LB Mauti still leading despite knee injury

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Michael Mauti's teammates surrounded him in the meeting room Monday, watching as he delivered an emotional plea to finish this season strong.

Players fell silent when the fifth-year senior steadied himself. There was no whispering, no chatter. They all took a seat, "all eyes glued" to Mauti, cornerback Stephon Morris said, and nodded as he told this squad to focus on Saturday.

"We still have a game to play, he got up and told us that yesterday," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said, "and that we have to go out there and focus on Wisconsin and not focus on him. He said we can focus on him later next week.

"That's spoken from a true leader. And that's what we have to do for him, just go and play the game."

Mauti told ESPN on Monday he was still awaiting a diagnosis, and Bill O'Brien said Tuesday that it wasn't the time to address specifics on the linebacker's left knee. It's clear it isn't good -- O'Brien mentioned Tom Brady's torn ACL when addressing Mauti -- but the coach expected word of the injury to be released at a later date.

Mauti paused several times Monday when asked about that left knee, which caused him to miss most of last season. He took a few deep breaths and, in a somber tone just said, "It's just not the time, man. Now's not the time. After this week, I'm going to worry about me. Right now, it's about getting these guys ready for Wisconsin."

Mauti has found himself spending a lot of time inside the Lasch Football Building this week. He remains a staple at the team meetings, and he's tried to advise backup Mike Hull on nuances of the outside linebacker position.

He stood off to the side during Tuesday's open practice in a blue ballcap and his Penn State varsity jacket. Mauti didn't need crutches to stand, but he walked slowly with a noticeable limp. He passed his stretching teammates, chatting and smiling with Anthony Zettel, before watching his teammates take part in position drills.

"I can't tell you how much gratitude I have and how I feel about the fans the last couple of days," Mauti said Monday. "It's been an outpouring of support all year. It helps you understand how special this is."

O'Brien wouldn't say if Mauti might try to petition the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility. He only acknowledged on Monday that the fifth-year senior would not suit up for the final game of the season.

But, even though he'll be on the sideline instead of the field, wearing a ballcap instead of a helmet, Matt Stankiewitch knew that wouldn't change the linebacker's mentality.

"It doesn't matter if he can play or he can't play," the senior center said. "He's still going to lead."