After transitioning from safety to linebacker last fall, the redshirt sophomore used a strong summer showing in the team’s strength and conditioning program to position himself for a breakout campaign this season.
When Laiu Moeakiola
pledged to Arizona State
back in 2012, it seemed as though the Sun Devils had received the boost to their secondary that they sorely needed following the departures of both Eddie Elder
and Clint Floyd
. The three-star prospect and one-time UCLA
commit was rated as the 104th best safety in the nation by Scout.com and held offers from Arizona
, and North Texas
Moeakiola, a native of Euless, TX and a former standout at Trinity High School, immediately burst onto the scene for the Sun Devils as freshman, appearing in the team’s first two games of the season, recording four tackles and an interception against Northern Arizona before an injury forced him to redshirt the remainder of the year.
Last season, Moeakiola appeared in 10 games, which included starting the first four games at field safety while Damarious Randall
recovered from a hamstring injury. With Randall and Alden Darby
firmly entrenched at the two safety positions, Head Coach Todd Graham looked for other ways to get the hard hitting Moeakiola on the field, eventually settling on the SPUR linebacker position.
“When the transition happened, it made me learn more positions on the defense; what this position is doing, what that position is doing,” said Moeakiola. “It’s given me a better feel, overall, for the defense. It also keeps me in the playbook, so I’m not taken off. I’m just getting mentally focused, but it’s been good.”
Moeakiola, who says he’d never played linebacker prior to last season, made his first career start at SPUR in Arizona State’s dramatic come-from-behind road victory over Utah
, totaling three tackles in the win.
“Back there, you’re more of a pass-first guy but at SPUR, you’re run-first and you’ve got to get involved with the run,” he said on the challenges of playing at SPUR. “Some coverages allow you to be late to the run, but I’ve just had to change my mindset from safety to linebacker. Now I’m down there in the box and have to make sure that no team runs into the heart of our defense. That’s our Cardinal Rule at linebacker, so I’m just trying to avoid that and not make any mental errors.”
Aiding Moeakiola in his transition from safety to SPUR linebacker in 2014 has been Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers Coach Keith Patterson, a long-time colleague of Graham’s who joined to the Sun Devil coaching staff in February.
“I love Coach Patterson,” said Moeakiola. “He’s a great coach but man, he’s a good mentor. Not everything is about football with him. He’s just trying to get us a better as a person, as a college student and eventually becoming a man. Our relationship is growing as a linebacker unit and once we find that brotherhood with one another, the bond is going to grow stronger.”
“I just try to do my best and learn from Coach P, you know, like what’s the right fundamental and technique to do and just try to perfect that in practice.”
Moeakiola’s move to SPUR provides the Sun Devils with a second solution at linebacker, joining forces with redshirt sophomore Salamo Fiso
as Graham and Patterson look to solve some of the other holes along the defense throughout Fall Camp. Fiso earned Freshman All-American honors in 2013 for his play at the SAM position, where he totaled 71 tackles which ranks tops on the team for returning players along with Randall.
Moeakiola’s 21 tackles from a year ago ranks fourth on the team behind just Lloyd Carrington
(25) and the aforementioned Fiso and Randall.
In an effort to prepare himself physically for the upcoming season, the 6-0, 211 pound Moeakiola attacked the Arizona State summer strength and conditioning program with a chip on his shoulder, dominating a number of categories as the top performer on the Sun Devil defense.
Moeakiola recorded a 37 inch vertical jump, second to only Jaelen Strong
on the team, a 345 pound power clean, and a 519 pound power squat, easily making him one of the Iron Devil summer standouts.
“I’m just thankful and blessed that the Lord gave me the strength every day to go out there and just lift,” he said. “Coach Griswold and them do a great job of just teaching us the right fundamentals and technique to perform and getting the Muscle Milk right and providing all the supplements we need.
“I’m just trying to compete like I’m trying to give glory to God. That’s my goal every day. If I fail, I’ll try again next time. But that’s my goal every day, to just try and lift and play for my savior.”
Given his play down the stretch last season and continued effort over the summer, it’s no surprise to see Moeakiola running with the first team defense through the first couple practices of the fall. Saddled next to Fiso in the second line of the Sun Devil defense, the two are looking to set an example for their teammates to follow as they look to build on last season’s success and position the Sun Devils for another run at the Pac-12 South championship in 2014.
“We’re just trying to set the standard even higher than it was last year,” he said. “We came one game short, so this year we’re trying to leave no doubt in every rep, every set that we do and make sure that the young guys are following our lead. Our goal is a national championship, so whatever I have to do for us to get there, I’m going to do it. Whether it’s leading the other guys in the linebacker unit to even kids on the offense and showing them what’s right, like taking off their hat when going into the building.
“It’s the little things that amount to the big things when we get to the game, so when we play Stanford
in the Pac-12 championship in San Francisco, these things are going to count. Fourth and one, like Coach Graham says, it’s going to be that one guy who wore his hat in the building. We’ve got to sacrifice the little things.”
While Arizona State returns just two starters on defense from last year’s team, Sun Devil fans take solace in the fact that the 2014 version is not bereft of talent nor experience. Laiu Moeakiola is just one of the Sun Devil defensive standouts who hope to lead the charge this fall and prove doubters in the desert wrong about this year’s ASU defense.