Penn State's Michael Mauti draws praise for his play and leadership

Michael Mauti speaks at a memorial service for Joe Paterno.He praises his fellow seniors for their leadership.
Michael Mauti speaks at a memorial service for Joe Paterno.He praises his fellow seniors for their leadership. (Associated Press)
Posted: October 04, 2012

Teammates and opposing coaches alike talk in glowing terms about Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti.

"He's one of the most energetic players I've ever seen," Nittany Lions guard John Urschel said. "He's running around making plays. He's jumping around everywhere for four quarters. Guys get pumped up at the start of the game. He's like that every single play for the entire game."

"Michael is terrific," said coach Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern, the next Penn State opponent, on Saturday, "He's got great eyes. He's very instinctual. He finds the football. He's physical at the point of attack. He's overcome two major [knee] injuries, and to me I think that's the hallmark of what makes him special."

All this praise seems to make Mauti a bit uncomfortable.

It's true that Mauti was the most visible and most vocal player immediately after the NCAA sanctions were announced in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, unifying his team and passionately speaking out against the attempts of college football coaches to persuade some of his teammates to transfer.

But Mauti would rather include the Lions' senior class as a whole when discussing leadership, not just spotlight himself.

"I don't know if it makes me uncomfortable," Mauti said Tuesday, referring to the attention. "There are a lot of people in our organization who deserve a lot of credit. It was kind of the way I was raised. So I would never take all the credit.

"Shoot, you can give it to Coach [Bill] O'Brien for what he's done or the great seniors in our organization. I don't feel uncomfortable, but I see it in a different way sometimes."

It has been barely a year since Mauti tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee - his second such injury in three years - in a game against Eastern Michigan. Yet the 6-foot-2, 232-pound weakside man is playing as well as any linebacker in the Big Ten and among the best in the country.

He had a hand in all three takeaways Saturday in the Lions' 35-7 win over Illinois. He raced downfield on the game's first punt and intimidated the Illini return man enough to make him muff the catch and turn it over.

Mauti later picked off two passes, returning the first one 99 yards but oh-so-short of the goal line, something he has been catching lots of grief for doing. He won two awards as defensive player of the week, from the Walter Camp Football Foundation and from the Big Ten, the second time he was honored by the conference.

To him, those plays are the definition of being a leader, but he insists it's a group-participation effort.

"I think what goes with that role is being on the field making plays," Mauti said. "A lot of our seniors are expected to make plays and be big-time contributors. I think our guys have accepted that. Everyone knows their role and performs to the best of their ability."

Mauti credits Guy LeCompte, his head coach at Mandeville (La.) High School, with being a role model for leadership in the way he handled his players.

The son of Rich Mauti, who played for Penn State in the mid-1970s and spent eight seasons in the NFL, Mauti made an immediate impression on O'Brien just hours after the coach was introduced as Joe Paterno's successor.

"He came right up to me after a team meeting and had a lot of questions about our strength and conditioning program," O'Brien said Tuesday. "So I knew right away he was a passionate football player. I knew about his family and that his dad played here and in the National Football League. So I could tell right away that football was very important to Michael."

There's no question that Mauti's intensity, ability, and leadership are giving Penn State fans some hope and excitement after a terrible summer. Mauti is having a good time as well.

"If you asked me to plan my season out in the summer how it would go, I'd be on track right now," he said. "I feel great physically. I'm really having a lot of fun playing with our defense and playing on this team."

Penn State running back Bill Belton calls Saturday's game a must win.

  Chat with Joe Juliano, Wednesday at 3 p.m.

Contact Joe Juliano at or follow him on Twitter @joejulesinq. Read his blog, "Lion Eyes," at



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