UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Michael Mauti is having more fun playing football right now than he ever has during
his career at Penn State.
The motto of the Nittany Lion defense is to play like your hair is on fire. Mauti lives for slogans like that.
That's the way he lifts weights in Craig Fitzgerald's weight room. That's they way he practices every single
day. And that's the way he plays on
The inspirational leader of the team set the tone early in Saturday's 35-7 thumping of Illinois with two big hustle plays on special teams.
Mauti did not get credit for a forced fumble on Penn State's first punt, but Illini returner Tommy Davis heard footsteps and his presence led to a muffed return and turnover before Penn State's first touchdown. On the Lions' second punt, Mauti lowered the boom on Davis with a big hit after being the first man to race down the field, as he routinely is on every punt.
His performance at Illinois was dominant from start to finish. Finishing with six tackles, half of a sack and two interceptions, Mauti's stat line doesn't do his effort at Illinois justice.
"Two interceptions is big-time, and he had an awesome game," fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges said.
He and the Nittany Lion defense shut Illinois out three times in the red zone. The Illini got close to becoming the first team to score a touchdown in the first half against Penn State on Saturday, but Mauti had something to say about that.
The senior stepped in front of a Nathan Scheelhaase throw at the goal line and ran 99 yards before being tripped up just shy of the goal line. The team gave Mauti a hard time in the locker room after the game about slowing up at the end of the run before falling just shy of a touchdown.
"Yeah, 99 yards without a touchdown, that one's going to hurt," Mauti joked after the game. "That's going to haunt my dreams, especially because we didn't get any points out of it."
The senior class is full of great leaders, but Mauti's peers recognized how special Mauti's effort was on Saturday and what he means to the team.
"Mike Mauti brings it every play, every game. He brings it at practice every day," senior quarterback Matt McGloin said. "He is a very rare player - you don't come across a Mike Mauti very often. I am happy to be a teammate of his. I am happy to be a friend of his. And it is just awesome to watch him play."
The Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week is tied for fourth in the Big Ten in tackles (48), tied for first in the conference in forced fumbles (two) and is tied for fourth with two interceptions. Mauti and the Lion defense get better with each passing week. The unit is second in the Big Ten in scoring defense at 13.6 points per game heading into Saturday's game against No. 22 Northwestern (5-0).
"To me, they are a typical Penn State defense," Coach O'Brien said on Saturday. "They are doing a great job - and Michal Mauti is one of those guys who played an excellent game."
The Big Ten Network's show "The Journey" could not have picked a better week to highlight the senior linebacker. The Journey had all access to Mauti last Thursday at his apartment and in the Lasch Building, and they focused on the senior leader at Illinois on Saturday as part of a feature that will air during the show's premiere episode Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
The fire in Mauti's hair isn't going anywhere any time soon, and he will show no mercy between now and the final game of his career on Nov. 24. You can count on that.
"We only have a fixed number of games, so we're going to be just as rowdy and just as jacked up for every game," Mauti said.
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