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Time to Step Up (& Not Get Injured): Michael Mauti

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/wades softly into the dangerous waters of these posts....

Ok, so BSD doesn't have such a good track record so far with this spring practice series. We've already taken out Brandon Ware and Curtis Drake directly, and even spooked poor Pete Massaro just by writing that Jack Crawford needs to step up, but this week we're narrowly avoiding the spiteful injury gods (knock on wood or anything else you do to dodge jinxes). So far, Justin Brown, Kevin Haplea and Garry Gilliam have ducked the wrath, so your intrepid authors push on, with .... RSJR Linebacker Michael Mauti.

Michael Mauti is one of our favorite kinds of Penn State football players: a legacy talent whose father also played for Joe Paterno. Rich Mauti was a wide receiver on the middle seventies teams which were between national championship runs and played pro ball for the Saints and the Skins before moving to Louisiana and becoming a real estate broker. Michael was a 4-star recruit there, with offers from Oklahoma and Arkansas among others, but knew all along he wanted to play for Linebacker U, and he enrolled at Penn State in January of 2008.  Although Coach Scrap had him playing safety in the Blue White Game that year, he was back at LB in August and appeared to be one of a very few true freshmen ready enough to make a contribution on the field that year.

And did he ever. You may recall the Michigan game in October of that year, when DickRod waltzed into Beaver Stadium with his fancy pants offense and Brandon Minor started out on fire, bowling over Tyrell Sales and a then-still-very-green Josh Hullstache. They put a legitimate scare into our fanbase, who widely thought that that was finally gonna be the end of the awful Michigan win streak against Penn State, by jumping out to an early lead. At first they looked like they could move against our defense, until Scrap replaced Hull and Sales with Mauti and Gbadyu on Michigan's third drive of the game. Mauti's play on that and ensuing drives inspired this effusiveness from BSD Mike:

If Mike Mauti doesn't start every game for the rest of his Penn State career the coaching staff will be the subject of much criticism in this space. This kid can play. I watched one play were Michigan had what looked like a tight end split wide with Mauti lined up one on one with him. Of course it was a running play coming Mike's way. I watched the tight end run down to block Mauti and just get blown up. I mean Mauti hit him head on and put him on his ass. Then he tackled the ball carrier. I think he and Bowman have a competition going to see who can hit the hardest, because every hit he made could be heard from the top of the stadium.

2009 began far more bleakly as Mauti tore his ACL in August and was forced to redshirt his sophomore season.  Even coming back from that injury, in March of 2010, excitement remained high for his future among then-BSD staff. And while he saw plenty of snaps in relief against Youngstown State in Week 1, his play proved the difficulty in returning from such a devastating injury, as he appeared cement-footed against Trent Richardson and the Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 2. In fact, the entire Linebacker Unit had trouble developing chemistry throughout, as the 2010 season saw five different starting sets and myriad other in-game rotations while Scrap and Vandy tried to juggle injuries and talent depth to fit game situations.  Mauti still looked rusty and missed some tackles against Iowa in Week 5, before getting dinged up again in that game and missing the horrible homecoming Illinois Incident the following week.  He returned against Minnesota in Week 7 and led the linebackers with 8 tackles. He was Co-Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after a stellar game vs Northwestern in Week 9, but left the Ohio State game the following week with a shoulder injury and didn't start again the rest of the year.

So, where does that leave Mr. Mauti for this year? The entire Linebacker Unit may actually improve a little this year by subtraction, if only because there are fewer players challenging Vandy for field time. They all remain fairly young (all except Stupar have at least two years eligibility remaining) and very athletically gifted, but Mauti may be the most instinctual player of the group. He also may be the most cerebral and/or versatile and can probably be most trusted to lead the team from the middle Mike position. If he can hold down the middle and Scrap and Vandy can rotate Nate Stupar, Gerald Hodges and true sophomore Khairi Fortt (who's had his own injury bug issues) around him on the outside, we could see some good things from LBU this season. But can he stay healthy? If he makes it through Spring after this post, he's got a good jump on that, and he'll certainly be pushed by Glenn Carson and Mike Hull.  But if the Penn State Defense is going to make a return to dominance this year, Michael Mauti needs to stay healthy and step up.