STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Maybe it's a blessing that Mauti follows Massaro in the alphabet.
Much like seating assignments in a class, football lockers are often distributed according to surnames. As a result, Penn State senior defenders Pete Massaro and Michael Mauti share adjoining lockers in the Lasch Building.
The arrangement has worked out well, especially in recent months as both men work their way back from the same major knee injury. The two players share a shockingly similar injury history. Massaro, a defensive end, tore his right ACL in the 2009 spring game, and then his left ACL in the spring of 2011. Mauti, an outside linebacker, tore his right ACL in preseason practice in 2009 and missed the season. After a strong start to last season, he tore his left ACL in Week 4 against Eastern Michigan.
The two men share four torn ACLs suffered in the same sequence (right, then left), and more months of combined rehab than games played for Penn State.
"His locker's right next to mine, so every day, we're talking," Mauti told ESPN.com. "We always share stories and we always share feelings. We've kind of [laughs] mastered the self-therapy, just how long and tedious this whole process is, and what it does to you."
Both players participated in some drills this spring, though neither engaged in all the contact drills. Massaro said in mid April that his knee is "80-85 percent" recovered, and Mauti said if Penn State kicked off preseason drills in mid May, he'd be cleared to do everything.
But the rehab process remains challenging, even for two men who are all too familiar with it.
"It's such a slow recovery," Massaro said. "That's the hardest part about it. That's what eats at you the most. Talking to Mauti, when you tear your second ACL, that's something everyone thinks about. It's my second one. It's another nine, 12 months of my life that I'm not going to be who I am on the football field. Even now, I look at my tape from last spring and where I was playing at the end of the season a few years ago, and you can tell you don't have that athleticism back, and that you're not as strong in the knee and the leg as you were."
Communication was critical for Massaro this spring, as he made sure to keep team doctors, coaches and trainers, particularly new head athletic trainer Tim Bream, in the loop about how his knee felt. If he felt uncomfortable doing certain movements during practice, he told defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
The fact Massaro had suffered both of his ACL tears during the spring made it even more important to proceed with caution.
"There's times I want to be going full speed, times where the offensive line will challenge the defensive line, and I want to get in there and show what I can do," he said. "But I really have to take it slow because if I get too ahead of myself mentally, that's when problems start to happen and other injuries start to arise."
When healthy, Mauti and Massaro are two of Penn State's better defenders. Mauti was well on his way to All-Big Ten honors last season, recording 21 tackles, including three for loss, plus an interception and three pass breakups, in the first three plus games. He worked through some injuries to record 67 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and two sacks, as a starter in 2010.
Massaro has played only one season (2010), but racked up eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He was having a superb spring last year before the ACL tear.
Although the rehab process isn't over, both Massaro and Mauti are on track to return and enhance a defensive front seven that could be the Big Ten's best in 2012.
"That'll be the way it should be," Mauti said. "I'm just excited to play with him. It's about time."