If you scan the Pitt football roster, it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time to realize there’s one definitive weakness: the tight end position.
Tight end has been the bane of the Panther’s offense for numerous years. Countless transfer tight ends have been brought in to solidify the position and most, if not all, have failed.
Panthers’ tight ends coach Tim Salem has diligently been searching for players that will improve both depth and talent. He believes he found one in the state of California: Ventura College’s Daniel ‘Danny’ Moraga. Moraga completed his official visit the in early December and committed prior to flying home.
To gain perspective on the Panthers’ newest tight end, Pittsburgh Sports Now spoke with Pacifica High School (Oxnard, CA) head football coach Mike Moon. Moraga considers Moon a ‘father figure’ and mentor. Pacifica High School recently became the first public school to win a state football championship with a 34-6 victor over Oakland-McClymonds in the CIF Division 2-A state championship bowl at Cerritos College.
“I’m the head coach at Pacifica High School and we won the state championship last Saturday. People hear that and may think we’re a powerhouse school and that would be the farthest from the truth,” said Moon. “When Danny was an eighth grader, he was a big-time kid that was being recruited to all the big, huge schools in the area. I happened to have a relationship with him and he gave me a chance to prove myself.”
“I was a brand, new football coach his freshman year. He came back to Pacifica High School and turned down all the private schools pursuing him, all the glitz and glamor of the (private) schools, because he wanted to help build up the school in his neighborhood. Our neighborhood is a rough neighborhood. We’re a title one school that deals with low income, gangs, drugs, etc. Danny could have easily gone to a private school and been very successful. He chose to stay home and be a trailblazer. He wanted to prove to other kids from this area that you can go to the local high school, get it done in the classroom and succeed. He ended up signing with Fresno State out of high school.”
Moraga spent two seasons at Ventura College and will join the Panthers in January. This fall he caught 17 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns in seven games. He will have two years of eligibility at Pitt.
“Danny’s decision to stay and thrive at our school, despite every opportunity to leave, tells you the type of kid he is. That to me, it says a lot about him,” said Moon. “He’s been given pretty much the most difficult hand that any kid has been given from birth in terms of home life and structure and all that stuff. He’s pretty much motivated himself to go to class, motivated himself to get good grades, motivated himself to do everything he needs to do to make it to the next level. That tells you all you need to know about his background and strength of the character.”
“Working with kids like Danny truly inspires me. They have every reason not to be successful and despite things, you know, the negativity in their lives, they are able to overcome challenges and become extremely successful. It speaks volumes about their character. I have a great relationship with Danny to this day. At this point, he’s a member of the family.”
Pitt has lacked a quality tight end since the departure of former standout Scott Orndoff. Pat Narduzzi and staff are hoping the additions of Moraga and University of Florida transfer Lucas Krull (6-foot-6 inches, 257 pounds) will rectify the issue. Coach Moon was asked to discuss Moraga’s on the field play and he emphatically stated, “He’s an absolute dog. Some people say he’s 6-foot-4 inches tall. I say he’s probably closer to 6-foot-5 inches He’s just a big specimen, 240 pounds and strong. Danny’s a real weight room guy. He played wide receiver for us and he was a thousand-yard receiver. I don’t think he ever dropped the ball. He was a dominant player. Danny went up against Darnay Holmes, now a cornerback at UCLA. He had one of his best games against him. Danny caught seven catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.”
Welcome, Daniel Moraga!
— Pitt Football (@Pitt_FB) December 18, 2019
Pitt fans endured a season of dropped balls and questionable play from the tight end position throughout the 2019 season. Shortly after committing to the Panthers, fans consistently asked one question, “Can Moraga catch the ball?” Coach Moon was asked the same question.
“Danny is one of the best route runners, ball skilled guys in terms of tight end, that I’ve seen. I know Pitt has one big, 290-pound tight end on their roster (Grant Carrigan) and he’s probably a great in-line blocker. Danny is strong, and he’ll give you a good effort blocking, but he’s definitely more pass catching tight end,” said Moon. “He runs great routes, has amazing ball skills and he’ll go up and catch a ball over a linebacker. That’s his skill set. He’s still a big, 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound player that can get the job done blocking but he’s absolutely a weapon in terms of the pass game.”
“Danny was a four-year starter for us on both sides of the ball. The last time he dropped the ball might have been once his sophomore year and maybe a couple of times a stretch. I don’t remember him dropping a ball his entire junior or senior years. He’s got massive hands that just surround the ball.”
Moraga reported to Pittsburgh Sports Now that he currently weighs between 230 to 235 pounds. He’s anxious to get to Pittsburgh and dive into their strength and conditioning program. Danny is cognizant with proper nutrition and working with Pitt strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews and staff, he will be prepared for the rigors of ACC football.
“Danny is one of those kids where if you can’t root for his success, there’s something wrong with you. The more you hear his real story, it’s a true inspiration. Pitt fans are going to love him.”
Harry G. Psaros can be found on Twitter at @PittGuru