Kana’i Mauga was a hustle player with the USC football program. While he didn’t take the step forward for the team in his last year as a Trojan, he remained a fan-favorite due to his physical and hustle-oriented play style that proved that he had the work ethic to succeed at the next level .
Sure enough, he did end up getting picked up as an undrafted free agent for the Denver Broncos. He looks likely to slot in as a backup inside linebacker, but SC fans remember when he was recruited out of Hawaii as an outside linebacker. He has the skillset that would allow him to play at either spot.
That potential versatility will help him as he tries to earn playing time this offseason on the No. 3 ranked defense in the NFL (18.9 points allowed per game). They play a hard-nosed brand of football in Denver, and Mauga can handle it.
He was known at SC for making hustle plays, and never taking his foot off the gas despite seemingly everyone around him doing so. It’s worth remembering that his head coach at SC every year (except for his last 10 games) didn’t even let the players tackle anywhere near as much in practice as the standard coaching practice around the country was.
Kana’i Mauga didn’t put up bad numbers for the USC football program at all, by the way. In the last two seasons, he played in every single game (18 games) and he was a starter. He totaled 132 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. He had a couple of picks, a couple of sacks, a couple of PD’s, and he forced a fumble too.
He even started at times in the 2019 season as well. In his first college career start in 2019, he collected 13 tackles (two for loss), a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception. Mauga thrives under pressure, and Denver will like that.
When playing in a Pac-12 Conference Championship Game in 2020, Mauga picked up 14 tackles and had an interception and 34-yard return off of it. A big-game player, he proved that he has important intangibles and was mentally strong at SC.
That’s what NFL coaching likes, so don’t sleep on his chances of playing professional football this season and for years to come. Mauga was always willing to run through a wall for his teammates at SC, and will likely put forth the same effort in the League. Whether that’s on defense or grinding on special teams, do not be surprised if he finds and keeps a roster spot with Denver.