Cody Whitehouse
ASU Student Journalist

Pair of O'Connor seniors use friendship for greater good

October 8, 2018 by Cody Whitehouse, Arizona State University

Senior Ben Fuenmayor blocks a Pinnacle defender as quarterback Ethan Moller prepares to throw the ball. (Cody Whitehouse/AzPreps365)

When senior quarterback Ethan Moller recalls his first impression of four-star football recruit defensive end Bralen Trice, he admits he was a little afraid.

“I mean I was a little [afraid] of him,” Moller said. “One of my first impressions was him screaming past the left tackle and though they don’t touch the quarterback he was still in my face every play when we were in practice.”

How times have changed for the pair of seniors at Sandra Day O’Connor. In a friendship that is now described as supportive and goofy, the fear is no longer there.

“I’m not afraid of him anymore, not even a little bit,” Moller said. “Even if Bralen could touch me during practice, I would put some wiggles on him.”

While the pair jokingly spars about who is better on the field, it’s the impact the two are making off the field that has made the greatest impact.

The pair volunteers to assist in the Exceptional STARS program, which is a recreational sports program for kids-adults with developmental disabilities, said Ethan’s mom Laura Moller.

“We’ve done a lot of camps with the church,” Trice said. “Ethan’s mom runs them all. We help the special needs kids, we do sports things with them, play football with them, and teach them everything.”

Exceptional STARS began nine years ago with the goal in mind to allow kids-adults with special needs the opportunity to play sports and let their families cheer them on.

The program has received support from both high school and collegiate teams to come out and support the athletes by spending time with them.

“We have local high school and college teams come out and help coach our athletes,” Laura Moller said. “Having players like Ethan and Bralen come out to help is not only fun for our Exceptional STAR athletes, but the student-athletes/coaches seem to enjoy it just as much.”

While Moller and Trice are very similar now in their play on the field and their service off it, the two starters for O’Connor took different paths through their high school careers.

For Trice, it was a sit-down with head coach Steve Casey about playing at the next level that set the tone for his final two years of high school.

“The summer of sophomore year I sat down with coach [Casey] and we had a talk and he let me know that I have the body type and athletic ability to play Division I football,” Trice said.

Since the talk, Trice has since become a top recruit in the state of Arizona, ranking No. 7 in the state and the 23rd-best weakside defensive end in the nation according to Rivals.

For Moller, the senior quarterback had actually never expected to be the starter for the O’Connor Eagles. This was due in fact to a poor sophomore campaign by Moller and a senior starting quarterback in front him his junior year.  

“Sophomore year I was on JV and I didn’t really have a great year,” Moller said. “I never expected to be the starter at any point.”

Moller would get the chance to do just that the following year.  In the opening game of the season, Moller was thrust into the starting role after the team’s starting quarterback tore his ACL.

Moller entered the game when the Eagles had already fallen behind by a substantial amount in a game they would eventually lose 46-6 to Mountain Pointe.

“At that exact moment when I stepped in, we were down by a lot so I didn’t have a lot of pressure on myself,” Moller said. “I had a nothing to lose and had a pretty good game. The rest of the year I kind of had everyone’s trust after that game so it fueled me to play well.”

Moller would finish the game with 105 passing yards and a touchdown while finishing the season with 2,031 passing yards alongside 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

The experience put Moller into a situation he didn’t expect to be in before. This situation helped grow the quarterback as a leader and a football player.

“It helped my leadership grow a lot being the starter last year,” Moller said. “From the first off-season lifting, I felt like I was a leader and I had everyone’s trust and respect.”

Not only on the field is Moller a leader, but the senior quarterback also has led the team’s FCA in bible studies during last season leading into this year.

The FCA -- Fellowship of Christian Athletes -- has helped both the religious and nonreligious come together and be better teammates and people.

“Last year we had half of the team, so it was another way for us all to connect and me leading that was helpful for my leadership skills,” Moller said. “We still do it now, Coach [Robert] LaTona has been leading them the last couple of weeks. They help a lot, even guys that aren’t necessarily Christian come out to it just because it teaches you how to be a good teammate and other life lessons.”

While both players use faith as an outlet to help others, the two use their personal friendship for the benefit of the other.

When asked what one word would describe the friendship shared between the athletes, Moller pondered for a moment before answering.

“Supportive. I think in our friendship there’s a lot of respect for each other,” Moller said. “He’s super supportive of my career and I’m really supportive of what he’s done with his college opportunities.”

Trice has received national attention from teams around the nation including interest from Alabama, Washington and Oregon. The senior defensive end has shown the talent to be able to play at the next level and believes Moller possesses the same ability.

“He could definitely play at the Division I level,” Trice said. “I think one college just needs to give him that chance and give him that offer, and his recruiting process will start booming. He deserves it, he’s been working hard for it.”

Trice has been active on Twitter advocating for college football teams to give Moller a chance and saying the teams won’t regret it. His most recent tweet stating “Someone offer this guy! Won’t regret it.”

The support has not only helped Moller’s confidence on the field but his recruiting process as well.

“It actually has helped with getting looked at by some of the guys that follow him,” Moller said of the tweets in support of him. “It gives me confidence knowing that Bralen, a guy who’s probably going to be in the NFL one day, is thinking I’m good enough to push my name on his Twitter account.”

The pair’s support on and off of the field and their friendship today is a result of several years of bonding through sports and their self-proclaimed goofy humor.  The friendship between the two began in eighth grade and evolved after the two were part of the 9-0 freshman football team at O’Connor.

The duo played basketball during their first two years of high school as the only two football players on the team creating an even stronger bond. The connection on the court stays alive today as Moller claims to be much better than Bralen at basketball.

“He’s just kind of a post presence,” Moller said of the six-foot-four-inch Trice. “When we play one-on-one I’ll usually beat him 21-3. I think he’d agree I’m better.”

Moller and Trice have a bond that extends beyond the basketball court or football field. The two have a humor described by Trice as not understood by many, but funny to Moller and Trice.

Some of the things that not a lot of people may understand is the pair’s love for cartoons they watch when they’re not on the field.

“We watch kids cartoons and stuff,” Moller said. “A couple of them are Adventure Time, Regular Show and SpongeBob. We both really like SpongeBob.”

On his free time, when he isn’t watching Spongebob with Moller, Trice prefers to play the popular game “Fortnite” with some of his teammates including fellow senior Tyler Bergstrom.

According to Bergstrom, Trice is a solid teammate on the game but is “way more of an elite player on the football field.”

As far as the score of a one- on- one game of basketball between Moller and Trice, Bergstrom believes it’s a closer matchup than Moller may like to admit.

“I think the score would be 21-17, Ethan with the win,” Bergstrom said. “Both are super competitive, so you never know who could win that day.”  

It's been these unconventional moments mentioned above that have grown Moller and Trice together to serve the greater good. 

Through service, basketball, football, and cartoons, the pair of O’Connor football players have grown to appreciate the other in what can only be described as a truly unique friendship. 

“He’s my best friend,” said Trice. “A great character, one of the nicest people I know, really good in school, all around one of the best guys I know.”