Sitting in the corner of the room, with his hands pressed together and a shy, confident smile on his face, was Michael Mauti.
The redshirt sophomore linebacker had just played what he called “the best game of my career,” and willingly admitted he was not sure when he'd come down from his emotional high.
“When I sit down on my couch in my apartment I'll come down … maybe,” Mauti said after the thrilling victory. “I'm riding it right now. I'm not sure if I'll be able to sleep. It might be a late night.”
Mauti had set a career-high in tackles for the third straight week, recording 11 stops, three for a loss, and an exclamation-mark sack of Persa on Northwestern's final possession.
His outstanding played earned him Big Ten honors, as he was named the conference's Co-Defensive Player of the Week.
“The sack [of Persa], that's what you dream about as a linebacker,” Mauti said on a Wednesday morning conference call. “There's no better feeling in the world.”
Mauti started the season recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL. On the day of Penn State's season-defining 33-13 loss to Illinois, Mauti sat on the sideline nursing a sprained ankle. It seemed that once one injury healed, another would pop up.
The last two weeks, though, that has not been a problem.
“I played pain-free the past couple games,” Mauti said. “Because of that I feel myself getting better every week. This is my first season as a starter so I'm getting opportunities to make some plays. I'm going to have some lumps and hiccups, but I'm just taking steps to get better. I'm trying to improve every week.”
Mauti's improved level of play has visibly increased how vocal he is on the field. Throughout last Saturday's victory, Mauti could be seen pumping up the crowd and motivating his teammates. After his game-clinching sack, Mauti ran three steps and fired an emphatic fist pump -- the final knockout blow Penn State needed.
Senior linebacker Chris Colasanti knows how important Mauti is to the Penn State defense.
“Mauti is a great player,” said Colasanti. “Every week he gets more and more comfortable with his position and now that he's not banged up he's playing up to the level he expects of himself.
“We have a lot of playmakers on our defense, but his ability to make plays and his excitement about it gives us a hype factor,” Colasanti added. “His intensity fuels our defense.”