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News » Bengals fans take to LB Maualuga

Bengals fans take to LB Maualuga

Bengals fans take to LB Maualuga
CINCINNATI (AP) - On his first night in town, Rey Maualuga realized he was already popular.

The Cincinnati Bengals did a teleconference with nearly 5,000 season ticket holders, who got a chance to ask questions of the top draft picks. Who got the most questions? The linebacker from Southern California, by far.

When the Bengals took him with the 38th overall pick, Maualuga was angry that he had dropped to the second round. When he flew to Cincinnati for a weekend rookie minicamp, he was still stinging over the perceived slight. It didn't take him long to get over it.

"I was upset, but that was the immature part of myself," he said. "I didn't think about the team and the fans and everybody out there that was ecstatic that I was here. I apologize for not being too happy then. I thank the fans for having me in open arms."

There's a reason for the outpouring. In the past two drafts, the Southern California linebacker tradition has delivered what the Bengals needed most.

Marvin Lewis has been trying to acquire a tone-setting linebacker throughout his six-year run as head coach. So far, he's come up empty. There's been nobody like Ray Lewis, who led his record-setting defense in Baltimore.

Lewis thought he'd finally gotten his wish when the Bengals drafted David Pollack and Odell Thurman with their first two picks in 2005, but Pollack broke his neck and Thurman was repeatedly in trouble. Pollack had to retire, and Thurman was released before last season when he returned from a suspension.

Maybe this time the Bengals will get it right.

They drafted Keith Rivers from USC with their first pick last year, and took his former teammate with their second-round choice this year. Rivers broke his jaw on a hit from Pittsburgh's Hines Ward in the seventh game last season, but has fully recovered.

Rivers and Maualuga (mah-uh-LOO'-guh) could be bookend 'backers next to middle linebacker Dhani Jones. Maualuga, who played middle linebacker at Southern Cal, practiced at outside linebacker during minicamp, a new spot for him.

"I don't have any reservations about how good he can be," Lewis said.

Bengals fans are hoping that he turns into the type of impact player that Troy Polamalu became for the Steelers. Both have a Samoan heritage and a reputation for making hits that can change a game.

"I've got a long way to go to get to where he's at right now," Maualuga said. "From day one until I'm done playing football, I'll work my butt off to do what I can and become a name that everybody will remember."

Like Polamalu, the Bengals rookie has long, black hair that flows outside his helmet. Maualuga's hair is shorter - it only reaches his shoulders - but he plans to let it grow. Beads of sweat dripped off the ends of his hair strands after a practice on Paul Brown Stadium's artificial turf, a measure of how hard he had worked.

Maualuga's left leg and both arms are covered in tattoos that reflect his heritage. There are bands of symbolic designs - a spear made out of coconut leaves, for instance. He's gotten a new tattoo every year since he was a senior in high school.

"It's a tribal tradition, the Samoan tradition," he said. "I'm pretty sure the other guys have got some tattoos representing who they are. My body represents my culture and who I am."

His latest addition is out of sight - a stingray on his back, which he added over spring break.

Why a ray?

"I'm Rey," he said.

Maualuga also comes from a heritage of impressive USC linebackers. All three Trojan linebackers went high in the draft this year - Brian Cushing was taken 15th overall by Houston, and Clay Matthews went to Green Bay with the 26th pick. The three of them are close and have pushed each other throughout their careers to do better.

"It's always been a competition between us," Maualuga said. "It's a friendship, but at the same time, who's going to play first? Who was going to get the most (playing time)? Who was going to be All-American first? Who was going to have the most notoriety? Who was going to get drafted first?

"Now, I'm pretty sure it's going to be: Who's going to play more? Who's going to make an impact on the team? But that won't change the way we are. We are great friends and brothers for life, just on different teams."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 2, 2009

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