SALT LAKE CITY — New Orleans Saints fullback Marcus Mailei wanted to provide Highland High's football program with something special for its annual auction.
He almost had to be talked out of it by Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees and Highland coach Brody Benson because of the gift's enormous generosity.
Mailei has donated a commemorative ball that each of the Saints were given for beating the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game in January. The ball has Mailei's name on it printed in gold letters on a white background. It also lists the final score — Saints 31, Vikings 28 — both teams' helmets and the date of the game.
More than a dozen players, including Brees and running back Pierre Thomas, signed Mailei's ball.
"It's pretty sick," Mailei said of the ball he donated.
And incredibly generous of the former Highland High and Weber State star to give to the Rams.
"Drew Brees said, 'That's awfully nice of you to give that ball to your high school football program,' " Mailei said. "I said, 'I know, it's all love.' He said, 'More power to you.' "
The ball will be sold to the highest bidder at Highland on Saturday night during the Rams' annual auction.
Benson said he recently asked Mailei if he could provide something signed to be auctioned off for the program, expecting something like a jersey or a hat. When Benson was informed what Mailei was going to donate, he told Mailei he should keep it. Mailei said no, because he's appreciative of the impact playing at Highland had on him.
"That's just Marcus," Benson said. "It's a huge, huge donation from him. Last year when he was at the combines (working out for the prospective NFL teams), he was giving kids cleats and gloves that he was given, just to help some kids. He's an awesome young man. He's so willing to just help out."
Mailei won't be completely empty-handed when it comes to commemorative balls from the Saints' thrilling Super Bowl run. He also got one after New Orleans beat Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV. That one was signed by dozens of players and Mailei will keep it.
Mailei was signed by the Saints in December after he spent the first three months of the 2009 season on the Eagles' practice squad. He appeared in two games before suffering a hamstring injury against the Cowboys. He was then put on injured reserve.
Mailei, because he was out for the season, decided to have some surgical work done on one of his knees. He just started running again two weeks ago, and expects to participate in the Saints' next mini camp in June.
Although he wasn't able to contribute on the field for the Saints during the playoffs, Mailei was right there with his teammates, seeing them make clutch plays in stirring wins over the Vikings and Colts to claim the franchise's first NFC and Super Bowl titles.
"I don't have the words to describe what it was like," said Mailei, one of four Highland players currently on NFL rosters along with Haloti Ngata (Ravens), Stewart Bradley (Eagles) and Bo McNally (Redskins). "It was like a dream come true."
Mailei hopes to contend for a starting position in 2010.
He also hopes the ball he donated to the Rams fetches a sizable contribution for his high school program.
"My dad still goes to every Highland game, even some basketball games," Mailei said. "My whole family still supports Highland."