LOS ANGELES (AP) -Rey Maualuga was all over the Rose Bowl field on New Year's Day, sacking quarterback Juice Williams three times, making an interception and forcing a fumble to win the outstanding defensive player award in USC's resounding 49-17 victory over Illinois.
He did all that carrying 273 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame.
And he's a linebacker.
``We must have fed him too much during bowl preparation,'' Southern California coach Pete Carroll said with a smile this week after admitting he had didn't realize the senior from Eureka weighed that much. ``We keep telling him it's not an eating circus around here.''
Maualuga no longer needs to be told. After reporting to training camp last month weighing 264 pounds, Maualuga proudly revealed the other day that he's down to 247.
``I've got three percent body fat,'' he said with a smile, drawing a shocked reaction before quickly adding he was kidding.
h better. I feel awesome. I'm not as tired and my speed is up.''
And his reputation as a hard-hitter is unchanged.
``He's much quicker to the punch,'' USC tailback Stafon Johnson said. ``Rey hits hard, period. You can't measure it.''
And, Johnson added, Maualuga never takes a play off.
``His love for the game, his ambition to be so great every day makes him a great player,'' Johnson said.
No question Maualuga would have taken early in the NFL draft last spring had he decided to turn pro, but along with several of his teammates, he decided to return for his senior year.
``I came back to better myself, try and help take this team as far as I can,'' he said. ``I'm pretty sure everyone came back for the same reason.''
Maualuga and No. 1 USC figure to find out a lot about themselves Saturday night when they entertain No. 5 Ohio State at the Los Angeles Coliseum in a matchup of college football's most successful programs of his decade and one of the most highly anticipated regular-season games in years.
Maualuga broke his right ring finger five days before USC's 52-7 season-opening romp at Virginia on Aug. 30, but said that won't be a problem.
``This is a big game,'' he said. ``Broken leg, pulled hamstring, I'm playing, no matter what.''
Ohio State will certainly be aware of Maualuga's presence.
ck Malcolm Jenkins said. ``He puts fear in his opponents. That's always great as a defender. You always have to game-plan around guys like that. He's an emotional player and he plays with fire in his eyes. That's what makes him great.''
Asked if Maualuga looked scary on film, Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel replied: ``He'll hit you now, and you'll go backwards. I guess I don't see it as scary because I don't have the ball, but he's a good one.''
Maualuga, a sociology major, has been a good one since arriving at USC, but he's had some off-the-field problems. As a freshman nearly three years ago, he punched a student at a Halloween party and was arrested for misdemeanor battery. The charge was dismissed after he participated in an arraignment diversion program that included counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and community service.
His father was critically ill with brain cancer at the time, and would die some two months later.
Maualuga got in trouble again a year later for his behavior at a fraternity party, but has traveled a relatively smooth road since that time.
``It's a sense of maturity, growing up, knowing what to do and what not to do,'' he said. ``Coach gave me another chance.''
And he certainly made the most of it.
State's opener against Youngstown State, and didn't suit up when the Buckeyes struggled to beat Ohio University 26-14 last weekend. Tressel said earlier this week that Wells would definitely play against USC.
Wells, a 6-foot-1, 237-pound junior, rushed for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
``We've been watching film. Arm tackling doesn't work,'' Maualuga said. ``You give him a little space, he's gone. We've been working on our tackling. We've been on the grind. We're just going to do what we've been doing.''
What the Trojans have been doing is winning, going 71-8 since the beginning of the 2002 season. The Buckeyes have won as well, with a 69-11 record during that time.

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