SAN ANTONIO--In the weeks leading up to the US Army All-American Bowl, four-star nose tackle Viliami Moala scheduled official visits to both Oregon State and Cal. Before the Beavers squared off with Oregon, Moala and his three Sacramento (Calif.) Grant teammates said they'd visit the Ducks-a trip that never came to fruition. But for all that talk, Moala knew all along where he'd be committing: to Tosh Lupoi and the Golden Bears.
"If anything happens to me, God forbid I get hurt, I know that, for sure, I can get my education there," Moala said. "They always speak about education before they even speak about athletics. They see me as a student before an athlete. They see me as a person before an item as a player, and that really stands out for me."
Moala was supposed to have made his official visit to Berkeley on Dec. 10, but after the visit weekend wrapped up, BearTerritory got in touch with the big man, and he said that he wasn't able to make it out. Instead, he said, the next time he was going to visit Cal would be in February, coincidentally, sometime near National Signing Day.
Today, the 6-foot-1, 324-pounder they call "Tiny" finally made it official. Midway through the fourth quarter, in the southwest corner of the dome, in front of national television cameras, Moala picked a blue and gold chapeau off the table and placed it squarely on his melon.
"I'm going to do this for my mom, so I can stay for the home cooked meals," said the wide-bodied defensive tackle.
Moala's commitment wouldn't have happened without the stewardship of Lupoi, the 2010 Rivals.com Recruiter of the Year and the Bears' defensive line coach.
"Definitely it's the closeness, being close to home and knowing Coach Lupoi as well as my cousin-Nu'u Tafisi-does, and he speaks so highly of (Lupoi) all the time," Moala said. "He's a great guy. I hung out with him a little bit during the (Oregon) game, and the intensity he brings to the field is great."
Tafisi played defensive end for the Bears from 2005 to 2006, right alongside Lupoi, and has been on the strength and conditioning staff for a year.
Moala and Lupoi shared a moment after the Herculean defensive effort that Cal turned in against the then-No. 1 Ducks on Nov. 13 in a 15-13 loss, with Moala wrapping his massive arms around Lupoi in the north tunnel of California Memorial Stadium.
"I was thinking, 'They should have won!'" Moala said. "That whole time, if Oregon didn't manage the clock as well as they did in the fourth quarter, I don't think Oregon would stand a chance. I just wanted to give him a hug and say, 'Good job!'"
Even the association of Lupoi's name with the accusations of faked injuries in that game didn't deter Moala.
"Even though I knew they weren't hurt, I knew what they were doing, every time they were falling and catching a cramp," Moala said. "They had to stop the momentum, and I would have done the same thing if I was a coach. If it's not in the rules, there's nothing against it."
In finally pulling the trigger, Moala joins one of the most powerful defensive line classes in the country, with fellow four-stars Todd Barr and Mustafa Jalil. With fellow West All-American Jason Gibson slated to move from defensive end to outside linebacker, the rest of the future Cal defense is just as strong, headlined by Gibson and No. 24 for the East All-American squad: four-star strong safety Avery Walls.
The day before the game, on Jan. 7, both Moala and Walls were named to the first-ever US Under-19 National Football Team, which will play The World squad in a National Signing Day contest, sanctioned by the International Federation of American Football. A national team exemption granted by the NCAA allows high school seniors to play for USA Football and not have their participation count as one of their two permitted all-star game appearances.
Moala's commitment lifts the Bears solidly into the nation's top 15 recruiting classes, with an average star rating of 3.62 (third-highest in the nation), and marks the fourth Cal commit donning the black and gold for the annual showcase in San Antonio, next to Walls (East), Gibson (West) and offensive lineman Jordan Rigsbee (West).
Moala was initially tentative about his decision early in the week, expressing concern that his primary recruiter-Lupoi-could depart for Texas. But, the man who would have tried to bring him in-Justin Wilcox-turned down the Longhorns' offer to become their defensive coordinator, which means that Lupoi is staying put.
"I think I'm going to pick Cal for the hat pick, but showing officially that I want to go there is pretty shaky right now, because there's rumors about Coach Lupoi leaving," a worried Moala said on Sunday. But, when told the result of all those coaching carrousel rumblings, Tiny changed his tune. "Well then, oh, man, I guess Cal's the place for me!"
Moala and his two Grant teammates Puka Lopa and Darryl Paulo are however still making an official visit to Oregon State on Jan. 14, and if both choose to commit to the Beavers-neither Lopa nor Paulo have offers from Cal-Moala said that he may have to change his pledge, as would James Sample, who committed to Washington during the game. In fact, even after his commitment, Moala will still make official visits to both Eugene and Corvallis.
"If that happens, then I'm Oregon State," Moala said on Sunday. "If they both choose to go to Oregon State, then I'm going to Oregon State, even if Cal's coaching remains the same. James is shaky on his decision, too, so if all three go to Oregon State on Signing Day, he's coming too."
The Grant contingent will be making their official visits to Corvallis next weekend.
"Since we played Pop Warner together, played high school, junior high together, might as well play college together, and hopefully in the pros, too," Moala said on Sunday. "But, I'm going to commit on Saturday."
And, true to his word, six days later, Moala wedged his noggin into a blue and gold cap, pledging his services-at least for now-to the Bears.