Oct. 12, 2012
By Sean Kaveney
Football is a game that always gives its players their fair share of ups and downs. And in his five years of playing football for the Fighting Irish, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore has seen it all. He has experienced the irreplaceable joys of victory and has suffered the agonizing pains of defeat. He has worked through the demanding grind of being a collegiate student-athlete. He has had a season end abruptly due to injury, and he has worked tirelessly to bounce back stronger than ever.
Through all of these highs and lows, however, one thing has always remained constant, and that is Lewis-Moore's passion for the game of football, for his university, and for his teammates. His ability to combine a workman's attitude with his fun-loving demeanor and infectious smile has allowed him to raise the bar for what it means to be an Irish football player.
Interestingly enough, the player who has come to embody what it means to be a student-athlete at Notre Dame wasn't always sure he'd end up spending five years of his life in South Bend. Before being recruited by the Irish out of Weatherford, Texas, Lewis-Moore had very minimal knowledge about the far-off University of Notre Dame.
"Being from Texas, I had never really heard of Notre Dame before they began to recruit me," Lewis-Moore says. "I had a lot of Texas schools looking at me."
Only after discovering more about both the academic and athletic prestige of Notre Dame, as well as receiving an extra push from his mother, did Lewis-Moore make the decision to move up to northern Indiana.
"My mom is really the one who talked me into coming up here," he says. "So I thank her for that."
And Irish football fans across the country ought to thank her too. Her son has become a top-notch defensive lineman. His 150 career tackles are the most of any current Irish defensive linemen.
The individual statistical achievements that he has collected, however, appear to take a back seat for Lewis-Moore. Instead he has chosen to concern himself almost entirely with the accomplishments of the team as a whole.
"I know if I go out there, have fun, and try to make plays everything will work out fine," he says. "I am more of a team-oriented guy. I would much rather have our defensive unit leading in sacks instead of just me individually."
This kind of dedication to the cause of the team was a key factor in Irish head coach Brian Kelly's decision to name Lewis-Moore one of the team captains for the 2012 season.
"You know, his room, that defensive line room, there's a lot of really interesting characters in that room," Kelly says of Lewis-Moore. "His ability to relate with all of the guys is the one trait that he has shown that has elevated him to this position of captain."
On top of a team-oriented attitude, a player's outlook and passion for the game are also qualities Kelly likes to see in an Irish captain. And in the areas of passion, intensity and emotion, Lewis-Moore is not lacking in the slightest. Upon being told by Kelly that he would be a captain for the 2012 season, Lewis-Moore was actually brought to tears.
"Our captains represent all of the standards that I want for our players here," Kelly says. "You love to see that kind of passion for Notre Dame and for your teammates."
Becoming a leader was not something that happened overnight for Lewis-Moore. It is something that was born out of the culmination of four years of valuable experience.
In 2010, Lewis-Moore established himself as a workhorse for the Irish defense, starting all 13 games and totaling 680 snaps, the most of any defensive lineman. But under the bright lights of Notre Dame Stadium on a mid-October night last fall, he saw his 2011 campaign come to an end. Through an injury to his knee, he learned that at any moment your entire life could be turned upside down.
"The main lesson I learned from being injured was to appreciate the game," he says. "I have always been somebody that has looked at the bright side of things."
Knowing that he played a large role on his team, being sidelined was something difficult for Lewis-Moore to accept. Rather than mourn the loss of his season he saw the injury as an opportunity to grow.
"All great people have to go through adversity," he says. "It is how you handle that adversity when it confronts you that makes you the person that you are."
And now as the '12 season continues to unfold, it is clear that Lewis-Moore has handled adversity in all the right ways. He has taken on the task of leading a young defensive line that is among the most talented in the country.
Being the leader of such a competitive team means being versatile. At a nationally recognized institution such as Notre Dame, players come from all across the country, bringing with them a variety of different backgrounds and experiences. In his time at Notre Dame, Lewis-Moore has discovered that certain players do not respond to the same type of leadership and motivation as others.
"Some people respond to you yelling at them, and others don't," he says. "I try to incorporate a variety of leadership qualities. But one thing the guys can always count on is me showing up to work and trying to put a smile on their face."
The importance of learning to be flexible with his leadership style goes far beyond the locker room at Notre Dame Stadium. Since becoming a football player for the Irish, Lewis-Moore has learned that it is not only his teammates that look up to him. Being a prominent member of the Student Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC), he has had the opportunity to extend his leadership to young boys and girls through the Irish Experience Summer Camp.
"It is very rewarding," Lewis-Moore says of the summer camp. "There are kids out there that look up to all of us Notre Dame athletes, not just football. It is our job to be role models and to provide them with sports as an outlet." While Lewis-Moore enjoys the opportunity to get outside and play with some of the youngsters, he will tell you that the most rewarding Irish experience can be found near the end of camp when he is able to talk to the campers about character and what it means to be a leader.
"I like having the opportunity to get out there with the kids, have fun, and play football all day," he says. "But I also like being able to put in the extra time to explain to them what it means to be a champion."
Without a doubt, Lewis-Moore has proven himself to be a champion both on and off of the football field. Of all the feats he has accomplished since arriving on campus, one that he holds in particular esteem is his graduation from the prestigious Mendoza College of Business this past May with a degree in marketing.
"It is crazy to think of myself as a Notre Dame graduate," he says with a laugh. "It took a lot of hard work and a lot of sleepless nights, but thinking about all of the distinguished alumni from this school really speaks wonders to me."
Reflecting on a long and fulfilling playing career, Lewis-Moore recalls that one of his favorite memories was defeating rival Michigan at home in his first year on campus. Even though he didn't play in the game, he still sees it as one of the most spectacular moments he has experienced in his time at Notre Dame.
Four years later, Lewis-Moore earned another shot to play against Michigan in front of an electric home crowd, this time under the lights. After three years of struggles against the rival Wolverines, Lewis-Moore and the rest of the seniors capped off their playing careers with a long sought-after victory.
"It was so much fun," he says. "It was exciting. It was humbling. It was electric. I got a little emotional when it was over."
The victory over Michigan was just one of many notable moments in the defensive end's career, which includes a bowl victory over Miami in 2010. And although he is in his final year playing football under the Golden Dome, Lewis-Moore knows that there is still plenty to look forward to.
"This is my last year, and I want to go out with a bang," he says giving an infectious smile. "We are nowhere near done yet."