December 22, 2014

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Tough guy: Kaluka Maiava impresses Browns with his talent, smarts and tales of hunting wild boar … with his bare hands

BEREA — Eric Mangini isn’t easily impressed, but Kaluka Maiava nailed his predraft interview.
All it took were stories of hunting wild boar — without a gun.
“He is a tough, tough guy,” Mangini said Saturday at rookie minicamp.
Mangini was impressed enough with Maiava’s entire resume to draft him in the fourth round last Sunday. Maiava started 13 games as a senior on USC’s star-studded defense — the other three starting linebackers were drafted in the first two rounds — and will compete for a job as an inside linebacker.
Training camp can’t compare to chasing wild boar through the mountains of Maui with nothing but a couple of dogs, a knife and a stick.
“We don’t use guns, that’s cheating,” Maiava said. “Anybody can shoot something. It’s the rush to chase something and tackle it, just like football.”
During the interview, Mangini asked what he did for a hobby and Maiava said in Hawaii it’s hunting and surfing. He hunted for the first time with a friend when he was 15, and they caught a boar.
“The new guy usually has to carry it,” Maiava said. “I got lucky, it was only like 150 (pounds). It was a small one.”
He said he hasn’t been hurt hunting but lost a couple of dogs who were stuck by a tusk.
“Every time I go I’m nervous,” Maiava said. “Sometimes I run into a big one, they’ve got tusks that can hurt you. Then you see it and chase it down.”
Maiava applied the toughness and agility training to the football field. He was a two-time USC co-special teams player of the year, totaled 66 tackles, 7½ tackles for loss, an interception and five pass breakups as a senior and was named defensive MVP of the 2009 Rose Bowl with four solo tackles and two pass breakups in a win over Penn State.
Maiava, wearing No. 56, had a rough start to practice Saturday morning, whiffing twice on a one-on-one tackle drill. He’s undersized at 5-foot-11, 226 pounds, but bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times at the scouting combine.
“If I’m 5-11, I’m 5-11. I’ve got to make the most of it,” he said.
Maiava nor Mangini is considering a shift to safety.
“I’m here as a linebacker. I played linebacker in college and that’s what I want to play,” Maiava said. “At SC I was called outside linebacker, but most of the time I was stacked over the center. It’s not a big change for me. I’m very comfortable inside.”
Maiava, who will start out on special teams and compete for playing time with Beau Bell and Leon Williams behind starters D’Qwell Jackson and Eric Barton, has been surrounded by talent the last four years. USC has been a consistent top-five program, and fellow linebackers Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews III and Rey Maualuga graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before the draft and were all gone by pick No. 38.
“Coming from college to here definitely prepared me,” Maiava said. “You see how they play and they’re great athletes. You try to play up to their par, try to be as fast as them, try to play as aggressive as them, make more tackles.”
Mangini interviewed all the Trojans and wound up picking Maiava.
“I was really impressed with his intelligence, his recall of the system, the way that he played, his temperament,” Mangini said.
And his willingness to kill a wild boar with his hands.
“You eat everything you kill,” Maiava said, comparing the taste to chicken. “It’s good eating.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.