Colts Defensive Tackle Fili Moala Only Worried About What's Next
INDIANAPOLIS – Fili Moala's all about the future.
That's why the Colts' second-year defensive tackle said he did what he did this past Sunday immediately after the biggest moment of his NFL career to date.
Moala, a second-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the third quarter of the Colts' victory over the New York Giants. He high-stepped briefly in celebration, then threw the football to an official.
And that, Moala said, was that. He didn't try to retrieve the ball.
He didn't want it as a souvenir.
"It's in the past now," Moala said this week as the Colts (1-1) prepared to play the Denver Broncos (1-1) at INVESCO Field at Mile High in Denver Sunday at 4:15. "It was great for me individually, but it's in the past now. . . .
"I knew what I was doing – I was like, 'Man, take that football. I don't need that.''
What he wants, Moala said, is to keep improving – something those around the Colts said this week he has done in recent months, and something that has helped make him one of the team's early-season success stories.
"He's coming along," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said of Moala this week. "He's making really good progress."
Those are words Moala said he waited a long time to hear – too long, in his opinion.
Moala, after being drafted by the Colts, said his rookie season was a difficult one. He has talked candidly in recent months of his dissatisfaction with the rookie season, his desire to improve. He played sparingly last season, and was active in 10 games, starting one.
The start came against Buffalo in the regular-season finale, a game the Colts entered having secured their playoff positioning. Moala finished the season with 17 tackles.
Moala said the season was a long one, that the move from the University of Southern California to the NFL was tougher than he expected.
But he said at the same time, deep down, he always believed he could play in the NFL.
"I never once doubted myself," Moala said. "There might have been a couple of times I kind of questioned, 'Man, do I belong?' But never was I kind of down on myself. It was always disappointment and I thought I could do better, but never once did I ever think I didn't belong.
"You kind of get a feel for what everyone's thinking, that I was a waste or whatever it may have been. I never once thought that. Those are outside people looking in."
Inside the team – from teammates, to coaches, to front office – Moala said supremained strong throughout the season.
"Everyone was so helpful to me in the building," he said. "It was just my own personal – for whatever reason, it wasn't coming along as fast as I wanted it to be. It wasn't an easy transition for me from college to pros."
Moala this week said he doesn't believe he has come close to reaching a peak yet, and that he hasn't yet done anything beyond the ordinary. Caldwell said through two weeks, what can be seen in Moala is a player beginning to find his way at a difficult position in a difficult league.
"That's the thing, oftentimes guys take a little while in the developmental stage to get yourself in position where you're playing and playing well consistently," Caldwell said. "He's moving in that direction. He's been working extremely hard. He's been working at his techniques.
"(Defensive Line Coach) John Teerlinck and (Defensive Assistant) Bill Teerlinck have been working with him considerably to try and make certain that he is doing things the way we like him to do it.
"Slowly, but surely, he is making real good progress."
Caldwell said Moala began improving late last season, and even while some observers continued to question his progress, Caldwell throughout the off-season said Moala was showing improvement. He played extensively in the preseason, and has started the first two games of the season, joining a defensive tackle rotation that also includes Dan Muir, Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster. That foursome, alongside Pro Bowl ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, is key to the Colts' high-tempo, quickness-based approach along the defensive front.
"I pinch myself every day," Moala said. "It's crazy. This has always been a dream of mine, to play in the National Football League, and not only that, I get to play between two Hall of Famers – Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. It's a dream come true.
"I get great help from guys like Dan and Mook (Johnson) and Eric, guys who have played this position. They've kind of ushered me along. It's good to be on a veteran team that has been there and is still doing it. It's good for me."
Moala said despite the support last season of the organization, and despite assurances that defensive tackle – and indeed any position on the defensive front – often is a position at which even the best players sometimes need a season or two to develop, the process was difficult.
"You never want to be like the usual," Moala said. "You always want to do everything better. You always want to stand out a little bit and for some reason, it just wasn't happening.
"I don't feel like I've done anything tremendous. I just feel like I've done my job. For me, that's something I can build on."
Moala said that approach is what made his quick decision this past Sunday an easy one. At home in California, he said his mother has scrapbooks and souvenirs chronicling his days not only at USC, but as a baseball and football star in high school. Among those mementos, he said, are plenty of baseballs and plenty of footballs, too.
One more football, he said, means little compared to the work he still needs to do.
"It's a football," Moala said. "I have other things to worry about besides the ball. It's more about winning to me. It will always be a nice memory, but it's in the past.
"It was a nice memory. It will always be fun, but you have to move on."