WHEN LINEBACKER MICHAEL MAUTI ARRIVED AT STATE COLLEGE THREE YEARS AGO, HE did so with lofty expectations. He had just finished a sparkling senior season, racking up 121 tackles and four sacks at Mandeville (La.) High, a performance that earned him a berth in the U.S. Army All-American game. He already had name recognition, as he was following in the footsteps of his father, Rich, and brother, Patrick, former wideouts for the blue-and-white. He quickly became one of three freshmen to play in every game in 2008.
As far as recruits go, Mauti was a sure thing, a Penn State legacy destined to become the center-piece of Paterno's vaunted defense. That is, until his ascent was sidetracked in August 2009 by a torn ACL in his right knee.
"If you want to be good, you've got to respond to adversity," Mauti says. "That was the biggest form of adversity in my life to that point."
Recovery certainly wasn't easy. Mauti accepted a medical redshirt in 2009, missing the entire season to undergo extensive rehab. He completed hours of strength and conditioning training. He watched helplessly from the sideline on game day. Slowly he willed his body into game shape. "It was very tedious," he says. "It was a long process."
In 2010 he completed that exhaustive and exhausting journey back. He earned a starting spot in the team's second game, against Alabama, and was back to his accustomed form by the onset of conference play in October. "Coming off a year of not playing, it takes a while to get back into it," Mauti says. "After those first couple of games I started getting my rhythm back."
It showed. Mauti punished opponents during the latter part of the year, finishing fifth on the team with 67 tackles. He was especially dominant on Nov. 6 against Northwestern, bullying his way to 11 tackles and a sack in a 35--21 comeback win.
With the departure of All--Big Ten honorable mention linebacker Chris Colasanti, Mauti will be given even more responsibility this fall. He was asked to make the transition from outside to middle linebacker, a position requiring Mauti to be ruthlessly physical. He's bulking up and watching game tape in preparation. It's a role he's embracing. "You're in the action every play," he says. "It's a lot of fun."
Mauti's game experience will be especially needed to help Penn State during late-season meetings with Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin. He's fully embracing the challenge. "That's what we think about while we're working out, while we're running," he says. "We just have to be a little bit more mentally or physically tougher than those other teams."
A year removed from injury, he's also ready to finally live up to his hype. He still possesses the size (6' 2", 234 pounds) and speed (4.6 in the 40) that once made him a top prospect. Now he has added a desire to silence his doubters. He wants to prove he's every bit the four-star linebacker he was touted to be.
True to his Nittany Lions lineage, he wants to follow in the tradition of Jack Ham, Paul Posluszny and LaVar Arrington—who also bounced back from torn knee ligaments—to become one of the greats at Linebacker U.