It’s been an up and down year for USC linebacker Rey Maualuga. He decided to stay in school for his senior year after he had a phenomenal junior campaign where he recorded 79 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, six sacks and an interception. This past season for the Trojans, Maualuga had the same number of tackles, but his impact stats (TFL and sacks) were non-existent. Even though he didn’t have the same amount of production behind the line of scrimmage, Maualuga’s leadership shined through on the nation’s top defense.
The offseason has also been a roller coaster ride for the All-American. With a lot of the top senior prospects declining an invitation to the Senior Bowl, Maualuga gladly accepted his invitation and viewed it as an opportunity to showcase his skills in front of NFL decision makers. He had a great week of practice in Mobile and received rave reviews from scouts. One scout said, “He’s the real deal on the field, but he makes everything look so easy that it doesn’t even look like he’s playing hard.”
At 6-foot-2, 249 pounds, Maualuga is a tremendous physical specimen who has great athleticism and explosion. He has a quick burst and great sideline-to-sideline speed. He's a sure tackler that positions himself well against the run. He's an instinctive player who’s aware of his surroundings and penetrates through a gap to make plays in the backfield. He drops well in coverage and has excellent ball skills. He can play overly aggressive at times and gets caught out of position. He has some character issues.
Those character issues were going to be addressed at the Scouting Combine, which presented another opportunity for Maualuga to solidify himself as one of the top defenders in this year’s draft. But after climbing to the highest point of the roller coaster, eventually the ride has to continue and make it’s way down.
Excited to work out with the top prospects in the country, Maualuga’s leg didn’t feel right during warm-ups. But he didn’t let that deter him from working out. Near the end of his 40-yard dash attempt at the Combine, Maualuga pulled up with an apparent leg injury. The injury turned out to be his hamstring, and the result was a disappointing 4.81 in the 40.
In this Scout.com exclusive, Maualuga discussed his current health, what his experience was like at the Combine, how different it is to compete against Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews after being teammates and much more.
Chris Steuber: How is the hamstring?
Rey Maualuga: The hamstring is fine. I’m not in a rush yet, as far as running and doing all of the footwork. My doctor, Dr. Guerrero, is a great doctor and he’s been working on my hamstring. I’m rehabbing with him, working out at API and getting treatment there every day as well. Everyone has done a great job; they’re all helping out. Right now, it feels great, but I wouldn’t say it’s 100-percent. On Monday (March 16th), we’ll start on my footwork and all of that and see how it goes from there.
CS: What’s the significance of the injury? Is it a strain or is it more severe?
Maualuga: It was a strain; I hurt it previously before the Combine. I strained it at the Combine and then a week later during training I thought I was fine, but I strained it a little bit more. I thought I was fine at the Combine, and I didn’t want to use the excuse that I hurt it beforehand because I wanted to compete with the other guys. Unfortunately, things didn’t go my way. Looking back, I think it made things a little better. Now that I’m hurt, I can take each day and work on it and make it even stronger and better. So, come Pro Day, it should be strong enough, and I’ll be good to go.
CS: How concerned were you when you first felt something not right with your hamstring?
Maualuga: I was warming up and I was telling myself that I was going to be ready when I got to the starting line and actually do the 40. But when I was warming up and running, I could feel it; I could feel it tugging. I didn’t want to tell myself that I was going to pull out at the last second. I can honestly say that I knew something was going to happen [with my leg], but I didn’t want to jinx myself and believe something was going to happen.
CS: So, you knew something could go wrong before you even ran the 40?
Maualuga: Right, but you always think the worst. I can seriously say that I knew I wasn’t ready, but just being there [at the Combine] I was ready, because I had so much adrenaline running through me. I didn’t want to use my injury as an excuse, I felt that I was ready; it just didn’t work out for me.
CS: At what percentage would you say your hamstrings health is at right now?
Maualuga: [Pause]… I would say I’m a little over 80, maybe 85 to 90 percent healthy right now. Like I said, I haven’t really tested it. I still have awhile to go until my Pro Day. I’ll be seeing the Redskins on March 24th to do a private workout at the school (USC) with the rest of the guys. I’m going to go out there; I’m not going to run the 40, it will probably be just some linebacker drills with the coaches. That will be the first test for me to see how well my leg is.
CS: So for the last three weeks you’ve just been resting up and receiving treatments over at API?
Maualuga: Yeah, but I’ve working out, working out my upper-body and stuff. It’s not like I’m staying at home and resting my leg waiting for it to heal on it’s own. I’m rehabbing it every day.
CS: Besides the hamstring, how are you holding up physically?
Maualuga: Everything is good, life is great; I’m just living life to the fullest each day. Each day is not guaranteed. I have the mindset that whatever I do today, I just want to be happy with the decisions I make.
CS: Despite the injury, how was your experience at the Scouting Combine?
Maualuga: It was a great and humbling experience. I had a great time being there. I met some guys - besides my teammates because we’re already close – and established some friendships with guys like James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman. Even though everyone is competing, the friendship and bonds I made with those guys is just crazy. Those guys call me and text me to see how my leg is doing. Instead of worrying about themselves right now, they’re taking the time to see how I’m doing with my rehab. The Combine was great, because you get to see some familiar faces that you’ve seen on magazines and TV; the Oklahoma guys, SEC guys; guys from across the country. Although it was a business trip, it was a lot of fun seeing the guys.
It was crazy for me, because growing up, my life long dream was to play in the NFL. And I had no idea how my career at SC was going to go, but a lot of things fell into place for me. Going into some of those rooms at the Combine and seeing coaches like Mike Singletary, Andy Reid; all the top coaches, it’s like, whoa… I was like, “I went from watching you guys on TV and now I’m here bugging you guys.” It was a lot of fun, but it was crazy and tiring. I had meetings from 6 p.m. to midnight, and then I’d go to sleep, wake up and do the same process for the next couple of days. I had a great time there, and I maximized every opportunity I had to meet the guys that I met and present myself to the coaches.
I keep thinking about it; I was so upset sitting there watching the guys doing their individual drills. I couldn’t sit there, so I collected my things and we back to the hotel. I gave it everything I had and that was that. Hopefully that was enough to put a smile on the face of some coaches. I think it said something about me that I was out there and that I wanted to compete, knowing that my hamstring was already injured.
CS: Where there any surprises for you at the Combine?
Maualuga: No, because guys like Keith Rivers and Thomas Williams prepared us for what goes on at the Combine. We already had an idea of what was coming and what to expect. It was a go in and get out type of thing, because we knew how to handle things.
CS: I’m assuming you met with some of the same teams at the Scouting Combine that you met at the Senior Bowl. Did you notice a difference in their interest, or was it about the same?
Maualuga: I think the interest was actually better. Teams here and there would say he’s the kind of player we need, this and that. Most of the time, you’re sitting in meetings and all they want to do is know who Rey Maualuga is. Some teams had psychologists in there and they wanted to understand who you are as a person. They want to know about your history and know about me being arrested, fighting, all of that. When you walk into the meeting a lot of teams will hand you the remote and they play your highlight film. There will be teams that show you your good film and others who show you your bad film. They’ll say, “Ok, tell us about this play and what you’re doing.” Other teams will say, “Why did you do this; this doesn’t look like a football player right here.” That’s something you don’t want to hear… [Laughs].
CS: What did you think about the teams that showed you your bad film?
Maualuga: It’s fine, they’re trying to see if you’re a person who will be coachable, and they want you to tell them what you did wrong and how you can get better. I saw more of my good film than bad film. But besides the film, some coaches will ask you weird questions like, “Have you had a drink since you’ve been here?” Or, “If we drafted you and told you to cut your hair, what would you say?” Questions like that will potentially flip us out, but you just answer the question and speak the truth.
CS: What was your response to possibly cutting your hair?
Maualuga: [Laughs]… I said, “First of all, it’s a family tradition; my mom loves it.” It’s a family tradition, but if a coach didn’t buy that, I would obviously listen and do it. But if it were a player who asked me to cut it for some kind of hazing thing, I would fight for it. I would fight for my hair, because it’s not something that will grow back right away.
CS: In the meetings that you had with the teams, was there one that stuck out to you or were they all the same?
Maualuga: All of the meetings I went in on were the same, but I met the Niners linebacker coach [Vantz Singletary, the nephew of Mike Singletary] at the airport. He said that he and Coach Singletary talked about me for an hour. They talked about the way I presented myself, how I handled the questions and the entire interview. Coach [Pete] Carroll also told me that he and Coach Singletary spoke for a while about me. And the Niners defensive coordinator [Greg Manusky] keeps calling me, but every time he calls, it’s like we’re chasing each other. He will call me, and I won’t answer. I will call him, and he won’t answer. He called me last week, but I was working out at the time. I’m sure we will talk soon.
CS: It seems like the Niners are strongly considering you?
Maualuga: Well, all of that might not mean anything. I don’t know.
CS: The Niners run a 3-4 defense, and a lot of teams are switching to that scheme. How do you see yourself fitting in the 3-4?
Maualuga: I see myself fitting right in; football is football. It doesn’t matter if I go in the first round or the seventh round, as long as a team picks me. All I need is a helmet and some shoulder pads; just throw me out there on the field and let me play.
CS: Something that’s apparent is the rise of two prospects you’re very familiar with, your former teammates, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews. Since you were unable to workout at the Scouting Combine and have been out of the media spotlight, do you feel like you’re a forgotten man while Brian and Clay are receiving a lot of attention?
Maualuga: I don’t really worry about things like that; those two have worked their butts off. They presented themselves very well at the Combine, they had great numbers at SC and I’m pretty sure it will only get better for them. They’re great prospects and great players. I don’t think I lost anything. I don’t really worry about if I get attention here or there. It’s out of my control, it’s nothing I can control and handle at this point. I feel it’s a blessing in disguise that this hamstring injury came along. I’m going to control what I can control from now on. I’m going to get this hamstring right, get it better and on my Pro Day show the coaches what I have to offer.
CS: What’s it been like for you, Brian and Clay; close friends and former teammates now having to compete against one another for draft positioning? Does it feel a little weird?
Maualuga: Our whole lives it’s been like this. Coming from high school, everyone is competing to be the top player and to get scholarships to play for the top teams. It started when we were young, and now it’s just a new chapter in all of our lives. It’s not weird. I’m pretty sure everyone is competing and everyone wants to get drafted before the other person. Then again, we’re going to be Trojans for life and friends forever, and that’s something no one can take away from us. All we can do is support each other and be there for each other when our names are called on draft day. I know these guys. These guys are very competitive, and at the same time, they’re like brothers. I’m pretty sure they will say the same thing about me. It’s something we’re all looking forward to; it’s just different with us training at our own places. We’re not speaking to each other as much, but we still talk over text messages; things never change.
CS: How great would it be for all three of you to end up being selected in the first round?
Maualuga: It’s out of my control to say where I’m going to go, but I know those two guys will go in the first round.
CS: Come on Rey, you’re a first rounder - you know that.
Maualuga: Well… I’m not a person who’s going to talk about myself in that manner. But I can talk about those two. They’re crazy gifted athletes who love to compete and play the game of football. If we all end up in the first round, it wouldn’t be a fluke. It’s something that was going to happen, and we all knew could fall into place.
CS: You and Brian have been highly touted for a few years now. But Clay’s ascension this past season was unexpected. Prior to last year, he was a backup linebacker and a quality special teams player. You know Clay just as well as anyone; talk about his evolution as a player.
Maualuga: First and foremost, he’s a competitor beyond competitors. He came in [to USC] and everyone said he was too small and not physical enough. He bottled all of that up and used that as motivation. He’s one of the first guys in the weight room, and he found a way to better himself each and every day and pushed himself to be in the [linebacker] rotation. Being overshadowed by Brian [Cushing] you’d think he would just fall apart or transfer, but he stuck with it and ended up getting a starting job. I’ve been in that locker room and saw the way his body transformed from this walk-on guy to this D-1 first round prospect. His game is just fierce, and that has a lot to do with his bloodline. His dad was in the NFL for over 18 years, and his uncle was in the game for close to 20. I never doubted his ability to play, it just took time; most people come in and they play right away and sometimes it takes time for others. He’s a blessed player, but it took time for him to realize it, and it really showed this past year.
CS: Pretty soon all three of you will realize your football future, as draft day is about five weeks away. Have you given any thought to your draft day plans and where you will be?
Maualuga: I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m going to be in Northern California or out here in LA.
CS: How about New York?
Maualuga: [Laughs]… That’s everyone’s dream; I’d love to. But that’s out of my control. If I get a phone call and they ask me to, I’d love to go. If not, I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and hope… [Laughs]… I get a phone call on the first day. As long as I’m with my mom when I get that phone call; to see my mom happy and smile there will be no greater feeling than that. It’s something that she’s excited about and she keeps calling me. My mom’s very old fashioned; she doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. She’ll say, “Son, when’s your Pro Day; when’s the draft?” I told her like 20 times, and she still calls about that.
CS: Looking ahead, I know your sights are set on your Pro Day on April 1st, as it will be the first time you’ll workout in front of scouts since the Senior Bowl. Do you plan on performing a full workout, and how do you foresee things unfolding?Maualuga: Yeah, I plan on doing everything at the Pro Day. Every day is a workday. Every day you slack off you’re losing a day to get better. While you’re sleeping or slacking off, there are other people out there who are sweating and trying to take your position in the draft. Each day is valuable to me.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com.