Former Gamecocks Langston Moore and Preston Thorne were best known for reading offensive linemen and clogging up the middle for the South Carolina defense. The duo is now focused on a different kind of reading; childhood literacy. Moore and Thorne teamed up with fellow South Carolina alumnus and award-winning designer/freelance illustrator Kev Roche to hatch the Gamecock-themed children’s book #JustaChicken.
“It’s based on an old parable that I had heard over and over, and we adapted it to the Gamecock culture,” Thorne said. “We put the message on the back of the book – ‘This is the story of you; the story of me; the story of USC.’ Everybody has different things they go through when they’re coming of age. Whether it’s your job or your family or just daily life. Everyone has a journey they have to take in order to become their best.”
The two authors drew on some of their personal experiences to create the story and the message.
“To me the story is somewhat synonymous with our experience in the football program,” Moore said. “We had those seasons where we were a combined 1 and 21, but then it changed. I remember sitting in the locker room thinking ‘what do those other teams have that we don’t have?’ We were searching for something and then we found a way to do it within our own quirky way of doing things, and the program got better. It’s been a lot more fun than doing some of the other traditional ideas for a book we thought about doing first.”
“I was considered an undersized defensive lineman when I played here,” Thorne said. “I didn’t really know I was undersized until people started telling me. So I started to question myself. I decided I just needed to get out there and go for it and measure myself then. Sometimes we get paralyzed by doubt and fear.”
It’s actually not a surprise that the two would create such a venture, as both are committed to helping children in their current professional life.
Thorne, a former co-captain who graduated in 2004, served for one year with AmeriCorps after graduation before spending the last nine years as a teacher and coach at Blythewood High School in South Carolina. Moore, who graduated in 2002 and spent seven years in the NFL, is currently the sideline reporter for Gamecock football radio broadcasts and co-creator of EAT2WIN, a series of camps devoted to eliminating childhood obesity by exposing young people to healthy eating habits and physical fitness. Additionally, both Moore and Thorne’s parents were teachers, and they understand the importance of getting young children to read often.
“We would love for all of the kids in South Carolina to read the book and identify with it,” Thorne said. “We want parents to read with kids and increase literacy. We want moms and dads reading with their kids. We want more time for kids with books in their hands instead of ‘screen’ time.”
“Education is important to us,” Moore said. “We talk a lot about that in camps. If we can use our popularity as football players to talk about education, we’re all for it.”
The duo worked together in writing #JustaChicken, and it was a long process from the time they first had the idea until the project was finally done two and a half years later.
“We learned the value of deadlines,” Moore said. “We kept picking at it. Our illustrator really made it pop. In the book, the Cocky character goes back to the coop for some refuge from all the things going on his head, and I think back to when I lost my father when I was here at school. I relied on people like Preston, who had gone through that earlier in his life. Fast forward, a lot of those people were still supporting me when I was in the NFL. We pay homage in the book to a lot of our teammates, because all we really had when we were losing was each other. Ultimately it’s about accountability to our teammates.”
“We also wanted to pay homage to the university,” Thorne said. “People see that we’re more than just football players, and we can be successful in a lot of different areas. So we went to school and now we’re contributing in a positive way in the community.”
Moore and Thorne discovered Roche through social media and admired his work, and when they found out he was a Gamecock from Irmo, S.C., they knew he was the one they needed to illustrate their story.
“We recruited him like a five-star athlete and got him on board,” Thorne said.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Moore said. “He was here when we were in school, but we didn’t know each other then. I had seen a lot of his work before, but I didn’t know who it was that did it. There are so many little things he did in the book. You can tell he put so much thought into it and there are a lot of things that Carolina fans would pick up on.”
If we can use our popularity as football players to talk about education, we’re all for it.
Roche, a December 2005 graduate, is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer who is currently working with ESPN for baseball-related broadcasts. He jumped at the chance to work on a children’s book involving the Gamecocks.
“Doing a children’s book was always something that I wanted to,” Roche said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity. I thought it was a good idea for kids with a good message about how everyone can play an important role. I think it’s a good story.”
While the book is being marketed through the Mascot Books publishing web site and can be found on Amazon.com, Thorne and Moore are also interested in a lot of grassroots marketing.
“We are going to be around at South Carolina games and events, and we’ll have books on hand,” Thorne said. “In addition to the Mascot Books web site, we are also developing our own web site where the books can be ordered as well. We’ll also have them available at the campus bookstores here.”
“We’ll be doing some different game day book signings coming up during football season,” Moore added. “We’re coordinating some other events and talking with My Carolina Alumni Association and the Gamecock Club to find other areas we can reach people about it. Interacting with people one on one about the book has been really amazing. It’s been cool to share memories and make a connection that way too.”
Whether they sell a few hundred copies or enough to make The New York Times best-seller list, Moore and Thorne are excited to have completed the project. While this book has characters representing most of the Southeastern Conference mascots, there’s still room for a sequel.
“Nothing Clemson in here,” Moore said. “We’d have to create another book for that.”
“We definitely have a couple of ideas of where we could take the story,” Thorne added. “This is a vehicle where we can relate the stories we’ve been told in the past, but in a way kids can better understand.”
Other ideas in the works include an educational curriculum based on the story that they’d like to pitch to local schools based on South Carolina educational standards.