CHICAGO — For days now, linebacker Michael Mauti has been suppressing some heavy emotions.
July 23 at 9:00 a.m. -- Mauti learns the Penn State football program has been sanctioned by the NCAA, crippling the team for years to come.
July 25 at 9:20 a.m. -- Mauti lets off a little steam in a statement on behalf of the football student-athletes prepared by him and fullback Michael Zordich. “We’re going to show up every Saturday and we’re going to raise hell,” Mauti said, reaffirming most of the players’ commitments to Penn State despite the NCAA’s sanctions.
July 26 at 2:56 p.m -- Mauti can no longer contain his frustration. In a passionate move, the redshirt senior lashes out at the NCAA and its assumed compassion at allowing Penn State undergraduates to transfer without penalty. He is the first representative of the Penn State football team — including coaches — to do so.
“Don’t turn that camera off,” Mauti told a reporter. Penn State Spokesman Jeff Nelson looked on, knowing he could not stop Mauti from saying what he wanted to say.
“Action,” Mauti said. “For the NCAA to say that it’s helping us, for them to say that they’re doing us a favor by letting us transfer with no rules... I’m going to choose my word carefully. It’s a joke. It’s an absolute joke.”
It’s free agency, and Mauti can’t escape.
He says there’s been an assistant coach everywhere he and his teammates turn — on campus, off campus, outside of their apartments, outside of their classrooms.
“There have been coaches hounding our players, man,” Mauti said. “To me, it doesn’t seem right. Even some coaches from this conference. If I’m a competitor, I don’t care what school you’re from.”
Illinois coach Tim Beckman confirmed Thursday that he deployed multiple assistant coaches to State College, but he added that they have not crossed the border onto Penn State’s campus.
Other schools are already showing signs of success. University of Southern California Coach Lane Kiffin seems to be slowly drawing Penn State running back Silas Redd in. Redd was originally scheduled to attend the Big Ten Media Days, but was scratched at the last minute because he was meeting with Kiffin, according to a report by ESPN.
As of Thursday afternoon, no players, including Redd, had yet approached Bill O’Brien about a transfer.
“To not play for a championship, I understand that,” Mauti said. “I know that some guys are struggling with that a little bit.”
For Mauti, whose father played wide receiver for Penn State in the mid-1970s, it wasn’t a decision. He was staying. As a clear leader of the team, he crushed the doubts for many of his teammates as he crushes an opposing running back trying to break through the middle.
He and O’Brien are on the same page in this effort. O’Brien said his primary goal at the moment is to keep the current team intact. Mauti said he’s spent hours in O’Brien’s office the last few days with a few other players discussing this very large issue at hand.
So when Redd bailed on the trip to Chicago, Mauti received a phone call at 8 a.m. Thursday morning: Penn State was sending players, and O’Brien wanted him to attend in place of Redd.
Mauti was pleased. He had wanted to go in the first place.
“At the same time [as the sanctions], there are so many intangibles for what we’re going through,” Mauti said. “The opportunity that we have to truly create our own legacy and to thrive... and laugh. Like, ‘Psh, no, you’re not tearing us apart.’ ”