Rey Maualuga did not wait until Saturday to get emotional about playing his last game for USC at the Coliseum.
After the Trojans’ victory over California on Nov. 8, the senior linebacker’s eyes welled as he stammered through a postgame interview. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Maualuga apologized, citing the fact that he had just completed his second-to-last Coliseum appearance.
“I was just thinking of freshman year, knowing how fast it’s all gone,” Maualuga said Thursday after a morning practice.
So when the fifth-ranked Trojans gather tonight for team meetings and walk down the Coliseum tunnel on Saturday before playing Notre Dame, Maualuga isn’t quite sure how he will react.
Coach Pete Carroll has warned players to avoid letting emotion get the best of them, as former quarterback Matt Leinart did before the Trojans played UCLA in 2005.
“We’ve handled it really well over the years,” Carroll said. “I use Matt’s example because I don’t want them to create such a frenzy that they can’t perform the way they want to.”
Maualuga acknowledged that might be easier said than done.
“It’s easy for Coach to say because he returns every year with a great team,” said Maualuga, a Butkus Award finalist. “I’m saying now I’m not going to be emotional, but it’s going to be hard.”
Defensive tackle Fili Moala and receiver Patrick Turner are among the seniors who will be introduced before the game.
Neither expects to be overwhelmed.
“I just look forward to playing the game,” Moala said. “I’m happy for the opportunity to play my last game there, but that’s about it.”
Said Turner: “You don’t want to waste all your energy on that and then play a sluggish game. You just want to go out and then do good.”
Carroll said that freshman tight end Blake Ayles would not play against Notre Dame and that he would have knee surgery Monday to remove a bone chip.
Ayles has caught six passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.
Senior safety Kevin Ellison also will not play.
Ellison had knee surgery Nov. 3 and practiced for the first time Tuesday. But he left the field during warmups Wednesday and did not practice Thursday.
Trojans players dispersed after practice to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Players from out of the area were invited to gatherings at homes of teammates. Quarterback Mark Sanchez’s family was scheduled to host a large group. . . . A toy drive sponsored by Carroll’s “A Better L.A.” will be held at Saturday’s game. Donations and new unwrapped toys or USC gear will be collected at the ESPN booth/tailgate location in front of the statues at the peristyle end of the Coliseum.