- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's got to be a little intimidating when you're heralded as the next great linebacker at Penn State. The school is known as Linebacker U., after all, so you're always going to be compared to former greats.
Michael Mauti has inherited that mantel for the Nittany Lions. And he's embracing it rather than running from it.
"It's more like an incentive to me," he said. "I take that as a compliment, at a prestigious linebacker school such as this. It's an incentive to work toward that. They can compare you to whoever they want, but if you don't produce and be as good as those guys, then you're not going to be as good as a no-name. You've got to go out there and make a name for yourself."
Mauti seems primed to do just that -- provided he can stay healthy. After showing much promise as a true freshman, a torn ACL in fall camp robbed him of the 2009 season. Last year, he managed to start in just seven games because of nagging shoulder and ankle injuries. He still finished fifth on the team with 67 tackles.
Now injury free, Mauti is projected for big things as a redshirt junior and leader of a deep and talented Nittany Lions linebacker corps.
"This spring, he was much more vocal," assistant coach Jay Paterno said. "You could see a little different demeanor out of him.
"He's a guy who can really, really knock you. He has secondary-type speed, but he's also a 230-pound linebacker. We think he could have a really, really big year."
Mauti calls this an important year for him personally and believes he's finally due for a little luck in the injury department. But he won't tone down his aggressiveness.
"It's not like I could do anything about those injuries except for working hard in the weight room, rehabbing and getting my muscles stronger and more flexible," he said. "I will go out and play as long as I can like I know how to play, and I can't worry about anything else."
The Linebacker U. tradition could be in full force this year with Mauti, Glenn Carson, Nate Stupar, Gerald Hodges and Khairi Fortt among the expected contributors. One positive from Mauti's injuries was that it allowed younger players to gain experience.
"I think we have big-play ability and momentum-changing ability," he said. "It's just a matter of execution."
There's a good chance Mauti, a preseason Butkus Award watch list nominee, will be in the middle of everything the Nittany Lions do on defense. He's ready to take on the title of Penn State's next great linebacker.
"I'm really excited about the opportunity to make plays on a big stage," he said. "That's why I came to Penn State."
21hDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman