Michael Mauti won't be able to suit up this Saturday when Penn State faces Wisconsin, but that isn't stopping him from making an impact this week.
The senior linebacker hurt his left knee last Saturday against Indiana and had to be carted off in front of a quieted crowd at Beaver Stadium. Mauti didn't return to the game and the injury will force him to be sidelined for senior day.
But at the Nittany Lions' first practice of the week on Monday, players said Mauti had some words for his teammates.
"He said 'Let's finish strong, let's get this win, let's finish our record with eight wins, let's not settle for anything less than a win,' " senior center Matt Stankiewitch said. "The thing about Mike, he's a winner, in his heart he's always going to be a winner, and that rubs off on everyone. It doesn't matter if he can play or he can't play, he's still going to lead."
Mauti was a leader on and off the field. He was one of the most vocal players in the wake of the NCAA sanctions handed down to Penn State in July. Mauti and fellow senior Michael Zordich issued a statement with teammates behind them two days after the penalties, letting the nation know they were sticking with Penn State.
On the gridiron, Mauti's play did a lot of talking. In nine games and one quarter, the 6-foot-2, 232-pound linebacker made 95 tackles, three interceptions and 2.5 sacks. His most memorable performance of the season came on Sept. 29 against Illinois when the Butkus award semifinalist made two interceptions, had six tackles including half a sack and played a big role in forcing a fumble on punt coverage.
Stankiewitch said there are players on both sides of the ball who look up to Mauti, so whenever he addresses the team, it doesn't fall on deaf ears.
"It was definitely inspiring just to hear from a guy who is so passionate about football and so passionate about this university," sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson said. "You know how Mike feels about this last game, it means everything."
Starting in Mauti's place against the Badgers is redshirt sophomore Mike Hull, who coach Bill O'Brien called a "rock solid football dude." For the season, Hull has 53 tackles, four sacks and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown against Navy.
As for Mauti, there's a chance he could apply for a medical redshirt and play a sixth season for Penn State, as this is the third knee injury he's dealt with in his time in Happy Valley. O'Brien, however, said it was too early to discuss that possibility.
The first-year coach did not give the details of Mauti's injury, but said he met with him and his parents on Sunday.
"He loves Penn State and he loves his teammates is so it's a difficult thing for him personally, and I've been around that," O'Brien said. "I've seen Tom Brady have that knee injury, Wes Welker… it's a difficult thing to deal with."