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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 30, 2005

Maiava glad to be done with recruiting process

 •  Chart: Hawai'i in demand

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff

More than three months since telling two-time defending national champion Southern California he would accept its football scholarship, Kaluka Maiava still can't believe his good fortune.

Baldwin's Kaluka Maiava verbally committed to UCLA, then changed his mind when USC offered.

Christie Wilson • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It's unreal," said Maiava, an Advertiser first-team All-State selection from Baldwin. "The reality still hasn't kicked in."

Wednesday is the first day high-school recruits can sign binding national letters of intent. Baldwin will hold a lunch-time ceremony for its lone Division I signee.

O'ahu players from several schools will have a collective signing press conference at Kapolei Hale that morning.

Most of the recruits have given their verbal commitments, but some are still mulling over their choices.

Maiava, however, was the first to commit, albeit twice. While in California attending camps at Stanford, San Diego State and USC — and later at Utah, BYU and Colorado — UCLA learned he was in the neighborhood and invited Maiava to visit the Westwood campus to make an offer. He accepted.

"I committed to them because I was blown away by their facilities and their coaching staff," Maiava explained. "It wasn't like I was pressured into it. I felt I would've fit at UCLA."

But in August, he said that his verbal commitment was "soft" because he planned on taking other recruiting trips. After all, there were offers from Boise State, Fresno State, Tulane, California, Arizona, Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin, Oregon, Utah, BYU and UTEP, according to Maiava's father, Scott Mahoney, a Kamehameha graduate who went on to play at Colorado.

The recruiting process can be trying for a teenager. That is why it is not uncommon for a player to give a verbal commitment, then change his mind. Last year, Kahuku offensive lineman Jeremy Perry, the Advertiser's Offensive Player of the Year, went as far as signing UH's letter on signing day. However, he never faxed it to the school, and wound up signing with Oregon State.

Maiava said it is tough to say "no" in person. Kahuku's two-time all-state defensive back Al Afalava can attest to that. During an Oregon State trip, he said he accepted its offer. Sort of.

"I didn't mean to say, 'yes,' " he said after Web sites reported he had committed to OSU. "I (hadn't) even told my family."

There are various reasons for the players' decisions. Some value playing in front of family, so they choose Hawai'i. Some just want to get off the island, like Kamehameha lineman Mika Kane, the Defensive Player of the Year, who chose California.

Then there is Olin Kreutz, who chose Washington out of Saint Louis School for vocational reasons. He said other students pick schools for their majors, so he picked one that would prepare him for the NFL, he once said. Kreutz became a Pro Bowl center for the Chicago Bears.

Weight training helped Kaluka Maiava gain 10 pounds — he's 6-0, 225 — since the end of the season.

Christie Wilson • The Honolulu Advertiser

Maiava, grandson of ex-professional wrestler Neff Maiava and nephew of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, said he was drawn to USC because of the program's popularity and the Hollywood atmosphere.

"The coaches were like my coaches (at Baldwin)," said Maiava, who verbally committed to the Trojans on Oct. 12. "In the game, they're always pumped. It's not boring and all that and the players have fun. I went to practices and it was so spirited. (The TV announcers) said during halftime, they were singing and dancing (in the locker room). That's the kind of style I like. They're a team. No individuals there."

Before taking his official recruiting visit to USC the weekend of Dec. 10 to 12, Maiava made two unofficial trips to watch the Colorado State game on Sept. 11 and Notre Dame on Nov. 27. He was overwhelmed by the 92,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum, where the Trojans play their home games.

"That place is unreal," Maiava said. "You feel the energy in that place. The fans are diehard fans."

When he took the official visit, his mother, Kathryn (who works for an airline, allowing the family to fly free, Maiava said) went with him.

"The coaches reassured her that we will be taken care of," Maiava said. "They'll help me graduate."

His host was redshirt freshman linebacker Thomas Williams. He also met with linebacker Lofa Tatupu, whose father, Mosi, starred at Punahou School before moving on to USC and the NFL.

Quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush weren't present. Both were attending the Heisman Trophy Award ceremony in New York. Leinart won the trophy and said he will return for his senior season.

To top off his trip, a movie was being filmed outside his Los Angeles hotel, where the recruits were housed.

"I woke up and saw everybody driving in reverse and was wondering what was going on," Maiava said. "Then I saw the cameras.

"Action all the time, movies right outside my window, it was crazy. I loved it."

A dramatic moment during the trip came when he and seven other recruits dined at Papadakis Taverna, where one of the owners is former USC player John Papadakis. Maiava said Papadakis got emotional when speaking to them about the history and tradition of USC football.

"There were eight of us and everyone said, 'I want to become a Trojan.' "

For Maiava, getting an offer from USC wasn't just about his athletic ability. He had to put himself in position academically to make himself more marketable. He has a 3.6 grade-point average and has successfully increased his SAT score in each of his four tries, raising it to 1,010.

"My dad made sure (I studied)," he said.

Maiava spends as much free time during school and at home to get his work done.

"I hate playing catch up," he said. "Plus sports keeps you in line."

At 6 feet and 225 pounds — he gained 10 pounds since the season ended — he is not a prototypical linebacker. But USC doesn't have prototypical players. Just athletic ones who can fit at positions the team needs.

For now, Maiava is playing soccer before he resumes training for football. He can't wait to go to Los Angeles. He plans to leave a week after graduation in early June.

He has incentive to prepare for the upcoming season. The Trojans open defense of their national title against Hawai'i at Aloha Stadium on Sept. 3.

"The earlier I start (training), the better my chances of starting," Maiava said. "I want to be on the field when we play UH. That's motivation right there."

Reach Stacy Kaneshiro at skaneshiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8042.