Penn State's Mauti shines by letting it fly

CHICAGO -- Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti had just come off the field from 7-on-7 work around 8 a.m. Thursday morning when he got a call from head coach Bill O'Brien.

"Hey, Mike," O'Brien said. "You've got to be on a plane at 9:30."

Mauti was a last-minute addition to Penn State's player contingent for Big Ten media days, a contingent that very nearly didn't come to Chicago at all. But Mauti ended up being arguably the best interview subject here, offering an impassioned defense of his team and railing against the NCAA transfer rules.

The senior -- who led a players' statement of loyalty on Wednesday in State College along with teammate Michael Zordich -- drew a lot of notice for what he said. Mauti returned to his hotel room on Thursday evening and spent three hours going over emails sent to him. The correspondence came from fans, alumni, heads of Penn State departments and professors -- some who had taught Mauti and some who had not.

Mauti said he got one email from a couple of fans who told them they'd sworn never to go another Penn State football game after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke. But they told him that after watching him talk, they promised never to miss another game.

"That's why I know we're doing the right thing here," he told reporters Friday. "I told coach [Thursday morning], I'm going to let it fly, man. We've got to let the public and the world know we're sticking together. We wanted this platform, of course we did."

All of the Nittany Lions here in attendance -- defensive tackle Jordan Hill and offensive lineman John Urschel were the other players -- handled themselves admirably through the media crush. Hill said he also received scores of supportive emails.

"When Mauti and Zordich were there with the team behind them, there was a tremendous amount of groundswell coming off of that video," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "It's the players that are really continuing to put a stake in the ground for this program."

Mauti could become the face of the team this year -- if he can stay healthy. He missed the 2009 season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament and played only four games before blowing out his left ACL last year. When he's on the field, he's one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten.

Mauti says he feels great now and credits the work he's done with new strength coach Craig Fitzgerald and trainer Tim Bream.

"I've never been stronger in what I've been doing as far as weightlifting, and I haven't put a [knee] brace on all summer," he said. "The last time I was doing this rehab, I never took the brace off, so mentally I'm a whole lot more confident in my legs.

"I feel as good going into the season as I ever have, and it's a testament to those two guys."