I love linebackers. I love hard hits, I love solid tackles, I love surprising athleticism coupled with incredible decision making. Two of my all-time favorite Nittany Lions are LaVar Arrington and Paul Posluzny, and they've held those places for these few years.
They've been supplanted in my heart and mind by a remarkable legacy senior linebacker from, of all places, Louisiana. And, really, it's not even close anymore.
Mauti came to Penn State highly lauded, a four star recruit that was universally amongst the top performers at his recruited position of middle linebacker. As the story goes, he was unsure of whether he was going be a Nittany Lion while on his official visit, but Joe Paterno won him over quickly in a meeting in his office, where Mauti committed on the spot, much to his father's surprise. He joined the squad in 2008, playing and practicing alongside current NFL standouts Poz, Sean Lee, and NaVorro Bowman, waiting behind others on the depth chart and slogging through injuries, biding his time to make the defense his, and have an impact in State College.
Mauti the youngest has been everything we'd hoped and more, the heart and soul of this Penn State class, both on and off the field. He's had such an impact, I'm not sure words can do much justice.
Before we start in on his character and integrity, which could be a novel in and of themselves, it behooves me to mention his prowess on the field. He saw time as a true freshman in 2008, playing in all thirteen games and notching 26 tackles (1 TFL) and one forced fumble as a true freshman before tearing his first ACL, and sitting out the entire 2009 season.
He came back in 2010 with much fanfare, but shifted between LB positions, notching 67 total tackles in eleven games (the other two lost to injury), included 5.5 TFLs and two sacks.
His RS junior year was again cut short due to another ACL injury; he only saw time in four games, but made the most of this limited time, logging 21 tackles (3TFLs), 3 passes broken up, and one interception (and, as typical for Penn State, graduated early in December with a degree in Crime, Law and Justice). His teammate Gerald Hodges filled the void his injury created, stepping up in Mauti's absence remarkably and earning All-Big Ten honors in the process. As a result, headed into 2012, while Penn Staters knew what talent they had coming back in the form of Mauti, he didn't garner much preseason attention outside of the Penn State beat.
Until the sanctions hit, of course.
I could insert the myriad number of adjectives used to describe the sanctions handed down on the Penn State football program over the summer, both lauding and criticizing Emmert's words and actions. But I'd rather let this remarkable man speak for me.
Mauti had plenty of opportunity to pack it in and go. He could've looked out for number one, turned away from his teammates and this community, and moved on to greener pastures and sunny climates. Being the man he is, of course, he did nothing of the sort.
Almost immediately, letters and emails and cards of encouragement flooded in to Mauti and his teammates; I, of course, had to join in as well. All this support, this deluge of emotion and recognition and, to some degree, expectation, could have overwhelmed a lesser person, and a collapse under the weight of the pressure on his shoulders might have been understandable.
Understandable, of course, if your name isn't Mike Mauti.
After the "unprecedented" nature of the offseason, after all the denigration and discounting of this team and these players, Mauti came out and had a remarkable 2012 season. In eleven games, Mauti logged 96 tackles, including four for loss. He had 2.5 sacks and 2 passes broken up.
Oh, and interceptions? We've got your interceptions. Three of them, two in one game alone.
Despite missing one and a half games at the end of the season due to a still-undisclosed knee injury, Mike won the Big Ten defensive player of the week award twice, the Walter Camp National Defensive player of the week once and was named the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year in the Big Ten in 2012. He was named an ESPN All-American, and to the All-Big Ten first team.
His impact, however, is so much more than numbers, and felt so much beyond the impact his hits had on opposing offenses. He unified this team and this community behind him and the players, and proved that, despite all protestations to the contrary, being a Penn Stater is about so much more than football. It's about education, class, integrity, loyalty, support and family.
It's success with honor, and it's epitomized by Mike Mauti and his actions, both on the field and off.
Thanks, Mike. And thank you to the entire 2012 senior class--it's been a trip, and one we wouldn't have wanted to take without you all. WE ARE...and we always will be.
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