Think of a nose tackle, and normally the image of a square-shaped, line-clogging big man comes to mind.
At Boise State, the Broncos’ top performer at the position is more vertically rectangular.
Sophomore David Moa is listed at 6-foot-3 and 271 pounds. That’s three inches taller and 35 pounds lighter than his predecessor, Armand Nance. Yet Moa finds a way to get the job done.
“Having (Steve) Caldwell as defensive line coach, the one thing we stress a lot is technique,” Moa said.
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Talk to Caldwell, and Moa is the first name that comes to mind when he reflects on spring practices. When March rolled around, Caldwell said he “was a little bit nervous” after losing every interior lineman who played meaningful snaps except for senior Elliot Hoyte.
Moa is perhaps the player in the group who made the biggest strides, which Caldwell credits to dedication and fundamentals.
“He’s just a technician, had a great spring,” Caldwell said. “We need guys like him because he anchors our defense. I hope he comes out of camp even better, and I’d think we can see him improve each week in the fall, make this a better football team.”
What gives the Broncos optimism is a player who, at times, will line up on the outside of Moa: senior end Sam McCaskill. As a sophomore in 2014, he shifted to tackle after Tyler Horn suffered a season-ending injury in the opener. He started the final 13 games, picking up 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss while weighing 20 pounds lighter than Moa.
In McCaskill, Caldwell said Moa has a kindred spirit in their ability to move the right way, even if not quite fitting the mold.
“I’m not an outsider being an end trying to help a nose (tackle). I know exactly what he needs to do, what it’s supposed to look like,” McCaskill said.
Caldwell said, though Moa will move to a larger role from “cleanup duty” in five games last season (three tackles, one sack), he’ll have help. That could include freshmen Chase Hatada, Sonatane Lui and Emmanuel Fesili, listed at 268, 293 and 308 pounds. Even if he isn’t quite as big as some, he has to make the most of his advantage against the offensive line.
“I can use my quickness against them, but any small mistake I make, they’ll use it to their advantage,” Moa said.
Coach Bryan Harsin hopes Moa can use it as a strength and give the Broncos an entire defense that can get pressure.
“It’s carried over,” Harsin said. “Physical up front and needs to be, still has to continue to be a guy that’s not just a plug guy, but also a guy that’s an attacker that can get off blocks, create havoc in the run game and get after the quarterback.”
With Nance, Robert Ash, Justin Taimatuia and Tutulupeatau Mataele all gone from last season’s team, Moa knew he would have to take on major responsibility, part of what drove his strong showing in the offseason.
“My goal was to make sure that I fit into the position I was at. ... I had to step it up,” Moa said. “Every time we had a practice, I had to make sure I had that mentality to attack, to keep moving forward.”