Last Year's Seniors Served as an Inspiration for Maualuga
Probably one of the more misunderstood players on this year's Trojan roster is senior Rey Maualuga. Maualuga is a ferocious hitter on the field, who can level an opposing player seemingly without much effort. He can appear to be a reckless defender, when quite the opposite is true. Part of the misunderstanding about Maualuga is that his defensive hits can be so powerful, that one highlight play will make the rounds on the internet or TV highlight shows for months without end.
Another reason for misunderstanding Maualuga is that he had a single run-in with a fellow student at a party during his freshman year. This made his detractors label him as something that he is not. At the time, Maualuga was a freshman, his heart heavy with the struggle of a young man dealing with his father's battle with terminal cancer. Maualuga struggled through this time, and came out a stronger person for that ordeal. Put in perspective, this was one situation, and one time, under the most trying situation. Since then, he has been a model middle linebacker, if not a student of the game. He is also a very gentle, soft-spoken, easy-going young man.
Maualuga can also change the complexion of a game with his up-tempo, aggressive playing style. Take for example, the closing of the first half of the 2008 Rose Bowl vs. Illinois. By the end of the half, Maualuga rattled the Illinois offense, forced turnovers, and had such a big impact on the game that the Illini could never get back on track.
This even led play-by-play announcer, Brent Musburger to claim that Maualuga was leaving USC after the Rose Bowl, to enter the NFL a year early. Despite the fact that in the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl, Maualuga and Brian Cushing both went on record to say they would return for their senior seasons.
Clay de Leon met with Maualuga to discuss his decision to return to Troy in a Q & A session. What is refreshing is that as gifted a player as he is, Maualuga was wise enough to know that another year with the Trojans will have him more prepared for the NFL.
How's the summer going?
"It's going good, we're finishing our summer workouts strong, like usual. We're inching down to the final days of summer workouts and summer school. Just getting ready for that last hump and the start of (fall) camp."
Are you happy with your decision to return for your senior year?
"I don't want to make a mistake in coming back. And I don't want to be the same person as I was last year. I'm hoping to come back and learn from the best – the coaches, and compete with the best guys."
What's your goal in terms of not being the same person as last year?
"How they came back an extra year and got better. It's my last year, so I'll put a bunch of things on my shoulders – I'll put this team on my shoulders. Just go out there and do the best we can. I'm ready for it."
So you're going to take an active role in leadership?
"No doubt about that. It's not so much that it's my senior year, you know, I've been here for a while, Brian Cushing, Fili Moala and Kevin Ellison on the defensive side, we're just going to do our best to lead this team. It's the 2005 (recruiting) class, so there's a couple older guys like Jeff Byers."
What was the deciding factor for you to return for your senior season?
"It's just watching Keith Rivers and those guys, how much better they became and how ready they were at the end of the season. By watching them…I know I've got a lot to work on and I have a lot to learn."
In coming to this decision, you spent time with your family; talking and praying, expand on that.
"I talked to my mom; she's a ‘big' spiritual leader. She told me it was all up to me, and she'll back-up my decision. I'm glad that I have the mother that I have. She'll wait another year."
And what do you think the goal for the team this year will be?
"Take it week by week and win one game at a time. We can't look too far ahead. We need to play Virginia, then Ohio State, then Oregon. It's one team at a time. We can't have a mentality that we look past Stanford or Washington State…"
Are you graduating this year?
Yeah, yeah, I'll be graduating in the spring. Nothing's more precious than walking down that stage. My major is Sociology.
So maybe you'll be a Sociologist someday?
Nah, maybe a law enforcement officer.