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Malcom Moore is a survivor.
Three years ago he open-enrolled as a freshman at Minnetonka, someone seen as a good kid who had made some mistakes and needed better direction.
No more stealing for food or scrapping at the park or sprinting down alleys to avoid trouble, as he did growing up in Minneapolis.
He commuted back and forth from south Minneapolis that first year. One February afternoon he learned that his cousin had been shot at his father's house.
"I definitely would have been in the room if I wasn't out here," said Moore, a wide receiver on the Skippers football team.
"Out here" has brought family stability, first staying in Hopkins with Minnetonka freshman basketball coach Rob Ware. This year, as a senior, he's lived in Excelsior with football teammate George Buchner, developing a friendship that has tightened into brotherly bonds.
Change didn't come easily at the beginning. But in both living situations, and with the aid of a Minnetonka non- profit, Moore's basic needs were fulfilled.
Life on the football field was good, too, until this year. A dynamic athlete who has also played quarterback and safety, Moore sat out all but 24 minutes of the regular season after breaking a bone in his foot.
The Skippers limped to a 3-5 record and No. 5 seed heading into their Class 6A, Section 5 playoff game at 7 p.m. Friday at Hopkins.
Despite their stumbles, the Skippers are two victories from reaching the state tournament. Moore, despite his abbreviated senior season, will be in the lineup, ready to play. And he feels better prepared to handle what's ahead off the field.
"I'm not ashamed to be from Minneapolis," Moore said. "Minneapolis is my foundation. Minnetonka transformed me into something better."
Keeping the faith
Moore moved into the Buchner family home in Excelsior last May, a place he knew well from umpteen sleepovers. Stories shared those nights helped George Buchner better understand his teammate.
Stealing to avoid going hungry. Scrapping at the park. Sprinting down an alley to avoid a rumored drive-by shooting. Moore experienced all of them.
He also played with an AAU youth basketball team coached by Careino Gurley, a Minneapolis resident who had open-enrolled his son, Careino Jr., at Minnetonka. The coach suggested Moore do the same.
Gurley himself experienced troubled times as a north Minneapolis youth. He grew on and off the football field under Dave Nelson, who coached Gurley at Blaine before taking the Minnetonka job.
"Malcom was in a situation at that time where there was less stability," said Gurley, an assistant football coach for the Skippers. "A change in environment can make all the difference."
But new faces, larger school -- "It was like a college out here," Moore said -- and more stringent academic requirements posed challenges for Moore. Ware said he benched Moore "for a few games" to make a point about taking his studies more seriously.
Moore, who has the word "faith" tattooed on the inside of his right arm, never wavered.
"My whole thought process at that time was it was hard, but I knew it was the right thing to do," Moore said. "I never got down about it. I was determined to make the best of it."
Learning his cousin, standout Minneapolis Washburn football player Montrell Wade, had been shot in the head in February of Moore's freshman year gave Moore pause. The accidental shooting happened at the home of Andrew Moore -- Malcom's father.
'It takes a village'
Andrew Moore, a former boxer, Black Panther and prison inmate, said he was unable to fulfill his son's academic and athletic hopes and dreams alone. That's why he approved of Malcom moving in with the Wares and Buchners.
In both homes, Moore was expected to focus on academics and accountability.
Living with Ware, a north Minneapolis native, Moore saw someone trying to model for his daughters things Moore did not experience growing up -- a happy marriage and a focus on academics. Ware encouraged Moore to "break the family curse" by staying on task and getting into college.
Andrew Moore can relate.
"As a father who grew up without a father, if someone could give my children a better opportunity I'd give them my blessing," Andrew said. "It takes a village."
Minnetonka's non-profit Family Friends program, which distributes money to needy students and families throughout the district, connected Moore with a dentist who fixed several chipped teeth. The work, done at a discount, was paid for by the foundation.
"I love to smile," Moore said. "I like to add light to the room."
Coaches, administrators and friends who reached out to Moore stood in that light.
"It's hard not to like Malcom," said Mary Beth Wiig, who oversees the Family Friends program.
Said Andrew Moore: "The people he's been involved with at Minnetonka have enlightened him and given him a broader perspective on the choices in life."
Gaining a brother
Of all the connections Moore has made at Minnetonka, George Buchner is the most important.
They started talking as sophomores. Buchner, hoping to become Minnetonka's quarterback of the future, sought help from Moore, already a varsity standout. They met twice a week, before the winter sun came up, in the Skippers' domed practice facility. Buchner would throw and Moore would catch, often joined only by a garbage can used to represent a defensive back.
"Those were cold mornings," Buchner said earlier this fall, seated with Moore in the Buchner family kitchen as they polished off a dinner of sloppy joes, asparagus, salad and milk.
"Cold and productive," Moore added.
While they've never connected on a pass in a varsity football game, they grew to define connection in myriad ways.
Before Moore came to live in her home, Margie Buchner -- Momma B as Moore now refers to her -- told him, "You may be great at football, but you're going to be bigger than that. Our goal is to help you get to college."
The Buchners paid for a tutor this summer, hoping to improve Moore's ACT scores. Moore is gaining ground, hoping to avoid attending junior college. He has pending football offers from South Dakota State and North Dakota.
For all he's learned, Moore has taught George Buchner a few things. Assigned to write an English class essay on an influential person, Buchner chose Moore.
"After Malcom moved in with us, I learned to value all the things in my life," wrote Buchner. He closed by writing, "It's funny how life throws you curve balls when you least expect it. In this case, I'm glad it did, because I not only made a new friend, I gained a brother."
The brothers from different mothers have seen each other through a trying fall. Moore's injury left him on crutches and unable to get a gallon of milk out of the refrigerator. Buchner, who played wide receiver this season, suffered a broken forearm last week against Hopkins. Moore has pitched in, busing dishes and opening doors.
Buchner said he could play again this season if the Skippers go to state. Moore would like nothing more than to make that happen.
"I'm trying to be that kid from Minneapolis who is living out his dreams," Moore said. "I'd never take back the lessons that Minneapolis taught me. I'm trying to take what Minnetonka has given me and put them together to reach my dream of playing Division I football."