SANTA CLARA Marlon Moore is in for a fight.
The former Natomas High School standout is perhaps the most unheralded of the several wide receivers elbowing for a spot with the 49ers this offseason.
A.J. Jenkins, for example, has the advantage of being a first-round draft pick. Speedy Ricardo Lockette is housemates with Colin Kaepernick, the starting quarterback. Quinton Patton, a fourth-round pick, already has impressed coach Jim Harbaugh with his tenacity. Kassim Osgood is 6-foot-5 and a 10-year veteran.
Moore? At 6 feet and 190 pounds, he's a smallish receiver who wasn't drafted coming out of Fresno State in 2010, caught only 12 passes in three seasons with the Dolphins and signed an unceremonious one-year deal with the 49ers in March.
But fighting is what Moore does best.
He stuck around in Miami not just because of his speed but because he could play the gritty role of gunner on special teams. Moore, 25, who played the position at times at Fresno State, quickly discovered the NFL version is far more brutal when cornerback Vontae Davis, the younger brother of the 49ers' Vernon Davis, threw him to the ground during one of his first practices.
"You might have two guys going against you trying to beat you up until you don't want to run anymore," Moore said. "You have to get away from that, and then you have to go make a tackle. You definitely have to have the mindset for it. Because if you're not ready for it? You're going to fail."
Double teams aren't the biggest obstacles Moore has had to break through in recent years.
In 2008, everything seemed to be looking up at Fresno State. He returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown in a Sept. 27 win over UCLA and was becoming a trusted target for quarterback Tom Brandstater.
Moore's father, Ernie, who had been diagnosed with liver cancer, watched that return on TV. He was a big, strong, active man a former football player himself and everyone figured he'd have plenty more chances to watch his son's games. But two weeks after the UCLA game, he was in the hospital. And then he was gone, at age 54.
"No one expected it," said Marlon's mother, Gail. "His dad was a very healthy man. The day he told me he was dying, I could just not believe it."
The NFL is full of stories about deadbeat dads who weren't around as their sons grew up, but Ernie Moore wasn't one of them.
He was a former U.S. Army infantryman who tried to instill hard work, responsibility and mental discipline in his two sons. He took them fishing on weekends and, until the end, attended all of their games.
Marc Q. Jones coached Marlon's older brother, Leon, in basketball at Natomas.
Jones, who lived in Davis, said when he'd leave in the morning, he'd sometimes see Ernie Moore, who worked for Davis Waste Removal. Moore drove a street sweeper, and Jones said he remembered seeing him washing the vehicle's brushes one morning.
"That was the last time I saw him alive," Jones said. "It was early, and it was cold, and he was out there getting it done. He was just a hard-working man. I had a lot of respect for Mr. Moore."
Marlon took the death particularly hard.
His 2008 season at Fresno State fizzled amid injuries and disappointing performances as Moore lost focus.
Before his senior season, however, he realized that the best way to honor the father he loved and missed was to apply everything he tried to teach him.
"It was a turning point for him, that he could not dwell or feel sorry for himself," Gail Moore said. "Because his dad lived a good life, and he saw that."
Moore wasn't drafted in the spring of 2010, and he was a long shot to make the Dolphins.
But he impressed the coaches by catching nine passes for 106 yards and a touchdown during the preseason and by showing toughness on special teams. Then-Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano called Moore "brave."
The hope in the Moore household is that history repeats itself this summer, closer to home this time. Moore said one of the advantages of being with the 49ers is being able to drive home to Sacramento every weekend.
"I wish my father was here with me," he said. "My dad wanted me to continue working. It was my dream, and it was also his dream. I give a lot of love to my father, and my mother and my brother, for where I'm at now."