“If the spring game was a game, I’d be playing in it,” Mauti said, referring to the Blue-White Game on April 21.
Mauti, who retains one year of eligibility, tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in the first quarter of a 34-6 victory over Eastern Michigan last Sept. 24, and missed the last nine games of the season. He had torn his right ACL in August 2009 and sat out that entire season.
“It was easier to deal with this time,” he said. “I know what to expect – where I should be at what times.”
He declined to put a percentage on where he is in his recovery, but said he has been able to do everything in spring practice but participate in contact drills. Craig Fitzgerald, the Nittany Lions’ new strength and conditioning coach, had praised Mauti’s diligence in his rehabilitation at the beginning of spring practice. And Mauti said Fitzgerald’s program has proven to be of great benefit to him, and others.
Fitzgerald has had Mauti -- who still packs 240 pounds on his 6-2 frame – doing things like pound on a truck tire with a sledgehammer while the rest of the team practices. And Mauti doesn’t mind in the least.
“That’s just a cardio deal,” he said. “It’s not as easy as it looks. It’s kind of like a fun deal. It beats riding a stationary bike, I’ll tell you that.”
He appears to be in good shape in every other respect, too.
“It’s just adversity,” he said. “I’m as strong mentally as I ever could be, going through the two things. There’s no adversity I can’t overcome, I don’t think.”
Come this fall, he does not know if he will play weak- or strong-side linebacker, and doesn’t seem to care. Gerald Hodges, another veteran, has said he is working on the strong side at present, and Glenn Carson is the incumbent in the middle. If Mauti winds up filling the other spot, he’s fine with that.
“We just all want to be out there, flying around together,” he said.
He described the scheme of new defensive coordinator Ted Roof as “multiply aggressive,” and said the transition from Tom Bradley’s system has gone smoothly.
“We’re not talking apples and oranges,” he said, adding that a linebacker’s responsibilities are always the same, no matter the scheme.
“You’ve got to cover, tackle well and shed blocks,” he said. “That holds true to any defense.”
And to date the defense has been ahead of the offense, in his estimation. But that’s also the nature of the respective beasts.
“Defense is just flying to the ball,” he said. “The offense has a little more thinking, I think.”
Mauti believes he has gained a better understanding of overall concepts, after serving as a de facto graduate assistant during games last fall. And he has certainly emerged as a team leader. He was asked to speak at Joe Paterno’s memorial service in January, and when he addressed the crowd, he did so without notes.
“I wanted to go up there and speak from the heart,” he said.
He also wanted to represent his family – “a Penn State family,” he called it. His dad, Rich, played wide receiver for the Lions in the ‘70s, and his older brother Patrick played the same position for PSU a few years ago.
“I never spoke in front of that many people,” Mike said. “Joe always pushed guys to do things they weren’t comfortable doing. It was a great life experience.”
Mauti has shown his leadership in other subtle ways. When Fitzgerald was trying to figure out a place to hang a huge American flag in the team’s weight room, it was Mauti who suggested it be placed under the word “Pride,” which had been painted on one of the walls. And that’s where it is.
And Mauti has fully embraced the new regime, led by head coach Bill O’Brien.
“He’s shown he’s ready to take us to the next level,” Mauti said. “He tells us to jump and we say, ‘How high?’ ”
Things are different now, certainly. Mauti, like just about everybody else, has been careful not to say they are better or worse. But they are different, no question about it.
“We’re enjoying the changes,” he said. “We like what we see right now. I don’t want to get into any comparisons, but I can tell you the changes have been for the good, and everyone’s buying into it.”