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Friendship forged in football

Sacramento Mountain Lions arrival brings back memories of semi-pro football careers
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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Dan Luper plans on enjoying some Sacramento Mountain Lions football this fall along with thousands of other fans curious about the new United Football League team. His only wish is that his good friend and former football teammate Scott Moeller was by his side to take in the action. Luper and Moeller both played football at Placer when the Hillmen ruled the foothills – and most of Northern California. They also played semi-professional ball together well after their Placer days, helping set the stage for Sacramento’s modern-day pro team. Moeller died late last month, much to the shock and dismay of Luper and hundreds in the Auburn community who looked up to the former football star. “Anytime there was a chance to play football, he was there,” said Luper, who played with Moeller on the Sacramento Stray Dogs in 1991. “He was a great player. He played linebacker and tight end, but he was a big, strong guy that could play just about anywhere.” After suffering just one defeat in his two-year career at Placer, Luper graduated in 1979 and joined the Air Force. He thought his football career was over. Then while he was stationed in England, he tried out for his base’s football squad, made it and got a chance to put on the pads again, facing other base teams around the country in friendly competition. After returning to Auburn in 1985, Luper again thought his football playing days were done. But he got word from a friend about a tryout for a semi-pro team in Sacramento. He showed up and beat out several dozen other guys for a spot on the Sacramento Heat. Playing their home games at Cosumnes River College or Folsom High School, the Heat were a dedicated bunch that were motivated by their sheer love of the game. “Usually a few hundred people would come out and we would donate all the gate receipts to the local youth football league,” Luper said. At 5-10, 210 pounds, Luper was built like a fullback, but he carved his niche as a speedy guard, who would pave the way for running backs and protect the quarterback. After playing for four years as the lone Placer product with the Sacramento squad, Luper was delighted to welcome Moeller onto the team in ’91. “It was the most fun I had playing on that team, just having him there with me,” Luper said. “A lot of the players were from Sacramento or El Dorado Hills and when they heard we were from Placer, there were some great expectations. Placer football had quite a reputation.” Luper, who now owns and operates Big O Tires in Auburn, put away the shoulder pads for good after five seasons of semi-pro ball. Moeller went on to play two more seasons. Placer freshman football coach Jim Gray was also a part of the Sacramento Heat for one season in the late ‘80s. Moeller’s tragic death came less than six months after his father, Fred Moeller, passed away. Fred was a longtime teacher at Placer and coached junior varsity football and varsity baseball for many years. When the Mountain Lions take the field for in their Sacramento debut Sept. 25 at Hornet Stadium, it will be bittersweet for Luper. “I’m sitting back going, ‘I wish this would have come along 20 years ago,’” Luper said. “Not that we would have made the team, but it would have been fun to have a shot. I had talked to Scott about going down there and he was excited about it. It’s a big loss for me.”