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Josh Mauro was playing in a pick-up basketball game with his brothers one day and, like any game the Mauro boys played in, this one got a little chippy.

That was nothing out of the ordinary — what with six boys in the family, five of whom would go on to play college football.

Mauro didn’t like that his older brother kept setting screens on him so he decided to something about it.

“I ran through his chest,” Mauro recalled.

That didn’t go over well with his brother and the next thing Mauro knew he was being thrown into the side of the family car.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Mauro said with a smile. “There was no time for being soft in our family.”

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Mauro is all grown up now — 6 foot 6 inches and 280 pounds — and there’s still no time for being soft. In his fourth season, the defensive lineman has become invaluable to the Arizona Cardinals because of his intensity, smarts and passionate approach to the game.

“Every time he steps on the field he just does his job relentlessly,” coach Bruce Arians said. “If you have 11 of them out there like that you would never worry.”

After Mauro started 13 games for Arizona last year he was rewarded with a two-year contract, the first real financial security he’s had since he went undrafted out of Stanford in 2014. But don’t think for a second the money will soften Mauro. If anything, he’s more driven than ever to justify the Cardinals’ faith in him.

“I give everything I have every day and it’s great to have that, but it’s just more motivation to keep going,” Mauro said.

Mauro never has lacked for motivation. He remembers the feeling of sitting with his family during the 2014 draft and not hearing his name called, in part because he ran a 5.21 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. One scouting report said he had “mechanical, robotic movement.”

“I didn’t use it to derail me,” Mauro said. “I just looked at it as me against the world almost. Nobody wanted to draft me so I had a point to prove and I had to prove myself to every single person and coach in this league.”

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Mauro signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers but was released during the final cuts of preseason. The Steelers then re-signed him to the practice squad but in November of 2014 the Cardinals signed him to their active roster.

“We liked him coming out (of college),” Arians said. “He had a really good reputation over there (in Pittsburgh) and we just got real lucky and got him.”

Still, the Cardinals couldn’t have envisioned Mauro becoming such an integral part of their defense. But he never took a play off, even in practice, and in games he’d show up with impact plays.

As a part-time player in 2015, for example, he had one sack, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Last year he started 13 of 15 games and recorded a career-high 32 tackles while impressing the Cardinals with his toughness and ability to stop the run.

“He’s not flying under my radar,” Arians said. “He might be under the national radar or all the people who say they don’t have a defensive line. But Josh has been as good a player as we’ve had for three years on the defensive line, as consistent. When he’s in the game, I don’t look his way because his job is getting done.”

Whether it’s throwing off 300-pound linemen or running through his brother on the basketball court.

“I approach every day ready to play,” Mauro said. “That’s just how it is in a big family. You have older brothers you just want to compete and sometimes you get whipped. But you keep going.”

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