Monday, August 10, 2009

Multiple Members of Browns with Hawaii Ties

There are four in all --- a taste of the Pacific in northern Ohio --- who will toil on the banks of Lake Erie, down the street from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Two are linebackers, although different in stature and background. One is a seemingly always-smiling gentle giant who will man the defensive line. The other is from the smallest place, but has made the biggest impact in the National Football League.

Kaluka Maiava and David Veikune are the linebackers; Melila Purcell is a behemoth of a defensive lineman living in a foreign land; and Kimo von Oelhoffen, a 14-year NFL veteran with a Super Bowl ring, is a slimmed-down

version of the 300-pound defensive-line monster he used to be, now taking on the role of coaching intern.

Cleveland Browns all. Men who are chasing their dreams at camp, living in dorms, eating in the cafeteria.

Maiava, the 2005 Baldwin High School graduate who played in four Rose Bowls for Southern California, says Cleveland actually has him recalling his hometown, especially after spending the last four years in Los Angeles.

''It reminds me of Maui, it reminds me of Wailuku, you know, a slow town, not too fast,'' he said. ''Coming from L.A., it is real different. It just kind of reminds me of Maui, but it is a little hotter.''

He is thankful to have some local brethren with him.

''It is real good,'' Maiava said. ''It helps me get adapted to Cleveland, being far away from home. Mel is from Samoa and David is from Oahu, so it is real good to have a couple guys from home out here. It's fun.''

Maiava was the 104th pick of April's NFL draft, going in the fourth round, two rounds after Veikune. Maiava spent his first three years at USC as a special teams standout before rising to the starting lineup as a senior and garnering defensive player of the game honors in the Trojans' 28-24 win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

As Maiava fights to make the Cleveland roster, his time at USC is valuable. He was the man at Baldwin --- playing linebacker and fullback and returning kicks --- and arrived in Los Angeles as's 11th-rated linebacker in the nation. After he committed to the Trojans, however, Brian Cushing, Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers --- all on the top-10 list of linebackers --- followed suit. When Rivers left a year early, Maiava took his starting spot and earned Pac-10 second-team honors.

Cushing was the 15th pick of the draft, by the Houston Texans. Maualuga went 38th overall, in the second round, to the Cincinnati Bengals. Clay Matthews, who joined Maiava on the first string as a senior, went to the Green Bay Packers with the 26th pick.

''I tell them, 'Let me borrow some money,' because they got a lot more than me,'' said Maiava, who signed a four-year, $2.5 million contract with the Browns last month. ''I might ask them for a job, too, if this doesn't work out. I can be in their entourage or whatever. Nah, it's the same old stuff, we say 'good luck' to each other. We are all good friends.''

Purcell, a University of Hawaii graduate, was on the Browns' practice squad last season. He said he knows of a plate-lunch diner in Cleveland --- Kimo's Sushi Shop --- but it is temporarily closed as the owner battles health concerns.

''It is good to have us all here, the connection with all the island guys,'' Purcell said. ''It doesn't matter where you are from. We have a strong bond together.''

Veikune, who at 6-foot-2 and 257 pounds is two inches taller and 28 pounds heavier than Maiava, said he has never experienced anything like the crowd of 4,000-plus that showed up for the Browns' first practice nine days ago.

''Man, I have never seen this,'' Veikune said. ''When I first came out here and saw this, I was like, 'Wow, this is the NFL.' I have never seen so many people out at practice. They are great fans, and Cleveland is a great place.''

Veikune remembers being on the UH team with Purcell in 2006.

''Mel is just a great guy and it is just reminiscent of all that, which for me is a great thing,'' Veikune said. ''Having all four of us here is great. It definitely helps, especially if anybody gets homesick, you can always lean on them. It is definitely a great thing to have some support.''

Von Oelhoffen --- whom they all look to for inspiration, waiting to see the Super Bowl ring he won with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 --- is perhaps the most unlikely participant in the Browns' camp.

He graduated from Molokai High in 1990 after being a standout on the basketball team that featured 1988 state player of the year Jarinn Akana, and the 1989 Maui Interscholastic League championship baseball team. The Farmers do not field a football team, but that didn't stop von Oelhoffen from walking on to the team at Boise State and then being a sixth-round choice by the Bengals.

Purcell said Veikune and Maiava are both strong candidates to contribute to the linebacking corps behind him.

''I think both of them are great athletes,'' Purcell said. ''You know, both of them on the field, they will make the plays regardless. They just need to get better. It feels good to have guys that you can play around with. We are going to work together and get the job done. We all eat together in the caf(eteria). Camp is pretty tight, but we all hang out whenever we have a chance.''

Maiava said his family is planning to attend the Browns' home game against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 27, which will be his 23rd birthday. Little brother Kai Maiava, an offensive lineman for UCLA, may not be able to make that trip if the Bruins are in a bowl game.

When that comes up, Kaluka Maiava's college allegiance suddenly springs into action.

''Yeah, I don't think so,'' he said. ''Kai will be here --- he won't have anything else to do.''

Maiava said that he is working hard to adjust to the NFL --- a large change, even from a top-ranked program like USC --- and trying to make a name Cleveland fans will remember.

''Speed kills,'' he said. ''That is the biggest difference I have seen so far. Also, the boys are a lot bigger. ... Everybody here is still trying to learn how to pronounce my name. I haven't done many interviews, but I'm pretty sure they have pronounced it wrong --- 'My-Eva,' 'May-Ah-Voo,' stuff like that. They can't really get it. It is confusing for them.''

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