LAWTON — If Michael Moana's life were a movie, this season would be the part every fan of an underdog loves.
It would be Moana, a defensive tackle for Lawton Eisenhower, and his team's “Do Better” year, where they overcome the odds of a bad previous season, perform better than people expect and win. Lawton Ike finished 2-8 last season, and was 1-6 in District 6A-3.
The Lawton Eisenhower defensive tackle sees himself as a combination of characters from “Friday Night Lights” — like middle linebacker Ivory Christian, star Boobie Miles, quarterback Mike Winchell and “the running back that couldn't hold onto the ball.”
“I'm like a big bunch of a mix of all four of them,” Moana said. “The pros and cons, just because everybody has their pros and cons. I sometimes get stuck on different things and I stay doing it. I'm a perfectionist. I have to do it until it's perfectly right. I guess it's a con too because I lose sight of other stuff sometimes.”
In real life, Moana's skills placed him at No. 26 on The Oklahoman's Super 30 list of the top recruits in the state. Pretty good for a kid who, just a few years ago, was only interested in rugby.
Moana was born in Samoa. Part of a military family, he moved from Samoa to Seattle to Hawaii and then Lawton.
Seattle is where he learned about rugby, and Hawaii is where he really learned to play the sport. He also played a little flag football. He grew up watching his father play rugby for a military team. In Hawaii, though, his 6-foot-3, 250-pound size was smaller than many of the other players. Size there is what mattered. Then he moved to Lawton.
“Here, speed kills,” Moana said. “Now, I'm bigger than everyone. I didn't want to stay that size.”
His strength and size are part of his Samoan background. That culture, and the cultures of all the places he's lived, have been more of a “laid back, go with the flow” lifestyle. That's why Lawton Ike coach Boone Copeland can place Moana at center, guard, end or tackle and watch him dominate.
“He's a young man that is a really, really good athlete for a big guy,” Copeland said. “Over the years with the popularity of certain Polynesian players, coaches know they're extremely powerful and extremely loyal and he fits that mold. He's not afraid of anything.
“The thing about it is with the athlete that he is, sometimes he has the ability to go a little bit less than half speed and still be as good as anybody around him. That's something that when he gets to the next level, he'll understand what that means.”
That laid-back attitude helps Moana work hard but also allows him to recharge for the next day of workouts or practice. When he's not playing, he likes to relax, especially by watching a movie. When he got home from a recent summer workout at Lawton Eisenhower, he popped in “Friday Night Lights.”
He played it as a marathon, watching it 14 times.
“Whenever I can I either go to work and go to sleep or go to work and come home, get ready and go to the movie,” Moana said of what he called his biggest hobby: the movies. “I just love it, especially the popcorn and all that, especially with lots of butter.”
His favorite ones are sports movies, with FNL, “Remember the Titans” and “Gridiron Gang” topping the list.
“Sports movies are the best because they have everything — drama, romance, everything rolled into one beautiful movie,” he said. “If this was a movie and they really played it out and I was the main character, I'd want it to be a ‘Come Up' season. Going from last year as a disappointing season into this season where we come up and show ourselves to a whole bunch of people who don't believe we can do that much.”
The Oklahoman's Super 30
Name: Michael Moana
School: Lawton Eisenhower
Position: Defensive tackle
Recruited by: Houston, Utah State, South Dakota (Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Oklahoma and Kansas State are reportedly showing interest)