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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Freshman Maiava emerging as rock for the Buffaloes

CU lineman's charge is off the charts

BOULDER - Until shortly before college football's national signing day in February, Kai Maiava hardly was chin-deep in Division I scholarship offers.

Raise two fingers: one for New Mexico State, the other for Idaho.

But about a week before signing day, Maiava was able to hoist a third finger. The University of Colorado's pursuit of a more highly rated offensive lineman hit a dead end, sending the Buffaloes to their fallback list and in the direction of

Maiava.

By chance, Maiava received the Buffs' last offer and became their final commitment. He came to Boulder for the first time in mid-April to see CU's spring game, and by then, it was way too late for signer's remorse, not that he experienced any.

Odd how recruiting shakes out. Rated a two-star prospect by most services, Maiava currently is running at right guard with CU's No. 1 offense as position coach Jeff Grimes continues to sift through his flock of newcomers and fashion a cohesive unit.

Maiava's emergence has surprised everyone. Even he admits his rapid ascent wasn't completely expected: "It's surprised me a little bit, but my dad was always hyping me up, saying I had to come over here and try to start."

That's probably because

Maiava's father, Scott Mahoney, earned three letters as a CU offensive lineman from 1969 to 1971.

But that family tie didn't bind Maiava to Boulder; he chose CU because he wanted to play the best competition, which he'll find weekly in the Big 12 Conference.

Physically, the sturdy Samoan with shoulder-length hair is not a prototypical offensive lineman. Generously listed as 6-foot-1 but every bit of 295 pounds, his lack of stature might play to his advantage, as do hand speed, footwork and a toughness honed in island boxing rings.

After losing his first bout as a junior heavyweight, he reeled off six consecutive victories and won Hawaii's 2004 Junior Olympic Championship. The memory of his lone loss isn't as sharp as one left by battling one of two older brothers, Ilima, a 6-3, 230-pound U.S. Coast Guardsman who "kicked my (butt)" and remains "the biggest guy I ever fought."

His close-knit family is littered with real-life action figures. Another older brother, Kaluka, is a junior linebacker at Southern California. An uncle is actor-wrestler Dwayne Johnson, aka "The Rock," whom Maiava met at a family reunion three years ago ("It's pretty cool knowing he's part of my family."). And one grandfather was "Prince" Neff

Maiava, a wrestling icon about five decades ago.

Little wonder Kai, short for Kealaka'i, wound up in a ring of some sort, and it has benefited him.

"Boxing gave me good hands and feet, and I like to be physical and bang heads," he said. "I had a lot of people who doubted me before, saying I was too small to play D-I. . . . I'm just trying to come out here and prove everybody wrong."

Don't count Grimes among the doubters.

"He's tough and competitive, and that gives him a chance," Grimes said. "If a freshman comes in and doesn't have that, he's going to be intimidated by the older guys. But he'll back down from nobody - and I love that, so he gets my attention right away. He's the classic kid who does well because it means something to him."

Junior defensive tackle George Hypolite sees Maiava as a no-excuse player - "the mark of a guy who's going to be great," Hypolite said, adding Maiava's grasp of the system is complemented by the timing of his pass-blocking "punch."

"He probably has the best hands, but maybe not the best punch (of the offensive linemen)," Hypolite said. "But he's very good at timing his punch. If you're an O-lineman and can time your punch and stay on balance, there's not too many guys who can pass rush you."

A high school guard who called all of his line's checks, Maiava also benefited from an offense that "threw the ball 80 percent of the time," Grimes said, noting some other incoming freshmen, including five-star recruit Ryan Miller, arrived needing work in pass protection. Conversely,

Maiava's run blocking needs work.

Miller's pass protection "improves daily," said Grimes, who could have his top seven or eight linemen identified by week's end. Among that group will be a tackle who could play guard, with the next best player a guard also capable of playing center.

Maiava is playing both spots - guard with the first unit, center with the second. If he winds up No. 1 at either, he joins a short list (eight all time) of CU true freshmen to start in the offensive line.

Not bad for the last guy chosen.

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