2000: Moreno, among the premier middle linebackers in the nation who should receive consideration for the Butkus Award, will start for his third season as a senior in 2000. He is also a backup long snapper.
PAUL HACKETT SAYS: “As good as Zeke is, I expect him to take his game to the next level in 2000. He has to compete all year to be the best in the nation, and I think he will do that. He is one of the most savvy and athletic linebackers in the country.”
1999: Moreno had quite a 1999 junior year as he started for his second season, this time at middle linebacker after playing strongside linebacker in 1998. Overall while starting all 12 games, he led USC in tackles with 108, including 7 for losses of 46 yards (with 4 sacks for minus 37 yards), plus had 3 interceptions (versus San Diego State, Oregon State for a 71-yard TD and UCLA, 2 fumble recoveries (against Oregon State for a 17-yard TD runback and UCLA), 5 forced fumbles (versus Oregon which led to a USC TD, Arizona which was run back for a USC TD, Washington State, UCLA and Louisiana Tech), and 5 deflections. He was third in the Pac-10 in tackles (9.0), tied for first in forced fumbles (5, tied for fourth in the nation) and tied for third in fumbles recovered (2). He was a 1999 All-Pac-10 honorable mention pick. He was also the backup long snapper, but didn’t have to do that duty. He had 3 tackles at Hawaii, a game-high 13 stops against San Diego State and also intercepted a pass, then added 15 tackles and a forced fumble at Oregon. Then, with his Trojan predecessor Chris Claiborne in attendance watching from the sideline, he had a fabulous outing against Oregon State: he scored twice (on a 17-yard fumble runback and a 71-yard interception return) and made a game-best 13 tackles (with an 11-yard sack) to earn Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week, Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week and Compaq National Interception of the Week honors. At Arizona, he had 6 stops (including a 14-yard sack) and forced a fumble which teammate Antuan Simmons returned 44 yards for a TD. He had 6 tackles at Notre Dame, added a game-high 12 tackles against Stanford, tied for the team lead in tackles at California with 7 (with a sack), had 13 tackles against Arizona State, and had 8 tackles (with a sack) and forced a fumble at Washington State. Against UCLA, he led USC with 7 tackles (2 were sacks), forced a fumble which he recovered, and made a one-handed interception inside the Trojan 10-yard line. He then had 5 stops, broke up 2 passes and forced a fumble (which the Trojans recovered at the USC 22-yard line) against Louisiana Tech.
1998: Moreno was set to serve as the backup to Mark Cusano at strongside linebacker as a sophomore in 1998, but when Cusano was slowed by injuries throughout the 1998 season, Moreno ended up starting 12 games (all but California) and filled in admirably. Overall in 1998 while appearing in all 13 games, he posted 66 tackles, including 10 for losses of 34 yards (with a 9-yard sack), deflected a pass, intercepted a pass and forced 2 fumbles. He also served as the backup long snapper. Moreno had 2 tackles in the Purdue opener, 3 against San Diego State, 5 against Oregon State, 2 against Florida State and Arizona State, and 1 against California. He had a game-best 9 tackles (including 4 for losses) at Washington State, then added 8 stops at Oregon. He had 11 tackles (3 for losses) at Stanford and forced a fumble which Aaron Williams recovered and ran in for a TD. He had an interception (which set up a field goal) to go with his 3 stops at UCLA. Against Notre Dame, he had 2 stops (1 for a loss) and forced a fumble at the USC 2-yard line which Ken Haslip recovered. He had 7 tackles (1 for a loss) against TCU in the Sun Bowl.
1997: Moreno showed his future potential while appearing in 10 games (all but the Florida State opener) as a reserve linebacker and on special teams as a first-year freshman in 1997. Overall in 1997, he made 8 tackles, including a 14-yard sack (against Stanford), deflected 2 passes, intercepted a pass (at Oregon State, which he returned 19 yards to set up a USC field goal) and forced a fumble (against Stanford, on the sack). He had 5 tackles versus Stanford. He also returned 2 short kickoffs for 33 yards (16.5 avg.), a 21-yarder against Stanford and a 12-yarder versus UCLA.
HIGH SCHOOL: He earned 1996 Super Prep All-American, Student Sports All-American, Prep Star All-American, Super Prep All-Farwest, Prep Star Best in the West, Tacoma News Tribune Western 100, Long Beach Press-Telegram Best of the Rest, Cal-Hi Sports All-State first team, All-CIF San Diego Section Defensive MVP, and San Diego Tribune All-San Diego Defensive MVP as a senior at Castle Park High in Chula Vista (Calif.). He had 147 tackles in 1996 as Castle Park went 13-0 and was the CIF San Diego Section champ. He returned an interception 80 yards for a TD. As a 1995 junior, he made Cal-Hi Sports All-State Junior first team, All-CIF San Diego Section first team and All-League with 90 tackles, 9 sacks and 3 interceptions on defense and 400 yards on 60 carries (6.7 avg.) with 3 TDs on offense. He was a 1994 Cal-Hi Sports All-State Sophomore Super 25 and All-League pick as a sophomore. He also played baseball at Castle Park.
PERSONAL: He’s majoring in general studies at USC. His real first name is Ezekiel. He likes to write poetry in his spare time. He is part American Indian. His brother, Moses, was a 3-year (1995-97) starting quarterback at Colorado State who now plays for the San Diego Chargers. His mother, Arcinia Arenas, played fullback and linebacker with the Mighty Mommas in a San Diego women’s tackle football league for a season when Zeke was little.
ZEKE MORENO ON:
Playing inside linebacker: “It’s so much easier than on the outside, where you’re up on the line. You get so much more action in the middle. In the middle, you’re back so far that you can move around and make plays. That’s something I like doing. I like making plays.”
Replacing Chris Claiborne, USC’s 1998 Butkus Award-winning inside linebacker: “I don’t feel I had any footsteps to follow. I just had to keep doing what got me here in the first place and do the same things I need to do to get me to the next place. I don’t feel I had any pressure on me, or I didn’t let it get to me.”
Playing outside linebacker in 1998: “I had to adjust playing on the outside. At first I had a hard time adjusting, but now I’m comfortable. I knew my day would come. I just had to be patient. When it came, I was ready.”
His attitude: “I take the game seriously, but to the point that I enjoy it. Some people get too stressed out that they can’t even enjoy the game, but that’s not me. Before games, I’m not uptight. I’m just trying to make people laugh. That relaxes me…I’m not really a talker. I’m not the type of guy who will yell and get pumped up. I’m to myself in the locker room. Some people like to get really fired up. I stay out of their way. There are guys who say they are the best, and guys who are the best…the way I get fired up is to bring a smile to my face. It helps me get rid of the butterflies. I look at the fans, the crazy people, the weirdos. Or I’ll get a flashback to something funny that happened when I was little.”
His speed: “People underestimate my speed. Now that I’ve slimmed down, I think I’m faster than ever.”
His philosophy: “I was raised to be humble. I’m not selfish. I know my success is because of the rest of the defense, too. It’s not all me. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating and being happy about the way you’re playing, but you can’t pretend you’re better than anyone else.”
Wearing No. 9: “No. 9 was my high school number. It was kind of superstitious. And I always like single-digit numbers. I think they make you look faster. And now back in San Diego, people want to wear No. 9. People say, ‘Hey, I got your number.’ That’s cool.”
Competing as a youngster with his brother, Moses: “We joke around about it now and compare what each other has done. That competition is building us…It was survival of the fittest. There was five of us boys, but that is what made us better. We always strove to make each other better.”
The 100-plus foster children his parents have taken in over the past 15 years: “There are so many different cases. You feel so bad. They come scared to our house. You don’t approach them right away. Little by little, you’ll say hi and start talking to them. Pretty soon they open up. Our family takes care of long-term kids and it’s hard because I get so attached to them. And it’s tough when they leave because I miss them…Sometimes we’d say, ‘Not another one,’ but then my mom would say, ‘Pobrecito (poor little one),’ and tell us their story and we’d cry. She told us a lot of kids didn’t have what we had.”
His mother: “I’ve always admired my mother. She raised five boys on her own. She always taught me to be strong, respectful and polite. She gives me a lot of strength. When I see her working hard, it just pushes me to work even harder...My mom was always there for us. I just love the strength she has. All of our personalities, all our characters, all our attitudes reflect here...My mom was very hardworking and was always into athletics and having us compete...My mom is tough. When we wrestle at home, she can bring me down...It’s one of those things that’s hard to believe, ‘Yeah, my mom played football.’ She’s 5-10, very tall, very strong. She doesn’t work out, but she’ll say, ‘Feel this. Want to see my muscle?’ And it’s just a rock. She’s naturally strong…I always talk to my mom on game day. She asks me what the game plan is. I always answer, ‘Just win.’”
His Latino heritage: “I’m proud of who I am and I accept the role I play. I want to be a good role model not only to thousands of Latinos out there, but I always want to represent my mom and dad…In football, there is a stereotype of not that many Latinos in the NFL. I hope I can be one who changes that image…People feel our sports are more like baseball and soccer. You don’t see that many Hispanics that have the size to play football. That’s a stereotype that’s been around. But you can’t judge a book by its cover…I just want to set an example to show other young Latinos that they have options. I let them know that as Latinos, we can be successful in whatever we do. It doesn’t come easy. I worked hard to get where I’m at. It’s about choices and hopefully, by them seeing my success, they’ll make the right ones…It’s so good to be at the Coliseum and hear from the stands, ‘Hey primo, way to represent.’ It’s great to see my own race cheering me on. These people have accepted me as part of their family…If people feel like I am out there playing for all Latinos, in a way, I am. I do represent a lot of people out there.”
WHAT OTHERS SAY:
His mother, Arcinia Arenas: “Zeke is so fun loving. He’s just like me. Everywhere we go, we try to make people laugh and feel comfortable...When he was 4 or 5 years old, he’d say, ‘I want to play football just like my mom.’...Zeke was always talented. Whenever a grandfather or uncle would come over and see him play, they would be so impressed they would return just to see him. He was a bulldozer, but he was so good, so loving…Zeke doesn’t have any dainty aunts. Until my boys were in the ninth grade, if we wrestled I could flip them over. But when they got to the 10th grade and I’m a trophy. If they could flip me over, then they’ve developed their strength…I’m proud that people can relate to him. Especially if little kids with brown hair look at my Ezekiel and think, ‘That could be me.’…Zeke would get so mad when I told him the background of the foster kids we took in, that their parents had abused them or it was a drug baby. He would say, ‘Mom, how could they do that?’ He would get so attached to the kids. They have to leave sometimes to go with their family or they get adopted, but it was real hard on him. He’d come home from school and say, ‘Where’s the baby, Mom?’ and I’d tell him that she had to leave. He’d get so mad at me and just go to his room.”
Tom Reynolds, USC Report: “On the field, Moreno—USC’s ferocious inside linebacker—stalks every play, searching for a ball carrier to pounce on. He is like a cat searching for prey. Of the field, Moreno couldn’t be any more the opposite of his on-field demeanor. He is a soft-spoken, God-fearing momma’s boy (by his own admission). But don’t call him soft.”
David Cisneros, Daily Trojan: “Ask anybody who knows him. They’ll tell you what a wonderful guy he is. They might tell you how he has become a role model. And they’ll tell you he’s a hell of a middle linebacker…Moreno displays character rarely seen in sports.”
Arizona head coach Dick Tomey: “He’s an incredible player. There was nobody in our conference who was as outstanding at linebacker in 1999.”
ZEKE MORENO CAREER STATISTICS