It’s hard to imagine someone as big as Utah defensive tackle Viane Moala flying under the radar. The 6-foot-6, 323-pound senior from America Samoa did just that. He played two seasons at Hawaii before opting to play for the Utes.
Now, after sitting out a season because of NCAA transfer rules and then playing behind NFL draft picks Leki Fotu and John Pensini, Moala is projected to be one of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12 this season.
“When he has really got the switch flipped he’s almost impossible to block,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who noted that it’s rare that a guy of such talent kind of flies under the radar in the internet era and the accessibility of film.
“But every once in a while there’s a guy that does get looked over, or missed, for whatever reason,” he added.
Moala played in all 14 games last season, making 14 tackles with 1.5 sacks. In 24 games at Hawaii, he tallied 50 stops and 6.5 tackles for loss.
On a defense looking to replace nine starters, Whittingham made it clear that one spot has already been claimed by Moala.
“He’s going to be a starter,” Whittingham said. “I can tell you that right now.”
Moala joins linebacker Devin Lloyd and defensive end Mika Tafua, both returning starters, as defensive leaders. Whittingham said the other eight starting positions will be determined by those who make plays and does things the way the Utes need them done.
Senior Maxs Tupai, an experienced defensive end, is in the mix, but there are guys pushing him.
“There’s a lot of starting jobs, particularly on defense, that have not yet been determined — that will need to be determined by a week from tomorrow,” Whittingham said.
Utah has scrimmages scheduled for the next two Saturdays. The Utes open the season Nov. 7 at home against Arizona.