While in college, there was not a linebacker that put more fear into his opposition than Rey Maualuga. His hits were bone crushing. His speed was lightning quick. His presence was immeasurable.
As a three-year starter at Southern California, Maualuga led one of the nation’s best defenses from his post as middle linebacker, and racked up numerous honors along the way.
His play heightened in big spots for the Trojans, which led him to a Rose Bowl MVP in 2008, and the 2008 Chuck Bednarik Award, which is awarded to the best defensive player in college football.
Along with the fellow All-Americans that flanked him, Keith Rivers and Brian Cushing, the linebacker corps at USC were known for their ability to fly around the field to get to the ball, a tactic that Maualuga thrived on.
Bone-jarring hits in Rose Bowls and his continuous free spirit and love for the game made Maualuga a player to which his teammates looked towards for leadership. Aside from all the accolades Maualuga received from the press, his leadership could be the most valuable highlight on his resume.
The defenses he led were elite, and the players on them, like Sedrick Ellis and Taylor Mays, will no doubt be NFL superstars. Although his years at USC lacked a national title, Rey Maualuga was always a winner at USC, having won 46 of the 52 games in his tenure in Los Angeles.
The draft stock of Maualuga between now and April's draft should be rather steady. Currently projected as a first rounder, his strong play in this year's Senior Bowl was key for him.
All week long, the starting linebacker corps of USC led the South squad, and Maualuga bolstered the team of All-Stars at the heart of defense.
His ability to stand out amongst the nation's elite defenders is a great sign that he is ready to play on Sundays, and can only help his case come Draft Day. His physical attributes have made scouts drool, and his rate of progression and improvement he displayed in college should be a welcoming sign to NFL scouts, showcasing his ability to be coached.
Maualuga's speed and tenacity will transcend very well into the pro game. His athleticism and pace to attack the run and the pass is plus, and his love and dedication for the game can go far should he use all of his skill set.
Although he got better each year in college, there is still room for improvement for Maualuga. If he is to become the next Junior Seau, he'll have to improve his cerebral game.
Maualuga will not succeed on Sundays if he goes in with the mindset that he'll be facing Todd Boeckman every game.
Despite the loads of experience that USC provided with him, he never faced an elite pro-style quarterback. He will have to adapt to facing skilled passers like the Mannings and Bradys of the world in order to hone his game to perfection professionally.
Another setback that could go unlooked is the lack of his security blanket; USC linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. His hands on approach with Rivers, Cushing and Maualuga molded them to form, and passed on Norton's fiery persona.
It will have to be seen if Maualuga can be inspired by a new voice, and if Rey can stay true to himself, he will always remain poised and hungry to succeed.
Given Maualuga's intensity that he brings every time he suits up, and his ability to play in a 3-4 system like he did in USC's 2006 season, the San Diego Chargers would love to have him and suit him perfectly.
With Shawn Merriman on the outside, and Rey in the middle, the Bolts could have the nastiest and hardest hitting linebacker corps for a long time should they choose to draft Maualuga. Considering the struggles of the Chargers defense in 2008, Maualuga likely is atop their wish list.
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