The junior linebackers will be eligible for the NFL draft but say they will follow the example set by Rivers, who stayed for his senior year.USC junior linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, both of whom are eligible for the 2008 NFL draft, said Tuesday that they would return for their final seasons of eligibility.
"We both had the same objective since we met at a high school all-star game in San Antonio," Cushing said. "It's about leaving a legacy. We want to continue a tradition of great linebackers here at USC and dominate."Maualuga, 6 feet 3 and 250 pounds, has started all but one game this season and is second on the team with 59 tackles, including 7 1/2 for losses and three sacks.
"The league isn't going to run away," Maualuga said. "You can never come back to college football. It's just another year to improve and have fun with teammates."
Cushing, 6-4 and 240 pounds, missed most of the first five games because of an ankle sprain, but he has started the last three.
"There's a lot of things I want to still do here," he said. "I want to be an All-American. I want to live up to the expectations everyone thought I could do and on top of that I just want to play with these guys."
Maualuga and Cushing said they were influenced by senior Keith Rivers' decision to return for his senior season. Rivers is the Trojans' leading tackler and is projected as a possible first-round draft pick.
"Most of the people I've talked to in the league say college is more fun," Rivers said. "After practice, I'll go, 'Hey Rey, let's hang out.' In the league guys are married or getting cut left and right. . . . You can't really beat the camaraderie of being a young adult."
Said Maualuga: "If [Rivers] had left he would have been picked high, but he stayed and got better and had fun playing in college. Now, he's going to go and make millions. Me and Cush are going to come back and follow through on his decision."
Maualuga and Cushing also cited the lure of playing another year for Coach Pete Carroll and linebackers coach Ken Norton.
Carroll said he would refrain from commenting specifically about Maualuga and Cushing because the players had not yet spoken to him about their decisions.
"I know other than some really rare situations it's always best for the guys to stay and come back and maximize their experience here and then maximize their potential for getting prepared for the next level," Carroll said. "So whenever guys are committed in that direction it's good thinking.
"Other than the extreme cases, it's going to pay off."