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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 13 Paul Moala, senior linebacker coming off an Achilles injury

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 16 Navy at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 16: Notre Dame Fighting Irish linebacker Paul Moala (13) celebrates with Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive back TaRiq Bracy (28) after scoring a touchdown in game action during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Navy Midshipmen on November 16, 2019 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 5-foot-11 ½, 224 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: A senior, Moala has two seasons of eligibility remaining but less thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver and more traditionally due to tearing his Achilles in the third game of the 2020 season, rending that waiver seemingly unnecessary for the Mishawaka native.
Depth Chart: If healthy, Moala may start for Notre Dame at Rover, and at worst back up junior Jack Kiser. The if healthy condition of Moala’s 2021 will be a theme until seen otherwise.Recruiting: Moala showed up at an on-campus camp — in his case, basically a camp at home, given Mishawaka neighbors South Bend — a little-known prospect, but he then ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash in front of the Irish coaches and quickly garnered a scholarship offer. Moala opted to stay close to home rather than head to Iowa, Nebraska or Vanderbilt.

When it comes down to it, they are college athletes. This does not need to be complicated. There are best-case sponsorships.

Moala appeared in seven games of special teams duties as a freshman, though he did not record a statistic beyond a sole tackle. But then as a sophomore, appearing as the backup Rover gave Moala opportunities to shine, most notably when he caught a pitch in the air against Navy’s triple-option and ran it in for a touchdown.

That moment of glory showed instincts worthy of more playing time, which Moala looked to be poised for in 2020 until he suffered one of the most concerning injuries for an athlete relying on impact and acceleration.

2018: 7 games; 1 tackle.2019: 12 games; 14 tackles with one for loss and one fumble forced, recovered and returned for a touchdown.2020: 3 games; 7 tackles.

After tearing his Achilles against Florida State, Moala had surgery two days later. Typically, one would assume at least a year’s recovery from a torn Achilles. Given that clock started ticking in mid-October, the idea of Moala even coming near the practice field in the spring seemed outlandish.

RELATED READING: Notre Dame defensive flux continues with LB Paul Moala out for the year

Yet by the end of March, Irish head coach Brian Kelly thought Moala might get in some light work before the second semester ended.

“He’s got a chance to help us here in the spring,” Kelly said. “Help us or help himself, I guess, more than anything else. There is a chance he could be in 7-on-7 and doing some things here in the latter half of spring ball.”

Though Moala never showed up in any footage released by Notre Dame, Kelly’s optimism carried into the summer.

“Surprisingly, really, probably ahead of where we thought he would be,” Kelly said in early June at a charity golf tournament. “I don’t know exactly what (trainer) Rob Hunt has in mind for him in his running progression because he’s so far ahead of where we thought he would be. I’d have to reserve knowing exactly what he’s got. He’s gonna be moving around, though.”

Whether Moala is set for full-contact by early August or not, he is clearly partaking in summer conditioning drills, a welcome sign given the explosive concerns following an Achilles injury.

Two challenges stand between Moala and consistent playing time this year. One of them is the obvious unknown of his health. An Achilles injury is not something to take lightly or to rush back from. If Moala is not absolutely 100 percent, playing will elevate his chances of re-injury, and that tendon is not one to risk in any regard.

Then again, sometimes high-caliber athletes establish new precedents that render all previous concerns arguably unfounded.

The other challenge is Kiser. He forced his way into playing time in 2020, despite Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah’s dominance. Kiser has the pole position in the competition to start at Rover, and if he proves adept in all facets of the game when handed a full workload, then the Irish will have added reason to be cautious with Moala.

Given the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, Moala could play in no more than four games in 2021 and still have two years of eligibility remaining afterward, but that would be a decision needing to be made in conjunction with the program.

DOWN THE ROADStalling for a season would have its own complicating factor, one by the name of Prince Kollie. As impressive as Moala has been in his moments, Notre Dame has high expectations for the incoming freshman, not to mention consensus four-star pledge Jaylen Sneed.

The defensive coordinator may have changed, but the Irish still intend for a Rover to be a key part of the scheme; it is simply too modern of a wrinkle to abandon, be it in the form of a strong nickel back or a quick linebacker.

A high school safety, Moala fits that hybrid, but he may not fit it better than Kollie will after just a few months of development.

Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 91 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, freshman receiver, four-star prospect out of Georgia
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 55 Kahanu Kia, freshman linebacker, Hawaiian, LDS member
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 47 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 32 Prince Kollie, freshman linebacker, Butkus Award winner
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
No. 29 Khari Gee, freshman safety, former LSU commit
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, senior cornerback, possible nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, junior linebacker
No. 26 Clarence Lewis, sophomore cornerback, second-year starter
No. 25 Philip Riley, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, speedy sophomore running back
No. 24 Jack Kiser, junior linebacker, onetime pandemic hero
No. 24 Audric Estime, freshman running back, former Michigan State commit, four-star
No. 23 Litchfield Ajavon, junior safety
No. 23 Kyren Williams, junior running back
No. 22 Logan Diggs, incoming freshman running back
No. 21 Lorenzo Styles, early-enrolled freshman receiver
No. 21 Caleb Offord, sophomore cornerback
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, senior running back, coming off an offseason with a smirch
No. 20 Justin Walters, early-enrolled freshman safety and likely early special teams contributor
No. 20 JoJo Johnson, freshman cornerback, former Cincinnati commit
No. 19 Jay Bramblett, junior punter
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, senior defensive end
No. 18 Joe Wilkins Jr., senior receiver, team favorite
No. 18 Nana Osafo-Mensah, junior defensive end, coming back from a knee injury
No. 18 Chance Tucker, freshman cornerback
No. 17 Jack Coan, graduate quarterback, Wisconsin transfer
No. 17 Jordan Botelho, sophomore defensive end, full-speed at all times
No. 16 Deion Colzie, incoming freshman receiver with both speed and leaping height
No. 16 KJ Wallace, junior safety, possible starting nickel back
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 14 Kyle Hamilton, junior safety, preseason All-American, top 2022 draft prospect

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