired from the General Motors Acceptance Corporation
Related Topics: UND FOOTBALL
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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