The most emotional week in a season full of them will conclude Saturday for Penn State. And Michael Mauti got things started early.
Already ruled out for the game with a knee injury, the senior linebacker addressed the Nittany Lions on Monday and told his teammates to finish what we started against Wisconsin in Saturday's finale, according to multiple players.
Mike's definitely our leader, quarterback Matt McGloin said. We follow Mike. You can't replace a guy like Mike. He just told us to keep pushing and finish what we started. … With everything we've been through, to just believe in the team.
He's behind us. He's a great person to be around.
Mauti has been inspiring the Lions for much of his career and in particular since the NCAA sanctions came down in July. Monday's speech was just another in a long line of uplifting moments he has provided the team.
He will be one of 30 players honored before Saturday's game on senior day. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. but coach Bill O'Brien implored fans to be in their seats by 3 p.m. to recognize the seniors. The ceremony will feature not just the players, but their families as well.
That's a big deal, O'Brien said at his weekly press conference. And I know that we've honored the seniors in the past, but I don't think we've included their families. That's the least we can do for this senior class – this particular one this year – is honor them. So we need everybody in their seats at 3 on Saturday.
During the game, however, Mauti will be resigned to the sideline because of his left knee injury, which is believed to be serious.
O'Brien would not comment on the nature or severity of the injury. Mauti has told people this week that he does not want the issue to be the center of attention as the team gets ready for the Badgers.
He won't play against Wisconsin, and that's a tough deal for us and a tougher deal for him, O'Brien said. But as time goes on, I'm sure you will hear about the details of his injury. But I can't comment on that right now.
Though he wouldn't give details, the insinuation is that Mauti could be facing another long rehab.
I've been around that, O'Brien said of Mauti's situation. I've seen Tom Brady have that knee injury, Wes Welker have (it). For guys that live and breathe the game, it's a difficult thing to deal with.
Both Brady and Welker suffered torn knee ligaments during O'Brien's tenure with the New England Patriots. Mauti has dealt with a torn ACL in both knees during his Penn State career.
That first ACL injury, which occurred in his right knee, came during preseason practice in 2009 and served as his redshirt year. Because it was a medical issue that forced him to sit out that season, Mauti could potentially apply for a sixth season of eligibility. Assuming he's interested.
Yeah, fair question, O'Brien said. But just way too early for that right now.
It's a talk that will be held down the road. For now, Mauti is spending the week around the team in meetings and at practice.
Among other things, he will help bring along sophomore Mike Hull, who will replace him in the lineup.
I think that's good in a lot of ways for him, mentally, O'Brien said. He's going to help Hull. He can say, ‘Hey, look.' Here's a guy that's instinctive as a player, and his tips can help Mike Hull.
He loves Penn State and he loves his teammates. So it's a difficult thing for him personally.
Wisconsin at Penn State
TV: 3:30 p.m., Saturday. ESPN2
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park
Last Meeting: Wisconsin defeated PSU, 45-7 on Nov. 26, 2011.