Paul Moala

Penn's Paul Moala celebrates during the Penn at Carmel 6A semistate football game Friday, Nov. 18, 2016. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)

• S Paul Moala, 5-11, 196; Mishawaka (Ind.) Penn.

The numbers: In his senior season at Penn, Moala totaled 67 tackles, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and one interception. He also blocked two kicks, scored touchdowns on five punt and kickoff returns and caught two touchdowns passes. The Kingsmen (13-2) ended their season with a loss in the IHSAA Class 6A state championship.

The rankings: 247Sports – Three stars, No. 40 safety. Rivals – Two stars.

FILM BREAKDOWN

Midseason highlights (A)

Mostly postseason highlights (B)

First impression: Moala is a ball-hawk safety with a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He makes plays with the ball in his hands and isn’t afraid to make a big hit. Moala could be a safety or rover at Notre Dame and will almost certainly find a role on special teams.

Strengths: Moala has great spatial awareness and field vision. That allows him to make plays in coverage and turn his touches into touchdowns. In addition to his five return touchdowns as a senior, Moala returned interceptions, punts and kickoffs for touchdowns seven times the previous season. Moala has good speed which allows him to break on the ball and close the gap between himself and the ball carrier quickly. Moala doesn’t have great height, but he appears to have longer arms which allows for him to wrap up well on tackles and helps when batting away passes.

Proof of prowess: (A1:16) Moala shows his return skills by making three players on the punt team miss. He sidesteps one to make his first cut up the field and find his wall of blockers, skips past a diving tackle attempt and shakes the punter to reach the end zone … (A1:34) Moala turns a trick play into an interception for the opposing offense. He may have been fooled at the start, but Moala uses his speed to recover and get in position to make a play on an underthrown pass. Moala adjusts to the ball in the air to make a nice catch … (B:25) Moala makes up a lot of ground to tackle the ball carrier for a short gain. Reading the play from 15 yards deep as the safety, Moala quickly accelerates when he recognizes the jet sweep and takes down the wide receiver at his legs.

Competition level: Moala didn’t play against many players of his caliber as a senior. Penn plays in a pretty weak conference locally, but the Kingsmen traditionally schedule tough teams to start the season. Penn’s only loss of the regular season came to Valparaiso, the No. 23 team in Indiana according to MaxPreps, in the first game of the year. The Kingsmen beat them in a rematch in the playoffs.

Penn also matched up against two teams from the Detroit area — Brother Rice and St. Mary’s Prep — that regularly produce college football players for the MAC and Big Ten. The Kingsmen beat No. 8 Carmel in the state semifinals, but were no match for No. 1 Ben Davis, which finished No. 11 nationally. The Ben Davis offense featuring quarterback Reese Taylor (Indiana signee) and running back Johnny Adams (California) put up 63 points against Moala and the Penn defense.

Left to prove: On film, Moala hasn’t been tested much in deep coverage. How will his skills translate when asked to cover wide receivers deep with a quarterback who can deliver a ball where it needs to be? That’s the biggest question for Moala, who clearly has speed moving forward. But will he be as proficient when forced to retreat? If he has that ability, Moala can be a successful safety. If not, he’ll likely end up at rover and be limited to playing special teams early in his career.

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

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