June 9, 2008

Moala knows it's on him to shine

Fili Moala's trophy case could be getting a lot more full.

Preseason accolades have already begun to shower down on the Trojans' mountainous senior defensive tackle, earning a spot on Phil Steele's Preseason All-American First Team.

The hype extends to fellow defenders like linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga and safety Taylor Mays.

But with the spotlight comes higher expectations, and Moala hopes to be held to that higher standard.

"I apply it as motivation," he said. "I like having the pressure on me."

The humble fifth-year senior isn't out gathering his press clippings, and he knows the preseason accolades hold little weight.

"Honestly, I wasn't really aware of too much of it. My family members and my coaches mention it," Moala said. "It's flattering to be mentioned as one of the best in the nation. You can only take that so far because it's preseason.

"It doesn't really mean anything."

While the preseason awards don't mean anything, the preseason work Moala and his teammates are putting in could pay off in the biggest ways - with a national championship.

Moala said this is the time to take things to another level.

"I'm here everyday trying to improve all aspects of my game, whether it be pass rushing, run defense, being a better leader or being even more accountable," Moala said. "Being here everyday, it's the time to work on the little things like my hands, my feet and flipping my hips.

"All those little things make a good player great."

Fully recharged after spring practices, Moala said he's glad to be back, punching the clock.

"I had about three weeks off, and it feels good to be out here getting back into it," he said. "It feels like it's been long time off. Spring ball was good, and it's good to be back in the swing of things, working out with the guys."

With the loss of Sedrick Ellis to the NFL, Moala's been paying close attention to the group of guys hoping to slide into the vacant spot on the defensive line.

So far, he likes what he's seen.

"As a fifth-year senior, I'm really proud of our young guys. They're really open to coaching. They take instruction well, and they apply what they learn on the field," Moala said. "It's really pleasing to see as an older guy that you don't have to always be on the younger guys. I know they're willing to get better and willing to help this team win."

That doesn't mean he keeps totally quiet with them, though.

"They're out there busting their butts," he said. "But I still try and get on them to do things like get here early, be accountable and show the coaches that you don't just want this, but you want it for the team."

It's a message the veteran tackle is holding onto even tighter in his final summer on campus.

"Knowing that this is my last go around, I feel like there's a lot of responsibility for me to not only get myself right and in the best shape I can, but to get my guys right," Moala said. "I want to make sure they're mentally prepared and physically ready for a long season. We have to come in every Saturday with the mentality of winning and, more so, dominating."

Knowing his time off is over, embracing the added pressure of expectations and keeping his body and mind right, Moala's ready to get back to work - setting the tone up front for what could be a devastating defense.

"Once you get back into football, it's a job. You have to be here; you have to be accountable for everything you do," he said. "You have to be ready for the coaches to depend on you. Those are all the things as a senior that I'd like to be.

"I want to take this team as far as I can take them."

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