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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Maiava embraces new challenge

The Browns finally got their USC linebacker.

After the three more celebrated members of the Trojans' talented linebacker corps -- Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews -- went elsewhere, the Browns used their fourth-round pick, at No. 104 overall, to get Kaluka Maiava on Sunday's second day of the NFL Draft.

"Those other three guys definitely had the spotlight," Maiava, the seventh Southern Cal player to be taken to that point in the draft, said on a conference call with the Cleveland media minutes after being chosen. "But it did not hurt me. Competing against them every day made me better. It helped me to up my game."

What he lacks in hype, though, he more than makes up for in belief in self-confidence. Asked by a reporter to describe himself as a player, Maiava said. "I compete all the time. I refuse to lose. I have a nose for the ball. I'm fast, and I made plays every game."

He's right, especially on the last part. Starting all 13 games on the weak side last year, he made 66 tackles, 7.5 of which were for a loss, and had five pass breakups and an interception.

Not bad for someone who, at 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds, appears smallish at first glance, especially in comparison to his linebacker teammates in college (Maualuga is nearly 6-2 and 255, Cushing almost 6-3 and 243 and Matthews 6-3 and 240).

For Maiava, size doesn't matter. Not a bit.

"There are all kinds of guys who played in the NFL and are considered small and still make plays," he said. "You can't let that stop you. I'll never let that stop me."

What may be more important is the fact Maiava is cut from good stock. He said his father, Scott Mahoney, a former offensive lineman, briefly spent time in the NFL. His grandfather, Neff Maiava, was a pro wrestler. His brother, Kai, is a junior offensive lineman at UCLA.

And then there's the fact "The Rock" is his uncle. We're talking about Dwayne Johnson, the pro wrestler/actor who played football at Miami.

"I don't know 'The Rock' personally," Maiava said. "But he is my uncle."

No problem. That, and everything else in his past and on the periphery, won't mean a thing soon. He will be judged by the Browns solely on what he can do on the football field for them.

But where? On the inside or the outside in the Browns' 3-4 defense, the same alignment the Trojans ran?

"We (he and the coaches) have not gone over the details yet," Maiava said. "I'm just excited to be on the team. Whatever the coaches want me to do, I'll produce."

Yes, Maiava, the 16th USC player drafted by Cleveland and the first since cornerback Daylon Mutcheon in that expansion season of 1999, is excited to be with the Browns -- and surprised, too.

"I know they were looking at linebackers, but I was shocked when I got the call that they had picked me," he said.

Though traveling from the West Coast, where he played in college, and from Hawaii, where he played in high school, to the shores of Lake Erie will be a shock weather-wise -- "I'll have to get a few extra sweaters, and I'll have to leave my slippers (sandals) behind," he laughed -- he'll still find a familiar face when he gets to Cleveland.

It will be that of first-round pick Alex Mack, the Cal center he battled in the PAC-10.

"He's a very strong player," Maiava said of Mack. "He's real smart and very athletic."

And now a teammate. And his former linebacker teammates at USC are now the opponents.

Funny how things change when you get to the NFL.

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