|ESPN.com: Pac-12||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
|Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images|
|USC linebacker Rey Maualuga has made a name for himself with his big hits on the field.|
See the offensive player running. See USC linebacker Rey Maualuga running toward the offensive player.
Feel the anticipation. Hear the SMACK! Share the crowd's collective gasp.
What fun.All-American honors are great. Awards are nice, too. Maualuga figures to pocket lots of that stuff in 2008.
But what sets Maualuga apart is this: He is an Internet phenomenon.
Few teams divide college football fans like the mighty Trojans. Many fans are downright exhausted and annoyed by USC's dominant run over the past six years.
But Maualuga is a uniter, not a divider. If a person appreciates football distilled to its most basic essence -- knocking the pooh out of another guy -- then it's simply impossible to not like Maualuga.
YouTube is full of highlight-reel hits from Maualuga.
That's why one Internet service named Maualuga this season's "Scariest Defender."
That's why a Maualuga neologism found its way into the online Urban Dictionary: Maualugaed. Defined as: "In football, it is used to describe when a player is absolutely destroyed by a hit. A reference to USC linebacker Rey Maualuga. Pronounced: mao-uh-loo-guhd."
And as used in a sentence: "Dude, did you just see the Michigan QB get completely maualugaed? I'm surprised he can still walk!"
SEC folks notoriously hate USC. But popular SEC blog "Every Day Should Be Saturday," (which sometimes uses adult language) has celebrated Maualuga, even once having Trojans coach Pete Carroll shoot his linebacker out of a cannon at fighter planes piloted by Charlie Weis and Lou Holtz (it sort of makes sense if you read the script that accompanies LSUFreek's graphic).
Maualuga, who likely would have been a first-round NFL draft pick this spring if he didn't opt to return for his senior season, seems mostly bemused by all the acclaim, of which he is only vaguely aware. "People e-mail me all these clips and tell me how funny it is," he said. "It's overwhelming at times. But it's just one little highlight that sort of made news."
He's referring to the infamous sideline blowup he inflicted on UCLA quarterback Pat Cowan, not his crush shot on Illinois quarterback Juice Williams that had ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit gushing, "There's the hardest hitting linebacker in college football."
Even his teammates don't escape. After USC receiver Patrick Turner -- who's no mighty mite at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds -- and Maualuga started to exchange pleasantries during a "Competition Tuesday" practice, Maualuga crawled inside his personal cannon.
"It was just one of those things where words got exchanged and I was like, 'alright.' He came through the middle. And boom," Maualuga explained.
Turner subsequently left practice with a shoulder stinger, but not before uttering a plaintive, "What the [expletive], Rey?" Turner's query promptly found its way to a T-shirt.
What's it all mean for Maualuga? Really, it's about the kids.
"It feels good to have little kids come up to you and say, 'I love that Patrick Cowan hit!' It gives you a little smile," he said.
Isn't that sweet?
Maualuga's career didn't start off sweet. During his freshman season, his father died. Maualuga also got arrested for punching a guy at a party. Life was coming at him fast and he wasn't responding well.
"It's been more than a growing process," he said. "I've learned tremendously from my actions. I was just young back then. I didn't know what I was doing. But I realized that it's not just me who's going to school. It's my family and everybody that I'm representing. So I need to show myself in a respectable way."
That's why he seems just a bit reluctant to embrace his reputation as a brutal hitter. He's aware that some extend his menace on the field to his presence off it.
"Everyone sees me as the big old guy who loves to get into trouble and loves to hit, so I'm just trying to change that image," he said.
Off the field, that is.On the field, the hits figure to keep coming.