Man in the Middle

Chris Colasanti

The plan was for Chris Colasanti to sit out last season. He was going to use the redshirt he still had available, biding his time and emerging from the year off with two more seasons of eligibility and a leg up on his kinesiology studies, which happen to include a rigorous pre-med option.

Then came the injuries. Michael Mauti went down in the preseason, Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee soon after. Pretty soon, what had been shaping up as one of Penn State's deepest spots – the linebacker corps – was stretched thin. And suddenly Colasanti wasn't redshirting anymore.

It was a disappointment.

"I was definitely looking forward to redshirting," Colasanti said, "But God had another plan."

So now the senior from Leonard, Mich., has just one season in which to make the impact that many envisioned when he finished up his stellar prep career at Brother Rice High and enrolled at Linebacker U in 2007. He hasn't played much to date, having made 37 tackles in three seasons. But two-year starter Josh Hull is gone, and that leaves a hole in the depth chart that someone will have to fill. Colasanti is aiming to seize the moment.

"I've been waiting three years," he said. "I'm ready. Everything I have to do – watch film nonstop, keep working hard on fundamentals – I'm going to do to get better."

The Lions are definitely hoping Chris Colasanti has a breakthrough season. He'll be starting the Blue-White Game on Saturday, as will junior Nate Stupar and senior Bani Gbadyu. It's a new look for the Lions, who've been blessed with an unbroken succession of superb linebackers dating to Paul Posluszny's freshman season in 2003. The question now is whether the 2010 edition will carry on that tradition.

A cursory examination Penn State's depth chart would seem to indicate that the linebacker corps is poised to take a step back. The team did, after all, lose all three starters from last season.

But it's not that simple. Stupar filled in for Bowman early last season when the star outside linebacker suffered a groin injury in the opener against Akron. Gbadyu took over for Lee when the latter suffered a knee sprain. Between them, Stupar and Gbadyu started seven games last fall. So experience isn't as lacking as it might at first seem.

"We did get some experience; we just didn't start every single game," Stupar said. "We have as [much] talent as they had. And I think we're ready and excited to show what we've got."

Of the three potential starters, Colasanti may have the toughest battle on his hands to win the position. He'll most likely be competing against up-and-comer Michael Mauti for the middle linebacker spot in the preseason. Mauti has been held out of contact drills this spring as he recovers from the knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt last year. But before he was hurt, he won praise from Joe Paterno and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden.

Colasanti is embracing the challenge. He said he feels as though he's always been strong against the run but has needed to improve against the pass to earn more playing time. Now that he's gained experience, watched reels of film and gotten significant practice reps, he's focused on making the most of his final season at Penn State.

"There was a frustration aspect" in previous seasons, he said. "I just wanted to get on the field and make plays. It didn't work out the way I wanted it to, but that's in the past. The future is now. I just have to take advantage of the opportunity I have, and I will. I know I will."

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