Less than a year ago, a fresh faced linebacker by the name of Kaluka Maiava became an integral part of the prestigious Southern California defensive unit as a first-time starter. The talented defender was overlooked prior to the draft thanks to being surrounded by more heralded collegiate players and NFL prospects. USC's top rated defense was being bantered as one of the best of all time with names such as Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, and Taylor Mays often the focal points of discussion.
Maiava simply went about his job and strung together a fantastic senior campaign. Maybe it is his soft spoken nature, or less than intimidating size, which resulted in the lack of pre-draft hype, but the Cleveland Browns were not shy in selecting the athletic linebacker in the fourth round of this year's NFL draft. As camp commenced, Maiava has made his presence known early by attacking in tackling drills, working diligently on special teams, and displaying the talent necessary to potentially contribute as a rookie. The Orange and Brown Report was granted a few minutes with the former Trojan as he finished another physical practice session…
Maybe not the most obvious starting point, but purely for curiosity's sake, how does one properly pronounce your last name?
"The ‘Mai' is like ‘my' and then simply ‘…ava'. ‘My-ava'."
Coming from such a heralded football program such as USC, what do you see as your own strengths and weaknesses and how those will translate to the professional level?
"It is a totally different system for me. I was always protected by a three technique in front of me. Now it is pressing big guards. It's a new team and a new scheme, and you just have to get ready for it. SC had a whole different plan for me. Now it's just studying my plays and getting ready for this."
In particular, what different techniques do you have to use now as compared to your previous defensive stylings?
"Just have to bang a lot more" [he stated with a wry grin and chuckle]
Early in the practice sessions that appears exactly what you are accomplishing. Does this approach make a player feel like they are having a good start to camp?
"That's why we play the game. We love to be physical, competing against each other, and it's all fun. It's exciting to get to camp and get started. Just having fun with the guys now.
One of the heavily discussed aspects of Rob Ryan being named defensive coordinator is his eventually implementation of the 46 defense. Has the coaching staff alluded to how you will be asked to perform in said defense, particularly playing some safety?
"I told them…‘Wherever you need me to play…special teams, defense, wherever'."
Currently the staff is concentrating on your play at inside linebacker then?
"There's...[slight pause]…wherever. I'll play running back if they would let me."
Moving along, how surprising was it to hear how the story of your familial hunting stories took off and how excited fans were upon reading these?
"I don't even know anything about that."
It spread throughout local coverage like wildfire and fans really took a shining to you because of it. Is it possible it was slightly overblown or over exaggerated then?
"We don't just hunt to kill it, we eat it. It's just a little hobby. Some like to go golfing. We like to go hunting."
Adding to your family tradition is a long history and involvement in professional wrestling. Are there any plans in the future, post current football career, to enter the fray in that regard?
"No. I'm actually shy in front of people. So I couldn't really do that line of work."
Getting back to camp, what differences have been seen as rookie camp progressed through full squad practices?
"Just the tempo and the experience on the field. Playing with veterans like Eric Barton and all of them, it's crazy how much knowledge they have when they come to the field. You just try to learn from them, see how they play, see how they communicate, and try to take pieces from everybody to help your own game out."
Some time was missed in rookie minicamp, what was the particular reasoning?
"I had personal issues…family issues….I had to take care of."
Lastly, because of a perceived lack of size at 5 feet 11 inches in height and 229 pounds, has the coaching staff approached you about adding weight or anything of the sort?
"They haven't told me to put on weight. I know I can't lose weight in this league. I'm finding where I'm at. I'm comfortable that I can handle my own. The weight was never really an issue."