June 24, 2008

Maualuga knows it's time to work

You'd think with his play on the field, senior middle linebacker Rey Maualuga would be feeling secure heading into his final season in cardinal and gold.

Maualuga led the team in tackles in 2007, sacked the quarterback six times and earned a second-straight spot on the All-Pac-10 first team.

He's been mentioned as a Butkus Award winner, an all-American and a likely top-10 draft pick.

Still, he knows what can happen.

Maualuga feels if push came to shove, he could be replaced, and it's a credit to USC's depth.

"We know where everyone stands. We all know one mistake cane cost us our spot," Maualuga said. "We can never look back. We have to always move forward and find ways to get better every day."

Maualuga returned for his senior to help himself iron out some subtle wrinkles in his game.

"I came back another year to improve on some things and get better with my game," he said. "Right now, I'm just working hard and trying to push this team so we can accomplish our goals.

"I'm pushing myself to be a bigger leader - more of a vocal leader out here. I need to talk here and there, and I need to make sure everyone's on track to start the season off right."

There's plenty leaders for the young Trojans to look toward.

"Some guys like me and Brian Cushing, Luthur Brown, Fili Moala and Jeff Byers, we've all been here for four or five years," Maualuga said. "Everyone always looks to players who came before them.

"The coaches have been telling us to lead by example and push each other."

Last Friday after a punishing sunrise workout, Maualuga congratulated strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle and his staff on pushing the team to its limits.

"Everyone thought it was going to be a piece of cake, but the coaches switched it up on us. They made it a little difficult on us," Maualuga said. "I came in thinking we'd just ace this workout, and it really gave me a hard time out here."

But the often-discussed Trojan depth helps push the players through the toughest workouts.

"We've shared a lot of things. We've helped each other in practice, and we've competed so much," Maualuga said. "We know if we mess up the next guy will be there to step in and do a great job. It's a feeling we have.

"The competition we have on the field and off the field helps us push each other."

The relationships built over Maualuga's Trojan career, specifically at linebacker, have also helped the unit. Despite losing Keith Rivers to the NFL, Maualuga said he doesn't think the unit will skip a beat.

"The linebackers, we've been together coming up on four years. We're all working hard," Maualuga said. "Even though Keith Rivers left, we have Kaluka Maiava and Malcolm Smith stepping up and putting their work in. Losing Keith, he's a great player, but Kaluka brings something special to the group - so will Luthur Brown and Malcolm Smith."

Even after Maualuga leaves school, he sees one of the next great linebackers in practice on a daily basis.

"There's great depth. Chris Galippo's a great up-and-coming player who's going to do great things," he said. "There's no doubt those guys will do well when they get their chance to shine."

Maualuga knows all the talk about the potential awards he'll win and his future is just that - talk.

"Everything outside of football, I'm just leaving it out there," he said. "All the talk and all the expectations, I don't let that get to me because it could push me to become someone I'm not."

Like his defensive teammates, Maualuga is someone ready to get to work.

"The defense as a whole, we're all hungry," Maualuga said. "We're all ready to compete now. We all want to get back out there; everyone has that fire."

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