The morning after Penn State's first full-contact practice of fall camp, linebacker Michael Mauti woke up in pain.
The good kind of pain.
"I was like, 'Oh, this is what it feels like to be hitting again,'" Mauti recalled. "But it definitely felt good to get out there and start hitting and get that feeling again."
It sure beats the alternative.
Mauti experienced a different pain a year ago, both physically and emotionally. After a strong start to camp -- many projected him as a starter for the season -- Mauti tore the ACL in his right knee. Season over.
Penn State's next great linebacker prospect spent the fall on the sideline. Fortunately for him, the view wasn't bad, as he could study linebackers Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Josh Hull, each of whom earned All-Big Ten honors in 2009.
"I've probably watched more football than ever," Mauti said, "so I'm just really looking forward to getting back out there come September, and make plays. The way I look at it is I've had the last year to prepare for this season."
Mauti went through spring practice in a somewhat limited role and didn't feel fully comfortable with the knee until June, where he could "run and wouldn't feel anything." He entered camp with no restrictions on contact and has progressed well.
"I'm very happy with what he's done so far," Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley told me Sunday. "The knee has gone fine. We've done everything we can with him; we haven't backed off of anything. Sometimes in two-a-days, they'll take him out of a conditioning thing just to be careful, but he doesn't beg out of it.
"He's a tough, tough player."
Ranked by ESPN Recruiting as the nation's 58th best prospect 2008, Mauti arrived at Penn State with plenty of attention. His father, Rich, starred for the Nittany Lions as a wide receiver before playing eight seasons in the NFL. Mauti's older brother Patrick was a senior receiver for Penn State in 2009.
Needless to say, Nittany Nation was aware of the younger Mauti, who showed promise as a true freshman with 26 tackles, including a filthy hit on Michigan's Sam McGuffie that jarred the ball loose on a kickoff return.
Although a large group of linebackers are competing for three starting spots in camp, it's pretty clear who Penn State fans want to see win a job.
"It's awesome," Mauti said. "I feel when people are looking at you and asking about you, that's a cool feeling."
Mauti isn't the first Penn State linebacker to go through a major knee injury in recent years.
Paul Posluszny and Lee both suffered ligament damage, and both bounced back rather well to earn All-Big Ten honors.
"I watch tapes of Sean and Paul and Dan Connor all the time," Mauti said. "Just the way they played, how sound their technique is, I try to take little parts of their game and try to practice that. You could say looking at things from a different perspective, the game slowed down a little bit.
"I’ve been flying around and feeling good, and I think I'm ready."