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Eureka! Rey camping out

Rey Maualuga

Yes, Rey Maualuga, you can go home again.

In fact, this is the second straight weekend you can go home again. Last week you went back to Eureka, Calif., for a graduation, and you heard the little kids buzzing around.

"Yeah, Rey Maualuga is going to be up here," he heard some of them say. "I'm going to his camp."

The camp is Saturday and Jenny Bowen of the United Way said on Friday that 280 of the 300 free spots are already filled in the NFL Play 60 event for at-risk children "that don't have the opportunity to attend any kind of a summer camp." Bowen says it is a rural town not blessed with the affluence one often associates with California in a small county of only about 170,000.

The plan is for athletes from Humboldt State College to stock the fields with drills for a variety of sports and high school athletes and coaches to fan out and also help.

But it is Maualuga, the 23-year-old Bengals linebacker, who is the headline name. The lone NFL player. The kid that has made it so far that he was named the nation's Defensive Player of the Year at USC. The kid who signed autographs for so long at his first NFL training camp last year because he never had the chance to go to a camp when he was growing up tough in Eureka, an everybody-knows-everybody town of about 25,000 in northwest California

"It's only from 10-3," Maualuga said. "It won't change everything, but it's a step. A positive step toward where I want to get to."

What Maualuga is really looking forward to is attending Saturday night's dinner, where he is the keynote speaker scheduled to talk for about a half hour on "The Transition from High School To College." That will be as natural as hitting a tackling dummy for the gregarious, passionate Maualuga. But he plans to give them a bonus and also talk about the transition from college to the NFL.

And it is just as special for him as it is for the kids.

"To be able to come back, to get my image back to what they thought of me being this not a superhero, but this guy everybody can watch," Maualuga said. "I think when I got in trouble, it was like, 'This kid thinks he had it made and now everything is going down the drain.' When I took up this event, I said, 'OK, this is my opportunity to hang out with the kids, meet the athletes from HSU and give back whatever I can.' "

It seems like a long time since Maualuga got in trouble. The DUI back in January. The public and sincere realization that he needed help. The monthlong stint in rehab and the vow to be sober.

"Nothing. No alcoholic beverages," he said of this spring and summer. "I go out. But not as much. Sometimes I go to dinner with my family or hang out with the guys. I've been in situations. I have cranberry and Red Bull."

He smiled.

"Ochocinco's drink."

The thing is, he plans to tell the kids exactly what they have to hear. Not just about those awful couple of hours in jail ("I sobered up real fast," he says), but what they have to do now. In high school.

"We can start early and let these guys know they have their whole world ahead of them," Maualuga said. "Make sure to get their business done as far as school. At least they can hear it from me. If they hear it from their parents, sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other."

The last time Maualuga was at a camp - the Bengals mandatory minicamp last week - he was driving the training staff crazy. He missed most of the month of June with a small surgical procedure to alleviate some pain in the lower leg he broke last season, but he's right on schedule for a return to the first day of training camp.

He's so far ahead that he taped up for one practice like he was going to work and he sprinted so hard to his stretch line that he drew a loud rebuke from head coach Marvin Lewis.

None of that Saturday.

"It's all about the kids. Hang out and let them gave some fun," he said. "It's all about them."

But it's about the kid who can come home again, too.

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