Much more to Moeaki than crutches

A Tongan and a Mormon, senior tight end Tony Moeaki has made Iowa City his home for the past five years. After three inj
A Tongan and a Mormon, senior tight end Tony Moeaki has made Iowa City his home for the past five years. After three injury-riddled seasons, he goes into 2009 with high hopes. (Cliff Jette/Gazette

CHICAGO — There is no quick rundown of Tony Moeaki’s injuries. There is simply no making this long story short.

There was last year’s broken left foot, suffered in fall camp, that never completely healed and eventually led to hamstring and calf problems. It finally got fixed in March. There was the 2007 Wisconsin game, with the dislocated elbow and broken hand. The elbow cost him the rest of ‘07.

There were the concussions that came last season, when he just hadn’t seen enough time to have a feel for the helmet-to-helmet smackdowns (there were two, Iowa State and Illinois).

He’s suffered silently. He smiles a lot. If there’s pain or “woe is me” behind it, it doesn’t come out.

“I think when I broke my foot, I think for one day I was a little pissed off,” the Iowa senior tight end said Tuesday morning at Big Ten media day. “But I’ve been fortunate. The injuries haven’t been too severe. I think I’ve played in every season. So, it hasn’t been too bad.”

For the most part, it’s been fluke not fate.

Against Wisconsin, Moeaki was blocking on the backside of a play and just fell the wrong way. Last fall, the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder tore up camp until one foot plant and cut. A little tweak turned out to be a break that kept him out of the first two games. He returned, catching four passes for 24 yards against Michigan State, but muscle injuries flared because of the foot and he wasn’t the same tornado he was during fall camp.

“That was one of the most disappointing things last year,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He was practicing so well in August last year. There was no question, he was really going to have a good year and then it didn’t materialize, because of.”

Just as Shonn Greene made the most out of his one season as a starter at Iowa — winning the Doak Walker Award and earning a spot in the third round of the NFL draft — Moeaki is poised for one big year. Of course, that’s easy to say.

He’s taking it more one game at a time, one practice at a time, one step at a time.

“That would be a pretty nice ending,” Moeaki said, joking about how it turned out for Greene.

And there’s the smile and a laugh. There’s way more to Moeaki than the grocery list of injuries, surgeries and twisted body parts.

One look at Moeaki and you know he’s Polynesian. But did you know his heritage is Tongan?

His mom and dad, Sione and Lose, were born and raised in Tonga, an archipelago of islands that sits about a third of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand. Tony’s never visited. You have to fly to New Zealand, a 24-hour flight.

Moeaki and running back Paki O’Meara are the only Polynesians on Iowa’s team. O’Meara, from Cedar Rapids, is half Samoan.

“It was something I had to consider (coming to Iowa City),” Moeaki said. “Tongans, we’re really close. Family and relationships are really big in our culture, that’s why I looked at USC (where his cousin, running back Stanley Havili plays), UCLA and Oregon. But in the end, it didn’t matter. I liked Iowa City and coach Ferentz so much.”

Moeaki, who has 46 career catches for 566 yards and seven TDs, is the second youngest of five children. His family is scattered. He has two brothers in Utah, a sister in Las Vegas and his youngest sister, Keilani, started 25 games and averaged 5.3 points a game for BYU basketball last season.

His parents went to college in Hawaii. His mom got a masters degree in Utah and ended up in Wheaton, Ill., after accepting a job with AT&T. Three of their children were born in Hawaii. Tony was an all-everything tight end as a prep at Warrenville South High School.

Mom tried to get Tony to go to Tonga his junior year of high school, but when the family goes, it’s a month or two-month trip, so he had to pass.

His dad was a rugby player in Tonga. Both of his brothers played at BYU.

Moeaki is also a Mormon. He’s been asked before about taking his two-year mission. That’s something he sees in his future, maybe even his 40s.

“It’s tough to go on a mission and come back. It’s basically starting all over again,” Moeaki said. “It’s two years. I thought I was ready to play and I just wanted to jump in right away.”

During Moeaki’s recruitment, Ferentz did some research and found out why “Mormon Trek Road” in Iowa City is called Mormon Trek Road. In the end, he didn’t see culture or religion as a barrier.

“At the end of the day, my biggest concern was that he’d go to BYU,” Ferentz said. “He felt very comfortable with the program and community. His parents seemed comfortable, too.”

And even on the field, Moeaki is more than crutches and a walking boot, at least he is potentially. Ferentz sees a “prototype” tight end.

“He’s a very explosive blocker,” Ferentz said. “He’s very good in the passing game. It’s more than being fast with good hands, he knows how to play. He has that knack and ability.”The injury list is long, but Moeaki also is a long, interesting story.

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