Impact and a purpose: Maualuga reflects, eyes NFL future
Neil Tarpey/The Times-Standard
Eureka Times Standard
Posted:01/08/2009 01:34:18 AM PST

Rey Maualuga, USC's senior All-American linebacker, made a big impact during his four years playing college football.

The biggest impact often took the form of crunching collisions and walloping tackles that he delivered to opposing quarterbacks and running backs.

As a result of his terrific play, No. 58 received the 2008 Chuck Bednarik Award, presented annually to the best collegiate defensive player.

”He is a big strong dude and he brings it,” Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter once told David Leon Moore of USA Today. “He's probably the most feared guy in the Pac-10.”

But in his hometown, Maualuga is revered, not feared.

On Tuesday night, groups of elementary school-aged kids surrounded Maualuga sitting in the stands in Jay Willard Gymnasium while he watched his alma mater Eureka High play St. Bernard's in a cross-town basketball matchup.

”A lot of little kids kept coming up to me, asking for autographs,” said Maualuga. “It put a smile on my face. I hope that I can keep having them respect me.”

Just like he is a positive influence on Eureka kids, so too Maualuga appreciates others who have helped him.

”I thank all my coaches and teammates for helping me to get better. Everyone had an impact,” he said.

His father's death in 2005 had a major impact on Maualuga, forcing the football star to re-examine his life and where he was headed.

”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,” said Maualuga.

”It's knowing who I was, and that everyone has a purpose in this world. Everyone has a destiny that they're going to become,” he added.

Maualuga's self-reflective process helped him to recognize personal mistakes that he had made, and to set his priorities.

”At first, I wanted to go away to college, leave home, have fun,” Maualuga said. “But I couldn't keep doing what I was doing. You don't do that and get away with it and get to play football.

”I grew from it. You're only getting a certain amount of chances.”

”I look at my mom and dad, they're so short. My brother is 5-foot-10. I'm wondering how I'm 6-foot-2, 250? There's a reason that God put me on earth, to do what I'm doing,” he added.

What he's doing in the near future is playing in the Senior Bowl in Mobile. Ala. on Jan. 24.

Three months after that, on April 24, Maualuga will watch the NFL draft with his close family and friends, most likely in the Los Angeles area, waiting to learn which team will select him in the first round.

Also a month later, he will receive his B.A. degree in Sociology.

”I want to get that degree, move to the next level and start to get paid,” said Maualuga.

Does he have any preference for which NFL team picks him?

”No, it's way out of my control. Wherever I play, I'll be excited about it and I'll work my butt off,” he said. “I want to enjoy the process and have fun with it.”

Today, like many college football fans, Maualuga may keep an eye on the Florida versus Oklahoma BCS national championship game.

”It's two great teams facing off with each other. Two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks (Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford) leading their teams onto the field.”

As for his own college carrer ending, Maualuga has no regrets.

”There's nothing that I could have asked to be different. Everything happens for a reason. I appreciated and enjoyed it all. Ending at home with a win against Notre Dame (38-3). Then the last game, at the Rose Bowl against Penn State (38-24).”