USC Linebackers Continue Great Tradition: Check Out the Trojans Fanastic Four

Matt SmithCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2009

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 1: Linebacker Rey Maulaluga #58 and linebacker Brian Cushing #10 of the USC Trojans talk before a play in a 56-0 win against the Washington Huskies at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 1, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

There may not be pro football in Los Angeles per se, but the USC Trojans are a pro football factory. There aren’t too many programs that can compete with the lineage of linebackers to come out of USC. 

Miami, Penn St., and Ohio St. all have strong cases to make in this argument, but at least for this past season, the Trojans were the head of the class.

In this years upcoming NFL draft, USC produced four linebackers who will play on Sundays. Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews Jr., and Kaluka Maiava, together formed arguably the best linebacker unit in college football history.

The hard hitting Maualuga is the most well known of the quartet. Big play Rey could be a fitting nickname with his penchant for highlight reel tackles and running back interceptions for TD’s. 

Maualuga capped off his great career being named to the 2008 All-American team by the Associated Press, and by winning the 2008 Bednarik Award. He injured himself at the combines, but is considered the top middle linebacker prospect in the country and should be one of the top 15 picks in the first round of the draft.

Though Maualuga received more awards and headlines, Brian Cushing was the captain of the defense, and was equally as dominant.

Nicknamed “the Bulldog of Bergen”, Cushing is a New Jersey guy known for his toughness, work ethic, and great strength. His motor doesn’t stop, he has a great nose for the ball and he makes big plays, registering 73 tackles and three sacks in 2008. 

Cushing was named second team All-American by the Associated Press, and he should be drafted in the middle of the first round.

Clay Matthew Jr. still had to "walk on" to the USC football team, despite having USC legends and all-time NFL greats in the family with dad Clay Matthews Sr. and uncle Bruce Matthews.

He turned out to be worth it and then some, playing both linebacker and defensive end for the Trojans. Matthews was undersized as a freshman, but worked hard in the weight room and each year came back better. 

His work ethic paid off, as he was one of the surprises at the NFL Combine. He out lifted and out performed his higher profile teammates. Matthews could go late first round or second round in the draft.

After a great high school career in Hawaii, the heavily recruited Kaluka Maiava chose to attend USC. It took a while for him to get noticed playing behind Keith Rivers, so he made his mark leading the special teams unit. 

After Rivers departed, Maiava finally got his opportunity to shine his senior year at USC, capping off a very productive season winning MVP honors in the Rose Bowl. 

Maiava is projected to be selected in the third round.

These four linebackers look to follow in the tradition of past USC linebacker greats.  Names like Junior Seau, Clay Matthews Sr., Rod Martin, Chip Banks, Willie McGinest, Jack Del Rio, Duane Bickett, and Lofa Tatupu to name a few. 

How they will perform as professionals remains to be seen, but to have four senior linebackers this good on one team was a rare treat. 

Kudos to Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. who did a great job recruiting and coaching these young men as they continue the great tradition of linebackers at USC.