By John Philip Wyllie
A year ago, as an NFL rookie, former Castle Park High School star, Zeke Moreno was content with his back-up role with the San Diego Chargers. During the 2001 season, the former USC team captain saw most of his action on special teams, but occasionally filled in admirably at linebacker. When training camp opens in July, Moreno will arrive with a new goal in mind: to break into the Chargers starting lineup.
During a lull in the Chargers three-day minicamp last weekend, Moreno signed autographs for a large and enthusiastic group of local fans and discussed his past, present and future.
“I know I’ll have a role on the special teams, but I have to help this team more on defense,” Moreno said. “I’m just trying to prove myself and build confidence with the coaches and the other players. I’m trying to earn a starting job, so I have no time to waste.”
With last year’s head coach Mike Riley now just another name on the growing list of unsuccessful former Charger coaches, San Diego’s as well as Moreno’s future lie in the hands of Marty Schottenheimer. Unlike Riley, Schottenheimer comes to San Diego with a wealth of NFL coaching experience and more importantly, a reputation of success at the highest level.
“We haven’t talked in detail, but he told me to keep working and that not every job is secure,” Moreno said about his new boss. “That’s how everyone gets their shot, you just have to be ready. When your time comes to shine, you just have to shine.” Toward that goal, Moreno dedicated a major portion of the last four months preparing for the upcoming season.
“You have to take a little time off for yourself, to be with your family and to heal your body,” Moreno explained. “But once you return from wherever you go, it’s back to square one. You have to work on conditioning and on getting stronger because every year there is someone new coming in.”
Beginning in July, a whole new crop of rookies will arrive ready to attempt what Moreno accomplished last year in securing one of the few coveted roster spots. In order to reach his goal, Moreno will not only have to fend them off, but upend one of the incumbents on what looks to be a very solid linebacking corps.
While attaining his career goals are naturally important, Moreno has a broader view of the situation. “I know there are a lot of Hispanic kids out there looking up to me because we are so rare in the NFL. I just let them know it is a dream that can be reached. Every day you just have to keep working harder and enhancing your skills,” Moreno said.
Unlike all but two of his teammates, Moreno will have the benefit of a large number of family members, friends, former classmates and teachers cheering on his every tackle as he strives to meet his personal goals this season. At the same time, he hopes to make the San Diego Chargers a better ball club.