University of Southern California
If you look up ‘menacing’ in the dictionary you just might find a picture of University of Southern California middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. At 6’2”, 246 pounds, Maualuga is physically imposing, but that is nothing compared to his explosive hitting ability and the intensity that he exhibits on the field. As such, Maualuga was a natural choice for the 14th Annual Chuck Bednarik Award.
“If I can put fear into the opponent, I feel I’ve done my job,” he told Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. “It feels great.”
In his four year career, Maualuga has amassed 273 tackles. This past season, he had a team-high 79 tackles, including 2.5 for losses, plus four deflections and two interceptions (one for a touchdown). He was a unanimous All-American First Team selection and CBSSports.com’s National Player of the Year. Perhaps his most impressive honor was being named USC’s MVP on a team that boasts a plethora of professional football prospects including Mark Sanchez, Patrick Turner, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Fili Moala, and Taylor Mays.
Yet, it’s a humble Maualuga that accepts the Bednarik Award. “I try not to think about All-American type honors or individual accolades,” he said. “It kind of (stinks) that I am the only person (from my team) who was selected for this award. There are a lot of great guys on our team and our defense. I am greatly honored and appreciative of the award.”
Honors and statistics do little justice to the player often referred to just by his first name like so many premier international soccer players. What does do ‘Rey’ justice, is appreciating the obstacles he has overcome in his life to be a premier player. Maualuga was born in Oklahoma, but being the son of an Army veteran he frequently moved first to Hawaii, then to Oxnard and eventually Eureka, California.
Originally, Maualuga didn’t want to play football, but his father signed him up anyway. Mauluga quickly became passionate about the sport and he has never forgotten who was responsible. “When you have someone who teaches you everything you need to know about something you’ve got to respect that,” he said. “You’ve got to honor that. My dad pushed me to play football when I didn’t want to. He made me the person I am.”
Tragically, Maualuga’s father Talatonu died on January 2nd, 2006 after an exhausting battle with stomach cancer. He never did get to see his son play a college football game in person. Maualuga struggled through his father’s illness. At one point he was arrested for an altercation with another student at a party just two days after being with his gravely ill father.
However, Maualuga took responsibility for his actions and matured both on and off the field. “His death slowly brought me to my feet. It took me time to get over it, to become a man, to take care of family,” he told Neil Tarpey of The Times Standard. In his home town of Eureka, a softer side of Maualuga appears when he is asked for autographs. Maualuga told Tarpey, “”A lot of little kids kept coming up to me, asking for autographs, It put a smile on my face. I hope that I can keep having them respect me.”
Certainly everyone else respects Maualuga as a complete dynamic football player. In a battle of then No.1 USC and No.5 Ohio State early last season, Maualuga showed that he was more than just a big hitter with an interception that he snared out of the air and ran down the sidelines for a 48-yard touchdown. USC never looked back in a 35-3 rout.
Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Daily News said, “Does this look like Superman in cardinal and gold or what? Maualuga has given every indication of becoming the ideal middle linebacker. He has the natural size. He has incredible burst. He is powerful and aggressive and uncommonly fast. He can be a sledgehammer or a ballerina. Dazzle with power or agility. Play with fury and control."
There is one more thing about ‘menacing’ Maualuga that the NFL might want to keep in mind next season. You’ll be tempted to say that his emotions are worn on his sleeves. Actually his many tattoos are on his arms. His emotions are located somewhere else and if he hits you, it will be the last thing you see in the form of the black ‘Dad” stickers under Maualuga’s eyes.