KAHULUI --- Kaluka Maiava was in his element on Saturday.
Talking story, lifting, running, jumping and just hanging out with 95 Maui Interscholastic League football players and 54 coaches at the first Maui Football Combine, Maiava spent the morning giving a little back to the community that watched him develop into Maui's first NFL player.
''As corny as it sounds, basically, I am from here, and you have heard it before, but if I can do it anybody can do it,'' said Maiava, a Cleveland Browns linebacker and former Baldwin High School and Southern California standout. ''I am not the biggest, I am not the strongest, I am not the fastest, but I am from the same place these guys are from. I take pride when I hear about young Maui kids coming out and going to college and being recognized for going to school and playing ball.''
That was the goal on Saturday inside the Maui High gym --- to help Maui football players get to college. All five MIL football schools were represented by players and coaches, led by the 35 or so from Lahainaluna.
The players were measured in the bench press, vertical leap, 40-yard dash, L-shuttle and short shuttle, and their marks and photographs will be posted soon on www.freeteams.net/mauifootballcombine to show college coaches exactly where they stand.
Maiava talked to the players before they got started, answered questions for about 30 minutes and then jumped in and did the drills himself, including 39 bench-press repetitions at 185 pounds.
''If guys can look at me as inspiration, for a better life or to experience life, going to college and all that, it is an honor for me,'' Maiava said.
Kamehameha Maui coach Kevin O'Brien said the combine could be the start of something big. Former King Kekaulike coach J.W. Kenton had conducted an annual football camp in June that is not scheduled this year.
''It reminds me of the Just Win Camp,'' O'Brien said. ''When we started that it was small in numbers. This is about 100 kids. It is the first time through and anytime you do something for the first time, it is a little more difficult to figure it out. Now we will have a history with this and we will be able to build on and learn from the history with this. I think it is great. I think it is a great opportunity for all kids of all levels of all ages.''
O'Brien, who coached Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino at St. Anthony, said Maiava's presence boosted the event.
''Guys like Shane Victorino, Kaluka Maiava, Kanekoa Texeira and Kurt Suzuki give all the kids from this community hope to do something great,'' O'Brien said. ''If those kids can do it, these kids have got to believe they can do it. That is really what this is all about.
Isn't that what education is all about? Finding the dream and doing all the right things to pull the dream off.''
Lahainaluna co-head coach Garret Tihada said the event will prove to be important for the participants.
''This a huge opportunity. Not one of them, I think, realize how big an opportunity this is because if they decide to go to college to play football one of the first things the coaches are going to ask is what is their 40 time, their vertical, their L drill, shuttle run, stuff like that,'' Tihada said. ''If they are not here, or they don't have the money to fly to Oahu to take part in a combine, they won't have the answers to that. Those are standard questions that the college coaches will ask the players.
''We are hoping that this becomes an event that the players look forward to, to train for. Once they start doing that, it is just going to make every team on Maui better because when they train for these events they are actually training for football.''
He added: ''These kids were hanging on every word from Maiava.''
One of the Baldwin players in attendance was sophomore Pasoni Tasini, who lists Oregon and Brigham Young as his top college choices.
''This right here is a big opportunity for me to show off what I can do to other schools and all the other coaches, especially my coaches,'' said Tasini, 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. ''To show them how hard I have been working for this.''
Listening to Maiava made a big impression on Tasini.
''It was an inspiration because him coming from a small island and making it that big inspired me to work hard at it, try to get better, try to be where he is at right now,'' Tasini said.
Maiava is in the middle of a two-week sojourn to the island and will be back at work soon. He was a fourth-round draft choice last year and kept an eye on who Cleveland picked a week ago.
''I just watched my team, I watched who the Browns were picking and I thought we had a great draft, got a bunch of great players,'' he said. ''Fortunately, I saw we didn't get no linebackers, which is pretty good for me, I'm guessing. We'll see how it plays out. Those guys are in rookie camp right now, they are competing. When minicamp starts on the 17th of (this) month, we'll see the team come together and see what happens for next season.''
Maiava said he had not expected the Browns would draft a linebacker.
''It doesn't surprise me, but I was hoping they wouldn't because that is my job,'' he said, smiling. ''We will see what happens.''
Browns president Mike Holmgren has been wheeling and dealing since taking the job in December. He has jettisoned quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson and acquired Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace while selecting Colt McCoy in the third round of the draft.
''It is definitely a positive direction,'' Maiava said. ''I haven't really gotten the chance to sit down and talk to (Holmgren) ... but it is definitely looking up for the team.
''All the moves they are making is definitely to win games, so we've got to trust in the coaches. They believe these are the right moves to make and we believe in our coaches. No one is here to lose. We are in the business to win games.''
Maiava said the move from college powerhouse to the NFL meant a steep learning curve.
''Just coming from the college defense I did to the new defense in Cleveland, that has been a big step for me,'' he said. ''I never really had to do what I have to do in Cleveland.''
Maiava was trying to portray the feeling of being in the NFL to the MIL players Saturday.
''It is learning all these new things and seeing guys on the field like Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu, it is a shock,'' he said. ''I grew up watching these guys, but I am not a rookie anymore, so it is a lot better. I have that one year of experience under my belt and hopefully next season is a lot better.''
Maiava played in all 16 of Cleveland's games last season, starting three. He had 45 tackles, including 2 1/2 sacks, and forced two fumbles.
During the offseason, Maiava watched with interest as Pete Carroll left his job as Southern Cal's coach to take over the Seattle Seahawks.
How will Carroll do in the pro ranks?
''Awesome,'' Maiava said. ''No matter where that guy goes, he is a great coach and he has got a great staff with him. I'll be watching for him, hoping he does good.''
Maiava said he has not read about the questioning of Dallas Cowboys first-round draft pick Dez Bryant by Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland at the NFL combine. Ireland reportedly asked Bryant if his mother was a prostitute after Bryant said his father was a pimp and that his mother worked for his father. Bryant has said his mother is not a prostitute, and denied saying his father was a pimp.
''I didn't get any questions that serious, but at the combine it doesn't shock me,'' Maiava said. ''They will go from drawing up cover 3, cover 2 on the board and then they'll go from crazy off-the-wall stuff --- 'Do you consider yourself a lion or a cat?' And it's just, like, 'Wait, what?'
''They are just checking his character and stuff, so it is not a shock that they would ask that, but that is a little much. That was kind of a crazy question.''
Maiava traveled to several camps on the Mainland during his recruiting process but was able to keep costs down because his mother works for Hawaiian Airlines.
''These things you can use for experience, even if you have a bad one and, say, you won't get the numbers you want,'' he said. ''It is still the fact that you went through the process and can say, 'Next time I go through it ...' It is a learning process. I wish I had this, but I had to go to the Mainland, the Nike camps and all that. It is great to have all the Maui boys together, see the talent, see the competition.
''It is good that they bring things like this here and help get their names out to the Mainland, and get these guys recognized.''
Robert Collias is at email@example.com