Penn State football notebook: Mauti stays close to team despite injury

| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 9:10 p.m.

Bill O'Brien declined to go into specifics about the knee injury that ended outside linebacker Michael Mauti's season, but the fifth-year senior will stay close to the team as it prepares for its final game of the season.

He and his family met with O'Brien last Sunday. Mauti, who hurt his knee last Saturday, addressed his teammates Monday and told them to stay focused on finishing the season strong when Penn State hosts Wisconsin.

“He's a true leader on this football team,” quarterback Matt McGloin said, “and he knows that we're behind him and anything he needs we're only a phone call away. You can't really replace a Mike Mauti.”

Mauti is believed to have sustained a second major injury to his left knee in as many seasons. The fifth-year senior has previously torn the ACL in each of his knees while at Penn State.

Mauti could petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility due to medical hardship. His latest knee injury clouds his football future; Mauti likely won't be healthy enough to work our for NFL teams prior to the draft in late April.

When asked if Penn State is looking into a sixth season for Mauti, O'Brien said, “It's just way too early for that right now.”

• Bill Belton, who opened the season as Penn State's starting running back, has carried the ball just one time in the last three games. O'Brien said the sophomore still has a future at Penn State and that the two have talked extensively over the last month. “He's really improved his practice habits,” O'Brien said. “Billy's a competitive guy, he's doing better off the field in the classroom, I believe.” O'Brien said Zach Zwinak's emergence has resulted in Belton's reduced role more than anything. Zwinak, a redshirt sophomore, has rushed for at least 134 yards in each Penn State's last three games. “We still see a very bright future for Billy,” O'Brien said.

• O'Brien applauded the additions of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten. Senior cornerback Stephon Morris said the move can only help Maryland's struggling football program. “If you go to the state of Maryland you won't really know it's there,” said Morris, a Maryland native. “They pretty much needed a change, I would say.” Penn State played each school regularly before it joined the Big Ten in the early 1990s. Their additions expand the Big Ten's influence in the east. “I think it's fantastic,” O'Brien said. “To me we're starting to get that whole Atlantic corridor there.”

• The additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten could lead to some shuffling of the two divisions. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said he hopes it doesn't preclude the Badgers and Penn State from playing every season. The two are in the same division, but that could change once Maryland and Rutgers begin Big Ten play. “I'd love to protect that in any way, shape or form,” Bielema said of the Penn State game. “I really enjoy the fact that we're in the Leaders (Division) with Penn State and Ohio State.”

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