Saturday, March 17, 2012
Nurturing Cal's biggest Bear John Crumpacker, Chronicle Staff Writer Wednesday, August 17, 2011
His is an adventure in finding things that fit and suitable places to sit. When you come into this world weighing 11 pounds, as Moala did March 30, 1993, your course is set; anatomy is destiny, and good luck wedging into a coach seat on a commercial flight.
"I was really short and round," Moala ("V" for short) said before practice at Witter Rugby Field. "I was really heavy but really short. People used to pick on me. They would make fun of me. I used to get upset but my mom said, 'Let them talk and be yourself.' I pretty much laughed at them."
One of his coaches at Grant High School in Sacramento handed Moala the tag of "Tiny," but his nickname really should be "Giggles" for the frequency and ease with which he laughs, a disarming quality for someone so big - at the moment, 360 pounds packed onto a 6-foot-2 frame.
In truth, Moala is a gigantic teddy bear of a young man, someone the Cal coaches believe will develop into a dominating player in the middle of the defensive line. Even at his prodigious weight, he moves surprisingly well off the snap of the ball and has good pursuit.
Watching him move with the rumbling grace of a water buffalo, it's apparent he carries his heft well. This is not some fat, sloppy kid trying to play football.
"I've got a little step in me," he said. "Our identity here is 'no loafing.' On a play, I try to get there before the safeties."
Moala, variously rated as a four- or five-star recruit by scouting services, represents a challenge for the equipment men, an exciting prospect for the strength and nutrition folks and a diamond-in-the-rough project for the defensive coaches on Jeff Tedford's staff.
Before Moala could set foot on the practice field, he had to be properly outfitted, a job that fell to recently hired equipment manager Todd Hewitt. From his 34 years in the same capacity with the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams of the NFL, Hewitt was used to dealing with outsized players.
Even so, Moala tested him, as when the biggest shower sandals Hewitt had would not fit his plank-like feet, requiring a special order from Nike.
Virtually everything Moala wears in the name of football represents the largest available for that particular item, including his extra-extra large helmet (hat size 8 1/2), XXXXL gloves, size-16 extra-extra wide cleats and size-48 football pants, fairly bursting at the seams as they are from thighs more accurately described as tree trunks shorn of bark.
"His thighs are probably like our defensive backs' waists," Hewitt said.
And then there are Moala's mighty, sock-destroying calves.
"He'll have some problems with game socks," Hewitt said. "We'll have to find him a stretched-out pair. With his body type, he's in the top five with his girth, top to bottom. He's a real nice young man. It's going to be hard to move him, I know that."
In the weight room and at the training table, Moala is under the care of strength and conditioning coordinator Mike Blasquez and nutrition coordinator Ted Edwards. The former wants him to be as flexible as he is strong. The latter wants him to adopt a healthy eating plan, with an emphasis on lean meat and lots of vegetables.
"He needs to know what to eat, how to eat and when to eat," Edwards said. "He's very receptive. He has no problem taking direction. 'V' didn't eat many vegetables when he got here. Now he's enjoying it. He's got a great frame. We've got a lot to work with. He's a big body; he needs a lot of fuel."
Once school starts this month, Moala will have to resist the siren call, and smell, of Kingpin Donuts on Durant Avenue. Many a Cal freshman has fallen prey to the campus institution and ended up 20 pounds heavier in the course of a semester.
"Good to know," said Edwards, new to the Cal football program.
Between them, Blasquez and Edwards will determine what Moala's ideal playing weight is. He came to Berkeley in June weighing 374 pounds. Once Edwards got him eating right at the training table, Moala dropped 14 pounds. As he matures and puts in time in the weight room, Moala could drop more weight while gaining strength or he could remain in the 350-360 range, immovable as a floor safe at nose tackle, where he's currently second or third on the depth chart, according to Tedford.
"We wanted to really assess him and what he needs to do to be successful on the field and find his ideal body weight," Blasquez said. "What we found with him is to spend time in those areas that support his natural strength and weight. We backed him off the traditional heavy work. Our focus is to create a foundation where he has great flexibility and core strength."
Moala is strong enough as it is in the traditional upper-body sense as he bench pressed 495 pounds in high school.
"I love being here. Love it," Moala said, staring in wonder at the giant construction crane helping to transform Memorial Stadium into a new facility for the 2012 season. "The family bonding here, especially the defensive-line group, is great. When I took my visit here, they showed so much love, I felt they would further my career here."
When asked what his interests are away from the game, Moala said hanging out with his family: mother Lupe, father Nauela and four brothers and a sister. Both his parents were born in Tonga and emigrated to the United States.
"My ultimate goal is the NFL so I can bring my family a better life," Moala said.
With his size and quickness off the ball, Moala has been compared to nose tackle Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens - a fine exemplar in the trenches.
"I love his game," Moala said. "Same playing type and strength. But I don't want to be compared to him no more. I want to be un-comparable."
In turn, those in charge of his future at Cal hope he develops into an incomparable player.
E-mail John Crumpacker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle