When Rey Maualuga straps on shoulder pads and a helmet, his family is never too far away. You can literally read on his face how much it means to him.
He's going to walk into a boatload of money soon, yes, but don't expect the laid-back, respectful and grounded kid from Eureka to become a big shot anytime soon.
”Things are not going to change, they'll just be a little different,” Maualuga said, before laughing and catching himself. “Wait, that didn't make any sense.
”My role now is going to be that I'm playing professionally, playing for money. I'm going to use that money to help my mom and brother, to repay them for all the things they've done for me.”
While playing at Southern California, the former Trojan linebacker and Eureka High graduate routinely wore eye black or sleeves with the words “Mom” or “Dad” written on them. Hardly a celebration went by without him pointing to the sky in remembrance of his late father, Talatonu, who died from brain cancer two days before the national championship game in January 2006.
Maualuga was heavily recruited after leading the Loggers to a 20-2-1 record during his junior and senior seasons in high school. He spent most of his time over the next four years in Southern California playing for one of the most dominant college football programs in the country and becoming the best middle linebacker in today's NFL Draft.
While he was away from home, Maualuga said, his older brother Raymond and mother Tina took care of the family. When Rey's name is called today -- likely somewhere in the middle of Round 1 -- he'll make sure he's closer to his family than he's ever been.
”My mom's been taking care of me for 22 years; I'm going to be there for her and give her things she's never had,” Maualuga said. “My brother never went to college. He went to work because he had to be the man of the household. He took care of everything. They worked very hard. I'm going to do everything I can to take care of my family.”
And that family is getting bigger by the day.
Raymond had a baby, Tiarah, on Sunday and Rey got to see her for the first time on Tuesday. Hardly ever lost for words, Uncle Rey was choked up talking about his new niece.
”She's beautiful. She's so pretty,” he said. “It's a humbling experience seeing her.”
The day Tiarah was born, Raymond called his little brother and told him he was feeling nervous about becoming a dad.
”I said 'You've been taking care of my mom for the last four years, I'm sure you'll do a god job with her.'”
Rey has been with his family this week and will be with them today during what has become a football fan's holiday. It's been a holiday of sorts for the family, too.
”It's been great to have everyone all together in one place,” Maualuga said. “Everyone's asking, 'What are we going to do, what are we going to cook?”
Answer: “Anything barbeque you can think of.”
As far as what he'll do with his money, I didn't ask him specifically, but he made sure of one thing.
”When I do sign, I will buy my mom a house in Eureka and make sure she never has to struggle in life again,” Maualuga said.
What will it mean to his family when his name is called?
”I know there'll be tears coming down my mom's and brother's eyes,” Maualuga said. “My friends are going to try to keep their pride and hold the tears in.
”My family's come a long way. I just wish my dad was here. He has the best seat in the house. He's watching down on us. I don't think he could be more happy.”
Sean Quincey can be reached evenings at 441-0528 or email@example.com