Raise your hand if you didn’t know Paul Moala was a person till last weekend. (Hand raised.)
The cool thing about following recruiting year round is the names that pop out of nowhere. A lot of people don’t like following recruiting any time of year and certainly not in early June. I understand it, we hear hundreds of names while only 20 or so actually sign with the Irish. That makes sense to me.
I go the other way. It’s cool to learn about different athletes in different states doing their thing and getting recognized for it nationally. Let’s take the subject of this post for example, Paul Moala. He was a guy I didn’t know, yet was awesome for his high school team, showed out at a Notre Dame camp, and now I’m writing words about him. What’s boring about that?
Now that Paul Moala, a three star safety from Penn High School in Mishawaka, Indiana, has earned a scholarship offer from the University of Notre Dame to play football, I figured it’s a good time to get to know the young man’s game and find out what excited the Notre Dame staff so much about his abilities. Let’s dive in.
Moala is listed at 6’0, 202 pounds by Hudl, with a 4.74 40 time, which I believe occurred at a Nike camp with electronic timing, although I couldn’t say when that time was recorded. It was reported widely that during Irish Invasion, Moala posted a 4.47 40 and it was actually that time that sealed the decision in the minds of the coaches to offer him a scholarship. It should be noted the 40’s were hand timed and run on the field in Notre Dame stadium, and just from watching his film he looks like a 4.5-4.6 guy, although players get faster as they age (see: Fuller, Will).
I wouldn’t describe Moala as big, if I had to guess I’d say he’d end up with a body type and frame similar to that of Tom Zbikowski. He definitely has some definition in his upper body, but he can fill out a little more there and every player can work on the lower body at some point. The idea of him playing around 220 pounds and keeping his fluidity is easy to imagine.
Probably the most exciting part of Moala’s game, he seems to have that knack for getting to the football from his free safety spot, which is what you want to see out of any young player. It’s hard to teach instincts, and Moala has them.
When watching his film you’ll see Moala bait the quarterback quite a few times into throwing him an interception. More than anything this shows his supreme confidence in his ability, plus excellent timing to break on the passes and pick them off. In fact, Moala recorded seven interceptions in 2016, returning four of those for touchdowns. I worry some about players who rely a little too much on baiting quarterbacks and relying on their athletic ability to make players, however. That leads to problems in college, when the athletic gap disappears and the quality of quarterback elevates. And again, I love his confidence, but it leads to questions of whether or not Moala has the skill to make those plays when he can’t manipulate a lesser quarterback.
I’m a dedicated blogger for the people so I went on YouTube and watched a full game of Penn High School vs. Carmel from last November. Because, highlights are highlights but, lets get a full game on and see what’s what.
First thing that stands out is Moala blocked four kicks, two punts and two extra points, which led to all 10 of their points. One of the blocked punts was returned for a touchdown. Blocking kicks is not an easy thing to do, even given someones athletic ability, and some guys just have a knack for it. Moala appears to be one of those guys.
The second thing is he showed a sense for the game on a play that a number of young players, especially one who is accustomed to making plays, would have been exposed on.
Early in the second quarter, Carmel ran a wide receiver screen similar to that of Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija in 2005, that I thought Moala was late reacting to and then took a poor angle to track the ball carrier. He was covering the slot, who ran wide at the snap and received the screen. Moala takes a couple steps toward the sideline, then goes. He ultimately makes the tackle for a six yard gain.
Given a second look, Moala was slow playing the screen and looked to the outside receiver to ensure he didn’t fake his block and streak up the sideline. I wrote down “good discipline on the bubble screen.” This is an action Carmel ran dozens of times, either during runs or on throws to the slot receiver. And you just know what’s going to eventually happen.
So of course, in the middle of the 3rd quarter and Carmel driving to take a two score lead, they tried to get the pay off for their efforts, and Moala wasn’t having it. Showing the same formation and same action, Carmel pumps the screen and looks for the go route outside, and Moala jumps it. The quarterback sees he’s got nothing, tries to tuck and run and then gets hammered.
Final Thoughts on Paul Moala
Moala shows the skills you want in a safety without the physical tools of a higher rated player. He doesn’t have killer size and he doesn’t have blazing speed. What we’ve seen many times is it’s better to identify the talent and build the physical traits than to try and take those physical traits and mold it into a football player, especially at a position as nuanced as safety.
Moala knows how to play the game, can he hold up physically? Is he fast enough to play on the hash in coverage? I suspect the coaches had questions about that when he showed up at Irish Invasion and he answered them with his 40 time. Should he commit this is a player everyone should be excited about.