By now, everyone is aware of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that led to the dismissal of Head Coach Joe Paterno and potentially crippling NCAA punishments leveled against Penn State University. Now is not the time to recap or discuss that particular sequence of events. New Head Coach Bill O’Brien has taken over in Happy Valley and inherited a team whose best player, running back Silas Redd, and a few others have transferred to other schools. The Nittany Lions appear to be in for a long year, and maybe a long decade, before they can rebuild a once proud football program. Meanwhile, life goes on for the current players who have chose to stick together and ride out the storm in 2012. Here is a look at the top draft-eligible players remaining at Penn State. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Michael Mauti ILB 6’2 232 – Mauti came to Penn State back in 2008 and saw immediate playing time on special teams. In 2009 he suffered a torn right ACL and took a medical redshirt. Mauti returned in 2010 to compile a solid 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. But the junior linebacker was unable to stay healthy all season, missing a game against Illinois with an ankle injury, and another contest against Indiana with a shoulder issue. Mauti’s 2011 season began with a promising three game stretch that included a 13-tackle effort against eventual National Champion Alabama, and performance against Temple that included three tackles for loss and the first interception of his career. However, the injury bug bit Mauti again in the first quarter of a win over Eastern Michigan. This time Mauti tore the ACL in his left knee and was sidelined for the rest of the season. Now, in his final season, and playing under the extreme circumstances of a program in shambles, Mauti is burdened not only with the burden of coming off an major injury, but also with the added pressure that comes with his role as the emotional leader of the team. Lost in much of the Penn State scandal talk is that a healthy Mauti is talented, hard working player who could contribute immediately on special teams and eventually develop into a starter in the middle of a 4-3 defense. Talent aside, this will no doubt be a trying season for the determined senior ‘backer.
Gerald Hodges OLB 6’2 237 – Hodges was a four star recruit out of New Jersey in 2009. Hodges started out as a safety and played primarily on special teams as a freshman. As a sophomore he moved to linebacker but his season was marred by injuries. Last season, Hodges became a first team All-Big 10 performer. He had 10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, forced a pair of fumbles and intercepted a pass. Hodges made 19 tackles in a single game against Illinois, and had 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception against Northwestern. Hodges combines good instincts and athleticism with a strong work ethic. His style of play makes him effective on running downs and in pass coverage. He has the skills that translate to a three down role in the NFL. Despite interest from other schools, Hodges opted not to transfer from Penn State, and instead embraced a leadership role with the team. He’ll be playing this season with a massive chip on his shoulder as he looks to continue the school’s tradition of producing NFL-caliber linebackers.
Jordan Hill DT 6’1 292 – Despite being a fairly lightly-regarded recruit out of high school, Hill forced his way onto the field as a freshman. After sitting for five games, he made his debut for the school with four tackles in a game against Eastern Illinois. As a sophomore Hill made four starts and by his junior season he had worked his way into the lineup full time. In 2011, Hill racked up 59 tackles – eight for a loss – and recorded three sacks. His best game as a collegian came last season at Northwestern, where Hill made six total tackles, two tackles for loss, and picked up a pair of sacks. Like Hodges, Hill likely could have left Penn State amid the scandal-related NCAA sanctions, but he chose to return for his senior season and lead the Nittany Lion defense. Hill is a smallish defensive tackle, best suited for a 4-3 team. He uses his low center of gravity and quickness off the snap to gain leverage on larger interior linemen. With Devon Still having departed, Hill may be asked to try and penetrate more often and put pressure on the quarterback. Because of his stature, he won’t be an appealing prospect for every NFL team. But his skills and effort should get him a look late on Day Two or early on Day Three of April’s draft.
Also keep and eye on: Matt Stankiewitch C 6’3 301, Stephon Morris CB 5’8 186, Pete Massaro DE 6’4 256, James Terry DT 6’3 316, Michael Zordich FB 6’1 236, Mike Farrell OT 6’6 306, Matt McGloin QB 6’1 210