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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Maiava tries to make a name for himself

By ROBERT COLLIAS

BEREA, Ohio --- As Kaluka Maiava emerged from the locker room adjacent to the Casey Coleman Field House --- one of 82 players after the Cleveland Browns' first practice of fall camp --- he was greeted by just one reporter.

Earlier, quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson, receivers Braylon Edwards and Brian Robiskie, defensive lineman Robaire Smith --- even kicker Phil Dawson --- were all swarmed by the media throng assembled before entering the locker room.

There was no such pressing demand for Maiava, who showered before his one interview request.

It was eight days ago that Maiava, a linebacker selected in the fourth round out of Southern California, experienced his first practice as a member of the Browns. The 2005 graduate of Baldwin High School realized precisely what is in front of him.

He said he has just one goal in mind right now: Make the team.

''Some of these guys have kids and wives to feed,'' he said. ''I have to put that into perspective and make sure that I am on top of my game. It is not college no more. They can cut me, I can go home and I can be jobless.''

That is not likely with the progress Maiava appears to be making shortly after signing a four-year, $2.5 million contract last month.

''The business part is all done now, the paper business part is done,'' he said. ''Now, the real business, the physical part, is there. It is nice to have that contract stuff out of the way, a little breathing room. I can go out to dinner now if I want.''

Maiava caught the eye of coach Eric Mangini, among others, at his first practice. Maiava, a 6-foot, 229-pounder, wore No. 56 as he worked at both inside linebacker spots in the Browns' 3-4 defensive scheme.

''He is a guy who I thought was very smart when I interviewed him (prior to April's NFL draft),'' Mangini said. ''I liked his style of play. I liked what he had done on special teams in college and I think that he has a chance to contribute in a lot of different ways for us.''

The first Mauian ever to be drafted by an NFL team was not a starter until his final season at USC, but he finished third on the team with 66 tackles and was named the defensive player of the game in his fourth Rose Bowl, a 38-24 win over Penn State in January. He had 164 tackles in his career and twice was named the Trojans' co-special teams player of the year.

Maiava is not alone among Hawaii-connected Browns in Berea, a suburb just outside of Cleveland where the team headquarters is located.

David Veikune, a former University of Hawaii linebacker selected in the second round of this year's draft, is also fighting to make the team. Melila Purcell is a defensive lineman out of UH who was signed as a free agent last year. Kimo von Oelhoffen, a 1990 Molokai High School graduate and 14-year NFL veteran defensive lineman with a Super Bowl ring from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005, is a coaching intern for the Browns.

''Tough, athletic, fast,'' Veikune said of Maiava. ''You know, he is one of those USC linebackers, so he is living up to the billing.''

Veikune said it matters little that Maiava is the first Maui Interscholastic League football player drafted by an NFL team.

''Shoot, Hawaii has a lot of talent and he is just showcasing his right now,'' Veikune said. ''I think he can be anything for us. He is strong, a real strong guy. He is always in the weight room, so he can play anything, I believe.''

Maiava grew up in Wailuku and Veikune in Wahiawa, Oahu. Purcell is from Pago Pago, American Samoa.

''Kaluka is a hard worker, he hustles to the ball, and he is getting smarter and learning the plays,'' Purcell said. ''He is getting himself motivated, not only for practice, but for the games. He is working really hard.

''He has all the qualities it takes to play in the NFL. I think he has all of it. He just needs to work hard every day and he will get better at it.''

Purcell said Maiava doesn't let himself be slowed down by being from a small place.

''I think it says a lot, especially from where he is coming from,'' Purcell said. ''He is showing a lot of the kids coming from a small island, making a name for himself and his family. So it is really big, it really is.''

Maiava said that having his first practice under his belt was a relief.

''It is just exciting, hopefully getting my NFL career off to a good start,'' he said. ''It is an exciting environment. No one likes to be waiting in the offseason. I'm just waiting for the season to start, so the waiting game is done now. It is training camp and time to show the coaches what you can do. I am just competing every day and doing my best.''

Maiava said he doesn't care where his chance to play comes from.

''Whatever they want, whatever the coaches ask me to --- special teams, defense, whatever,'' he said. ''I am just trying my best and competing every day. I just want to show the coaches they can trust me that they can put me on the field.''

While Maui produced NCAA football players before Maiava, he has started an avalanche of activity. More than a dozen MIL alumni will dot Football Bowl Subdivision rosters this fall.

''It is just great to hear from guys from Maui who are actually showing that Maui boys and Hawaii boys can play,'' Maiava said. ''Hopefully every year there are more and more. If guys see me do it and go to college, then it is just good for the Maui boys to get out there.

''I take a lot of pride in all that. It is all about representing, no matter where you are from. You've always got to represent yourself and your family.''

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