SI Vault
April 27, 2009
History will be made in this year's NFL talent lottery when USC linebackers BRIAN CUSHING, CLAY MATTHEWS and REY MAUALUGA become the first trio of players from the same unit to be selected in the first round. The burning question: Who comes first?
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April 27, 2009

Take Your Pick

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Pro Day was over. Now Maualuga, in keeping with the Oscars theme, ran down the list of people he needed to thank. He gave shout-out to "Zach and Chris at API"—Athletes Performance Inc., where he had trained daily for four months—and to "Dr. Alex Guerrero, who has been helping my hamstring out every other week."

Nursing a tender right hammy at the combine, Maualuga ran a Rich Eisen--like 4.91-second 40 in his first attempt, pulling the hamstring in the process. Needing to reassure scouts about his straight-ahead speed, on Pro Day he tore off a 40 measured between 4.59 and 4.71 seconds—this despite a sizable blister on his right big toe, an injury Maualuga interpreted as "the devil" trying to sap his resolve.

After thanking the Almighty for allowing him to triumph over the blister from hell, Maualuga gave props to his late father, Talatonu, who died from brain cancer two days before the Rose Bowl of his son's freshman season. Said Rey, "He was out there running that 40 with me."

Unmoored by his father's illness, Maualuga made some bad decisions as a freshman, one of them under the influence of alcohol at a Halloween party, where he punched a stranger. He was arrested for misdemeanor assault, completed community service and anger counseling, and had the charge dropped. "That incident is still in the back of my head," he told SI last September. "Now, when I go out, I think about the consequences. Or I'll just stay home, hang out and watch TV."

"Rey's really matured," said Carroll at the time. "He's a grown man now."

Even grown men still need a swift kick in the rear every so often. Following USC's stunning 27--21 loss at Oregon State last September, in which Maualuga was "terrible," according to Carroll—Norton summoned the senior to his office.

"I felt he was underachieving," Norton recalls. "And he needed to know that. Just to challenge him a little, I asked him, 'Is it possible that you might be overrated?'"

Norton then issued a not-so-veiled threat, asking the proud senior how embarrassing it would be for one of the most feared players in the college game to be second string on his own team. "Worst meeting of my life," recalls Maualuga.

It had the desired effect. "Rey just cranked it up to another level," says Carroll. "He practiced great, studied [the game] harder and better than ever. He finished on the rise." When the season ended, his teammates voted him the Trojans' most valuable player.

Which of the three will be deemed most valuable on April 25? What is it they say at the Oscars?

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