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Thursday, November 26, 2009

UCLA's Maiava fired up for USC

Kai Maiava is the last man standing on the UCLA offensive line.

At one point in preseason, as many as four local players were in the running to start for the Bruins. Freshman Stan Hasiak (Kapolei '09), senior Micah Kia (Mililani '06) and junior college transfer Eddie Williams (Damien '06) were all competing for starting jobs.

But injuries to Kia (torn ACL) and Williams (fractured ankle) and off-the-field problems for Hasiak have left Maiava as the only starting lineman from Hawaii for the Bruins, who end the regular season with their rivalry game against Southern California on Saturday.

"Our O-line took a couple of injuries this season, but the guys next on the list have shown up and done a good job filling in for them," Maiava said.

Maiava, a sophomore from Baldwin High on Maui, earned freshman All-America accolades at Colorado in 2007. But after a proposed position change to fullback in the offseason, the 6-foot-1, 310-pound center decided to transfer to UCLA, but had to sit out the 2008 season.

Back at his original position, Maiava has started all 11 games at center and helped the Bruins become bowl eligible with three straight wins heading into Saturday's showdown with crosstown-rival USC.

"We had a good start, then a rough October, but our team has come back," Maiava said. "We told ourselves we can't let ourselves crawl out the window and our boys did a good job of rallying up."

UCLA takes that three-game winning streak into the Coliseum, where it hasn't won since 1997. The Trojans have won nine of the last 10 games in the series, but are vulnerable to a loss this season as they find themselves out of the Rose Bowl hunt for the first time since Pete Carroll's first season as USC coach in 2001.

"It's like the first days of practice again (this week)," Maiava said. "Everybody is fired up, flying around, enthusiastic.

"There's a lot of pride in this game and I want to help our seniors go out with a bang."

National perception of the Pac-10 is down, with USC enduring its worst season in eight years. Still, the Pac-10 has four teams ranked in this week's Associated Press Top 25 -- the 24th-ranked Trojans, No. 10 Oregon, No. 16 Oregon State and No. 21 California.

Stanford, which has beaten both USC and Oregon this year, has the most votes of the nonranked teams and Arizona was in the top 20 of the BCS standings as recently as two weeks ago.

"There's a lot of momentum swings in the Pac-10 because it's so tough, but that makes things more competitive and more fun," said Maiava, who has a year of play in the Big 12 to compare it to.

"From my point of view, I say the Pac-10 is a little tougher. Everybody shows up to play every weekend in our league and it could go both ways every time you play."

Maiava said he plans to talk to older brother Kaluka, a rookie with the Cleveland Browns and USC alum, before Saturday's game.

"Thanksgiving is (today), so I'll probably have to talk to him," Kai said. "But don't worry, there will be plenty of trash talking."

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