There's little doubt that as one of the most touted players at your position, any school will treat you like gold. Once you become used to that you look beyond the "fluff" so to speak and get to what really matters.
The fans, the school, the coaches, the players, all are important as you decide on just where you want to go. With each school, however, your expectations of each ranges from good to great.
Most notably a new era as has been stated ad-nauseam since January when new head coach, Bill Callahan stepped on campus. A new era that over time has stirred up fans into a frenzy of anticipation waiting for that first game to finally arrive.
Rey was waiting to, because he wanted to see for himself if the expectations of what a Nebraska team should be like and the atmosphere around it was still intact in Lincoln.
The experience didn't disappoint. "It was everything I expected." Rey said. "But, I have to say that it was more than what I could have hoped for."
Rey found himself amidst an environment he figured to see. Rabid red fans all over, a loud and un-welcoming stadium, at least to the opponents within. And of course, a team that exhibited the reputable defense known simply as the "blackshirts".
Yeah, those things he expected, but even his expectations paled with what he actually got.
"It was unreal." he said of the experience. "I would be walking along and some fan would come up from behind, tap me on the shoulder, yelling ‘Rey, Rey, hey would you sign this for me?'."
"I had no idea who they were, but they knew who I was. That blew me away."
The impressions didn't stop there. "I knew there was going to be a crowd and all that, because that's what you hear about Nebraska, but that crowd was unbelievable." Rey said. "And that walk-thing they do (The Tunnel-walk) was great, but the thing I liked best was that film thing they do before the walk where they show all that stuff and then show the players coming out of the locker room. That was awesome."
Another "awesome" thing for Rey was the defense for Nebraska. Yes, the play of the blackshirts on the day was impressive and Maualuga said as such. But, what interested him more was watching the middle linebackers, the position he is being recruited for by NU.
What was so awesome was that those that were there on the two-deep, that being Barrett Ruud and Ira Cooper, this was their last year of play. You'd imagine that might appeal to any middle linebacker recruit looking at the Big Red. "It's great knowing they're Seniors." Rey said. "I mean, you have to earn your spot no matter what grade you are in, but knowing that the position is there and that the best player plays, that's just another thing to like."
Our conversation tipped back towards the fans as Rey couldn't get one thing out of his mind. An image that he wasn't sure he could recall, but knows that it has to be rare no matter what schools around the country you see. "Normally, you see fans all show up just before kickoff or a minute before." he said. "Here, it was pretty much packed before the players even came out of the locker room."
It would seem that the expectations Rey had were indeed being met in pretty much every area he was looking at as a criteria for his decision. With all the positive impressions he got, however, the one that meant most to him was that made not by tens of thousands of people possibly chanting his name, but just a few who made sure that he didn't feel treated like A name at all. "The coaches, they were real." Rey said. "Coach Blake (John Blake), that is one cool guy. He talks about life, people and looks at everyone as a family and players as people and he treated me like I was someone and not just some recruit."
"That means something, because that's what matters the most. Those people around you, they are like a family and you want to feel that from them."
This update as with any update invariably ends up with the question that begs to be asked and you have to wonder that even with Nebraska meeting and possibly exceeding all of his expectations, do they even now have a chance against USC. "Oh yeah." Rey said. "I can say honestly that USC and Nebraska are like knotted at the top, they are like one and one-A."
That is still with Maualuga not having visited USC, which he says he'll do unofficially at some point this year.
That will be preceded though by a visit to Oklahoma that Rey plans on making in two weeks, the Sooners rising up Rey's list. It does appear though, that his visit to USC is either the icing on the cake for a Trojan to be or the key in Maualuga going someplace else.
Of course, he can't say for sure himself, because he simply doesn't know. And at least when it comes to where this recruiting saga will eventually wind up, not even Maualuga has expectations at all. "Once you are there, it's not about what you think, it's about what you feel." he said. "Is it home, is it a good place to be, to play, to get an education?"
"I don't know where this whole thing is going to end up, but I know there's a lot of great schools out there. I know I have a lot of good choices no matter what I decide."
Steve Ryan can be reached at SteveRyan@bigredreport.com or 402-476-5006