WAIKAPU - Not far from where they grew up, Kaluka Maiava and Cody Nakamura were back together on a makeshift football field Saturday.
The lifelong friends and former Baldwin High School teammates - born eight days apart in 1986 - were running drills in Nakamura's "Hard Naks" Football Camp on the Maui Tropical Plantation field that most of the time hosts local vendors.
Football has been good to both, albeit in different orbits.
Kaluka Maiava had 34 tackles for the Cleveland Browns during the 2011 season, his third in the NFL
AP file photo
The Cleveland Browns’ Kaluka Maiava pursues the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger during a game in December.
AP file photo
Maiava finished the 2011 NFL season as a starter at outside linebacker for the Cleveland Browns, in his third year in the league after being the only Mauian ever drafted, in the fourth round out of Southern California.
Nakamura concluded his career at Weber State in 2009 as a tight end, piling up 21 catches in three games before a knee injury ended his final college season, but he is back at 100 percent and pursuing his dream of playing professional football.
In the meantime, they both are helping the future of Maui football.
"I remember when a guest speaker would come talk to us, it motivated me to be 'that guy,' " said Maiava, who had 34 tackles last season. "I wanted to come back and have little kids look up to me. I don't know if my word counts for anything, but it is just the message.
"I'm proud and honored to be here talking to kids and having them look up to me because I was in their situation, didn't even have shoes, just barefoot, slippers on my hands."
Maiava fought back from a knee injury that ended his second season in Cleveland after just two games in 2010, and started six games last season, including the final five. In weeks 15 and 16, he had back-to-back games with seven tackles - all solo - in close losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens.
"I was real fortunate, man. I didn't know how my knee was going to respond coming off the surgery," said Maiava, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. "But it felt really good - healthiest I have been since college. I was really happy to get the playing time I did. Unfortunately some guys got hurt, but that is part of the game. You know, next guy up."
In a blog last month, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto wrote: "Entering the season, the Browns didn't know if Kaluka Maiava was anything more than a valuable special team player. They now believe he can start at outside linebacker."
Maiava hopes his climb starts to be reflected in the Browns' record. They were 4-12 in 2011, with six losses by a touchdown or less.
"It is hard for the people of Cleveland to have a losing season every year," he said. "We are trying to win for them and we are sick of losing, too, man. The Cleveland fans are crazy, guys show up (to practice) in full pads. One time we let one of them run a kickoff with us. We are just trying to win for them, because I know it is hard for them. It is cold, the weather is crazy, jobs are scarce out there. We are just trying to give them something to be happy about, be proud of. Playing in front of fans like that is what you live for."
Two of Maiava's relatives finished their college football careers in 2011 - Kai Maiava, Kaluka's younger brother and a center at UCLA, and Kaniela Tuipulotu, Maiava's brother-in-law and a nose tackle at Hawaii.
"It would make me very proud, I would be very happy," Kaluka Maiava said of possibly seeing his relatives make the NFL. "I want more Maui boys to join me. I just challenged these kids here right now - in a few years they will be my age - I told them: 'Come beat me. Don't be like me, be better than me, keep me on my toes.' "
Maiava is currently living on Oahu with his two brothers - older brother Ilima Maiava is a mixed martial arts fighter. They do several types of workouts to be ready for their next challenge.
"We have a small house, so at the end of the day we kind of want to kill each other," Kaluka said. "So that is when we go to MMA, we spar with each other. It gets all our aggression out, but it is all good. We are all training for one thing and we all support each other."
As far as Maiava is concerned, he also has another sibling - Nakamura.
"That is my brother, man," said Maiava, who was best man at Nakamura's wedding. "We have been friends since I can remember."
Nakamura will be running the camps for players 8 years old through high school age until Aug. 25. More information is available at hardnaks.com.
"The basic idea is to increase athletic ability of the kids on Maui," Nakamura said. "It is great to have Kaluka here, to see someone who started off just like everyone else. Born right down the street, went to Wailuku El(ementary), you know, nothing special. He made it all the way, so that is good for kids to see that, give them a goal, something to reach for."
Nakamura is also thinking about his future in the game. He tore all three ligaments and the meniscus in his knee in 2009, but is now sound.
"I just did a regional combine in L.A. and from there I got invited to a super regional combine in Detroit," he said. "So, I'll be going to Detroit in March. I train Monday through Friday and I bring the kids out here on Saturdays."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org