Penn State needs Mauti's leadership more than ever

Posted: September 01, 2012

It was a little over a month ago when Mike Mauti stood outside the Penn State football building, flanked by about 30 of his teammates. A navy baseball hat cast a shadow over the top half of his face, and it was clear the fifth-year linebacker was angry.

Staring straight into a video camera, Mauti pledged his commitment to his university and his program, about 48 hours after the NCAA announced heavy sanctions against Penn State.

At that moment, intentional or unintentional, Mauti emerged as the public leader of the new Nittany Lions. After Saturday's 24-14 loss to Ohio, it became clear his role will be especially important this season.

The Lions must regroup after a disappointing opener and Mauti, the face of the defense, will be looked at more than ever for guidance.

"I really didn't think about all that before I did [the video]," said Mauti on Saturday, his long hair slicked back, his face mostly stoic. "What we felt we need to do was go out there and send a message for our program and our university."

The message Mauti sent against the Bobcats was that he's ready to play. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound graduate student led Penn State with 12 tackles, five solo.

"He's a spark plug," Marple Newtown native Pete Massaro said. "You can see it if you look at him on the field. He flies around, always going 100 miles per hour."

But the defense on the whole seemed disjointed at times. Ohio converted 11 of 12 third downs in the second half, including a five-yard touchdown with 2:55 to go in the fourth quarter to give the Bobcats their decisive 10-point margin.

"We just didn't make the plays that needed to be made," said Mauti.

Mauti tried to rally his unit. In the third quarter, he huddled the defense around him and told them to relax. There was still 15 minutes left. There was hope.

"Sometimes you need to get in guys' faces for them to realize the task at hand and how to accomplish that," said safety Malcolm Willis.

For Penn State to rebound next Saturday, for the defense to stifle Virginia and force turnovers, Mauti might need to get in guys' faces - and get a little angry.

Just like he did a month ago.

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