2023 CFL Draft profiles: UBC DE Lake Korte-Moore traded ski racing for pro football career

Photo courtesy: Bob Frid/UBC Athletics

In the lead-up to the 2023 CFL Draft, analysts and scouts are certain to describe several defenders as being able to come downhill fast.

University of British Columbia defensive end Lake Korte-Moore may be the only one for whom that assessment can be taken literally.

Standing at a robust six-foot-four and 258 pounds, few would be able to guess that the Thunderbirds’ bearded menace once rounded through gates instead of around offensive tackles. For much of his childhood growing up in Ottawa, Korte-Moore was an elite-level ski racer — though he competed in a much different weight class.

“I was not this size when I was ski racing, I promise you that. It’s a little different now,” the 23-year-old chuckled during an interview with 3DownNation last month.

“Last year during Christmas, I went home and trained a bit with my former team. I was still good at it, of course, but it just wasn’t the same because my body is way different. I can’t do the things that I was able to do before.”

For a time, it seemed that Korte-Moore’s athletic future lay on the slopes. He participated in competitions across Canada and internationally, ripping up the powder in places like Chile and Austria. However, the gruelling schedule soon placed him at a crossroads.

“I was missing 110 days of school each year just for ski racing and teachers didn’t like that, so obviously my grades weren’t very good,” he recalled. “I realized that in ski racing if I really wanted to take it seriously, I’d have to either change schools completely or not go to school at all to try and grow in the ski industry.”

Korte-Moore wasn’t comfortable making that decision but fortunately, he had other athletic avenues to pursue. In addition to his skiing exploits, he had been playing football from the age of six and had run the gamut of positions, from a scrawny defensive back to a stint as a high school quarterback.

“That’s just because I was probably the only one that could really throw a ball on my team,” he laughed.

Just as his career as a racer was reaching its tipping point, Korte-Moore was gaining attention for his skills as a stand-up rush end. He represented Team Ontario at the Canada Cup and made the national team roster, bringing a new sporting goal into focus.

“Making Team Canada’s is kind of where I was like, damn, this is something serious,” he explained. “I can actually play this and I can make a living out of it in terms of going to school and getting it paid for.”

The decision to switch focus to football has paid off. Korte-Moore is the tenth-ranked prospect on the CFL’s Winter Scouting Bureau list and the highest-rated player coming out of U Sports, already carrying some first-round buzz for this year’s CFL Draft.

In 2022, he posted a career year, racking up 48 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, three batted passes and a forced fumble in ten games. He earned a Canada West all-star selection for his performance, establishing himself as one of the nation’s best defensive ends.

However, Korte-Moore’s collegiate career hasn’t always been in the trenches. When he first arrived on UBC’s Point Grey campus as a freshman in 2018, he quickly discovered that his then 215-pound frame wasn’t strong enough to fend off mature blockers. Too good of an athlete to keep off the field, the Thunderbirds’ coaching staff swiftly moved him to weakside linebacker and he started the rest of the season.

As a wide-eyed first-year playing off the line, Korte-Moore recorded 16 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. The big numbers were posted by the man beside him, All-Canadian linebacker Ben Hladik, who he now considers to be one of his greatest influences.

“Him and I, it’s like a brotherhood. We grew a bond together,” he said. “That first year, I was WILL backer and he taught me everything that I needed to know to be a linebacker, and then the second year I went down to the line and I always knew that he had my back behind me.”

After unexpectedly falling to the third round of the 2021 CFL Draft, Hladlik established himself as the B.C. Lions’ starting middle linebacker last season. His trajectory could be mirrored by his former UBC teammate — another touted prospect who boasts a high floor but who team scouts quietly seem to be cooler on than the media consensus.

Before he would garner any sort of professional attention though, Korte-Moore needed to bulk up. He credits veterans like Connor Griffiths, Sheridan Lawley and Tom Schnitzler — all of whom became CFL Draft picks — for showing him the way and helping add 10 pounds before his second season. That first year as a true defensive end proved to be difficult both on and off the field, leaving him largely unheralded going into his junior campaign.

The cancelling of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic was just the reset he needed to re-shape his body. He moved to Whistler full-time to live with his sister, reconnecting with the slopes while working locally as a carpenter. The physical labour proved fruitful but it was stone, not wood, which helped him emerge from lockdown as a new player.

“We made a gym out of concrete,” Korte-Moore grinned. “We’d pour concrete into buckets and then put holes in them so that we could put them on bars and make our own weights out of them. I was working out outside with concrete weights for most of COVID because the gyms weren’t open.”

The result was 20 pounds of added muscle, a number that has since been built on. A solid 2021 campaign put him on the CFL radar but he still elected to defer his draft year, shining enough at the annual East-West Bowl prospects game to claim the final spot on the league’s first top-20 Scouting Bureau list. After his stellar senior campaign, he rose 10 spots.

“Nowadays I have a lot of different tools that I can use and it’s hard for them to just be like, ‘Oh, that guy’s a bull rusher. Oh, that guy’s just speed.’ Now, I can do both,” Korte-Moore said of his dramatically improved game. “I can go at you with speed and try to get around you, or I can scare you with speed and come back inside with my quickness, or I can long-arm you and put you right back into your quarterback’s lap.”

The latter element has become his trademark, with Korte-Moore’s strength and power jumping out on film. He proved to be uniquely explosive for his frame at the East-West combine a year ago, posting a 33-inch vertical and nine-foot, seven-inch broad jump, and has translated that to the turf by routinely beating blockers when coming straight through their chests.

As much as that development has been a testament to his weight-room work ethic, going against the best in practice has played a crucial part as well. For the last few years, the defender’s daily assignment has been to face left tackle Theo Benedet in practice, the 2022 J.P. Metras Trophy winner as the best lineman in Canadian university football.

“His quickness for his size is impeccable. His ability to use his hands and his aggressiveness is what really sets him apart,” Korte-Moore remarked. “I go against him every single day and I don’t think I’ve ever faced an O-lineman that’s set as quick as he does and stays in front of you as quick as he does.”

The battles have sharpened both their skill sets and Benedet is already garnering NFL attention after playing in the prestigious East-West Shrine Bowl. However, he and guard Giovanni Manu — both of whom ranked above their defensive teammate on the initial CFL prospect rankings — shocked many by deferring their draft year to 2024.

Korte-Moore wasn’t at all surprised by the decision, noting the culture at UBC and how deferring last year helped him grow as a person. He would be fine returning to school with them for his final year of eligibility if asked by a CFL club but feels that the time for him to make the jump is now.

He, too, has gotten the chance to test his mettle against NCAA competition, tossing around a few Division 1 offensive tackles at the recent College Gridiron Showcase in Fort Worth, Texas. Before that, he ripped apart the Division II offensive line of Simon Fraser University as part of an 11-sack performance by the UBC defence in the 34th Shrum Bowl.

Those performances raised his profile and in the aftermath of the victory over the Red Leafs, SFU alumni Farhan Lalji of TSN made waves by dubbing Korte-Moore a first-round pick on Twitter. The comments earned him considerable ribbing from his teammates but he has attempted to shoulder the expectations with humility.

“It was awesome to hear that but I’m obviously not expecting that I’m gonna be going first round. I’m not going around telling people that now because that’s been said,” he insisted.

“Obviously, I want to become a first-rounder, that’s my goal and I’m going to work towards it, but I’m fine with going wherever I go as long as a team gives me a chance and they want me to be there and I’m able to contribute to their success.”

With the CFL National Combine fast approaching next month, Korte-Moore still has much to prove before he can stake a definitive claim to one of the draft’s first nine picks. Some evaluators still question why he wasn’t more dominant early in his college career with his physical skill set, while others note that his usually high motor isn’t always consistent.

“Sometimes I play with my brain instead of my body in a way and I overthink plays and that slows me down,” he admitted. “Those are things I’ve got to work on, especially at the next level where I’ve got to know myself and just start going.”

There will also be a decision to be made about whether his lack of length and limited bend can stick on the edge at the next level or if he should be asked to move inside as a three-technique, adding even more bulk to his powerful frame. Korte-Moore is willing to play either spot, but won’t hide his preference.

“I think I have the ability to play at the CFL level at defensive end and if a team lets me, I’m gonna work my ass off,” he said. “I totally understand if someone is better than me, but I will try and prove that I am worth it, willing to and able to play that position.”

Despite the questions, most agree that Korte-Moore will be a relatively safe selection wherever he goes on draft night. At his best, he might be the next David Menard and become a consistent rotational contributor from a variety of alignments. At worst, he draws comparisons to the likes of Justin Phillips and other big-bodied special teamers who became stalwarts in the league.

For the man that used to race down mountains, it seems the uphill climb of his career is only just beginning.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.