Junior running back Vavae Malepeai is doing everything he can to get back into the USC backfield.
The former Mililani star who is second on the all-time Hawaii high school rushing list had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week.
“It’s kind of a week-to-week process,” Malepeai said by phone from Los Angeles on Tuesday morning. “I’m focusing on rehabbing and getting back on the field.”
The Trojans (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12) have five regular-season games remaining.
Malepeai played in the team’s first six games with the injury and felt like he wasn’t producing as much as he could because of the pain.
Malepeai also talked about his experience being a part of the USC football team the past three years.
“It’s been great and I’m learning every year,” he said. “From the moment I got here to now, I’ve matured. I’ve grown as a player and as a person. Being away from parents and siblings, you figure out life for yourself.”
Looking back at his career so far, he continues to look at improving and correcting any previous mistakes.
“I take every practice, every game rep seriously,” he said. “I’m not taking anything for granted. Not a lot of people get to be where I am.”
His serious work ethic has paid off with career stats of 1,168 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns (406 yards and four TDs this year). He was also asked about another intriguing stat — zero fumbles on 229 carries.
“That is courtesy of the coaching staff and the other running backs,” Malepeai said. “We are on each other when we take the field to stay low and keep the ball tucked at all times. We practice ball security all the time. It’s the biggest thing that’s emphasized. Every day, we do ball security drills and you get extra work if the ball comes loose. They mark the play down if the ball gets loose or if the ball is out (not tucked).”
Malepeai admitted to an occasional bout of fumble-itis when he was breaking the Hawaii rushing record (4,549 yards) that has since been eclipsed by Waipahu’s Alfred Failauga (5,795).
“Oh yes,” he said about the ball hitting the turf once in a while back then
Aside from the 2014 top-tier state title, when Malepeai was a Mililani junior, he recalls many other great times in high school.
“A lot of stuff people didn’t get to see,” he said. “The fall camps when we all stayed in the gym. High school was a neat thing, being with your teammates and away from everybody else. High school is not like college, where you are with your roommates and teammates all the time.”
Malepeai has faith in his college Trojans (who are tied with Utah for first place in the Pac-12 South) just like he had with his high school Trojans.
“I’m a competitor and the goal is to go 1-0 every week,” he said. “And I have 100 percent belief in this team that we’re going to do great things.”