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Friday, November 30, 2012

Everything clicking for Rancho Verde’s Moala

MORENO VALLEY — Football fans don’t usually pay attention to what offensive linemen are doing — unless, that is, they’re doing what Poasi Moala is doing.
It’s hard not to notice Moreno Valley Rancho Verde’s Moala when he’s making a show of manhandling the young men across from him, driving his opponents wherever he wants to take them, clearing the way to a third consecutive CIF Central Division championship game.
“And,” Mustangs line coach Andre Smith said, “you can’t miss the hair.”
At 6 feet, 5 inches and 265 pounds, the long-locked, ukulele-playing Moasi looks perfectly cast as a UCLA-bound standout offensive tackle.
But that doesn’t mean he always was worth watching, as he will be when the Mustangs host Fontana Kaiser in the division championship at 7 p.m. today.
When he was a 10th-grader, he looked like Tarzan and played like Jane, Smith said. “It’s really good to see him get highly recruited, but he wasn’t always that.”
“I think he was afraid to hurt people,” linebackers coach Ahmad Noor said. “We used to tell him, ‘It’s OK to go hard.’”
That might be true, but older brother Simote Moala, a defensive lineman at Rancho Verde from 2005 to 2009, said it made sense that his not-so-little brother had to develop the edge now on display when he’s carving up the right edge of the field.
“Keep in mind, we never played Pop Warner or anything,” said Simote, who played at South Dakota State. “Football was new to us. We had no experience growing up other than playing catch on the street.”
It wasn’t as though Poasi Moala, who speaks so softly his coaches say they’re surprised when they hear something from him, ever disobeyed his coaches’ instructions or put forth a poor attitude. It was just that he didn’t really figure out football until midway through his junior season — Rancho Verde’s first championship season.
“I can’t remember what game it was, but it just kind of snapped and he just started getting really consistent and really, really physical,” Mustangs head coach Pete Duffy said. “He’s always been a good kid. It was just a matter of that last element to go along with (his size) and all that ability. That’s what we were looking for.”
Moala felt the shift, seismic as it was, as much as his coached did.
“It just happened, just my effort got better,” Moala said. “Because, as a sophomore, I was just kind of there to be there, to be honest.”
Why the epiphany on effort?
Maturity, perhaps? Or maybe, as coach Smith ventured, it was his having seen where he stood among other potential prospects at some of the camps he attended?
Actually, Moala said, it was Smith.
“What really clicked for me was coach Smith,” Moala said. “He kept talking to me, ever since my sophomore year, he just kept ripping me about everything. And then it just clicked midseason my junior year — and it all came out.”
And so did the college suitors, who certainly noticed Moala’s efforts in class matched those on the field.
Moala received offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Oregon State, San Diego State, UTEP, Washington, Washington State and UCLA.
He initially committed to the Huskies, but he changed his mind soon thereafter, choosing to stay close to home and attend UCLA, where he plans to study sociology with the intent of becoming a probation officer.
The hard-to-please Smith said he thinks Moala can succeed at the next level if he puts in sufficient time in the weight room.
“But no matter how much ripping he takes from the coaches, he’s not gonna be a guy who complains or needs to be babied,” Smith said. “He’s one of the guys I always use as an example when I’m blasting other guys. Like, ‘This guy comes every day, he shows up every day, he never complains.’
“So I know he’s just gonna go.”
That’s why he’s one to watch — now that he’s gone and figured it out.

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