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Jerry Humphrey III 63d

Inside KeShaun Moore's journey from HBCU linebacker to an NIL deal with WWE

WWE, College Football, Hampton Pirates

KeShaun Moore was doing what just about every college student does during downtime -- scrolling on Instagram. But this past April, he had a very unexpected direct message come through. One that instantly caught his attention.

"I didn't know what to think of it at first. [WWE's] recruiting page messaged me on my Instagram about three months ago telling me about the opportunity [of Next In Line]," Moore said. "I checked the page out and started talking to one of the guys in the talent department, and the relationship just grew from there."

The Next In Line program is an initiative where WWE recruits and develops college athletes with all types of athletic backgrounds, including football, gymnastics, wrestling and cheer, into WWE superstars. The partnership grants all signees access to the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando for wrestling training, along with resources across the organization, including brand building, media training, live promotion and, if successful in training, the opportunity to be offered a WWE contract.

The WWE announced its second "Next In Line" class on Monday, Jun. 13th. This year's class brought in 15 student-athletes across 14 different universities. Moore, a linebacker from Hampton University, became the first Historically Black College & University (HBCU) student to sign a Name Image Likeness [NIL] deal with WWE.

During the first couple of conversations with Moore, his maturity and athletic frame was something WWE's recruiters immediately appreciated.

"He was very thoughtful of what he wanted his future to look like and those characteristics showed us that this was a talent that has his head together and would fit well in our locker room," James Kimball, WWE's senior vice president of global talent strategy and development, told ESPN. "His size and stature of course was the first box checked. He has a frame that can hold a presence in a ring and that's valuable."

Moore is entering his senior season with Hampton. As a junior, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker collected 48 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a touchdown and an interception. He earned Big South All-Conference honors.

"Once I graduate, my No. 1 goal is to play in the NFL, and if that does not work, knowing I have that opportunity to train in Florida to be a wrestler is not too bad."

Because of football offseason training, Moore could not attend the first event for WWE NIL signees, but he's still planning on taking advantage of the program's offerings this summer.

"When my school and football schedule allows it, I'll be going to a lot of the live events because I never had the opportunity as a kid," he said. "This summer I want to go to SummerSlam because that's one of the biggest pay-per-views right next to WrestleMania."

SummerSlam takes place on Saturday night at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee (8 p.m. ET on Peacock).

Moore was a huge wrestling fan growing up, watching it weekly on television and playing all the games on PlayStation. But his primary interest in the company these days isn't the high-risk maneuvers or superstars like John Cena and The Undertaker. It's the behind-the-scenes and business side of things.

"My major at Hampton is marketing, and I have my associate's degree in business," Moore said. "I'm all for the public relations and marketing aspect of the company and learning how to market myself because it's all preparing for my next steps in life."

Last July, college athletes began profiting off of their name, image and likeness. HBCUs have seen an increase in attention in the media in recent years, and NIL opened a huge door for their athletes after years of being overlooked.

The first HBCU athlete to sign a NIL deal was Ky'Wuan Dukes, a wide receiver at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte who signed a deal with the Bojangles fast-food chain. In addition, Shedeur Sanders, a quarterback at Jackson State and son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders who is also Jackson State's head coach, signed an NIL deal with Gatorade this past January.

"With me signing with the WWE, it gives HBCU athletes a sense of gratitude knowing one of us can get big opportunities," Moore said. "WWE is a global phenomenon, and it attracts many people from across the world, and they have a huge reputation."

Kimball emphasized that the company is proud they can say they have talent from an HBCU school as the NIL program was put in place to offer a vast opportunity for college athletes beyond the Power 5 schools.

"It's important that our talent is reflective of our fanbase which is very diverse. We have over 30 athletes in the program and over 50% of them are non-white," Kimball said. "With the addition of KeShaun the WWE will continue to recognize and grab talent from HBCU programs."

Even though Moore was excited to play a significant role in HBCU history with the NIL deal, he kept the news quiet for a while.

"I didn't tell my parents straight up at first because I didn't know how legit it was at the time," Moore said. "As stuff began to get more serious, I would tell a few friends here and there, but I kinda had to keep everything on the down-low until everything was finally announced on social media. My phone immediately blew up with congratulations and people asking me what my finishing move will be."

His mother was proud, but not surprised by WWE's interest in her son.

"He has always had a magnetic personality and people are just drawn to him," she said. "I knew from his first year playing flag football at age 5 that he has a real talent and would be able to perform in front of huge crowds one day."

Football is a common starting point for pro wrestlers. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson started off playing defensive lineman for the Miami Hurricanes alongside NFL Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Warren Sapp. Brock Lesnar played for the Minnesota Vikings in 2004 during the preseason, and current WWE undisputed champion Roman Reigns was a first-team All-ACC defensive tackle for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets before trading the cleats in for wrestling boots. Big E played as a defensive lineman at the University of Iowa.

Moore knows that his football skill set will translate perfectly inside the ring. His desired finishing move marries the two together -- a spear.

"I played defensive line, so I'm kinda used to being in the trenches," Moore said. "The stuff that I think I would have to work on the most would be the entertainment aspect of it all and learning how to interact with the crowd. I'm a pretty outgoing and outspoken guy so if I fine tune that and sell my character, I believe I can make the adjustment to the business fast and be one of the best."

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