Penn State looks for leadership as team endures bowl ban

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Star linebacker Michael Mauti’s college football career had just come to an end in November when he spotted the next generation of Penn State football players.

Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is putting together recruits who will lead the team through sanctions.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien is putting together recruits who will lead the team through sanctions.

So, he decided to do what Mauti had done time and again during his Nittany Lions career: He helped others, and imparted some inspirational words along the way.

Adam Breneman, one of the top tight end prospects in the country, is one of them, and he listened intently.

Indeed, there is no bowl game to rally around. But there is hope. There is optimism. And there is Year 2 of the Coach Bill O’Brien era.

Under O’Brien, Penn State finished an overachieving 8-4 with a second-place finish in the Big Ten Leaders Division.

But there is much to build on. An emotional 24-21 overtime win, for instance, over Wisconsin in the finale sent the program into the offseason on a high note.

And O’Brien will need that in his first full offseason to secure a recruiting class amid scholarship cuts. The sanctions – levied in July for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal – limit Penn State’s recruiting classes to no more than 15 a year for the next four years, starting with the 2013 class to be signed in early February. Most teams can sign 25. There is also a four-year postseason ban to digest.

O’Brien will also need to find new leaders. Mauti was one of a group of seniors who helped keep most of the team together in the frenzied weeks after the NCAA announced the punishment.

Breneman, a highly touted senior from Cedar Cliff High in Camp Hill, Pa., has a chance to be in that leadership mix someday.

“Now, it’s our turn to come in, and, in a couple years, lead the program,” Breneman said recently, recounting Mauti’s postgame words to him. “That was definitely very motivating to talk to him.”

So far, recruiting has been good, especially given the unprecedented circumstances of the past year. Joining Breneman in January will be junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson, a quarterback who figures to compete with Steven Bench now that Matt McGloin is out of eligibility.

Penn State also has a verbal commitment from quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg of Virginia.

“You never know until guys sign on the dotted line,” O’Brien said last week about recruiting. “But we feel good where we’re at.”

As for the current Nittany Lions, NCAA rules prevent coaches from overseeing offseason workouts, though coaches can determine what areas need to be improved in the ramp up to March and spring practice. O’Brien said his coaching staff is looking at improving flexibility and speed, while reducing body fat and creating more muscle mass.

“Is there a disadvantage to not having bowl practice? Certainly,” O’Brien said. “But there’s also the advantage of not having them.”

In that respect, O’Brien said, that means concentrating on academics to finish the semester. One-on-one meetings with players focus on grades and requirements for majors these days, as well as “how can they improve in football and in their role on the team,” he said.

Unofficially, players can get together on their own for workouts. That will be especially important in the passing game, for instance, with a bevy of returning receivers. Record-setting wideout Allen Robinson, for example, has to get acclimated to a new starting quarterback.

For McGloin, this is a bittersweet time. Surely, he will miss being on the field, but he can also walk away knowing he did all he could in his final season. For now, he’s busy handing the leadership responsibilities on offense to Bench – the only scholarship quarterback on the team.

“I’ve told Steven, it’s not my team any more. You have to take over, you have to manage stuff,” McGloin said this month. “He knows that. I’ll be around helping him out, getting ready to take over.”

Mauti is moving on, too, after a left knee injury sidelined him for the season finale against the Badgers. His father, Rich – himself a former Nittany Lion – has declined to offer more detail on his son’s injury. But he did say that the younger Mauti was going to get back into shape and will prepare for the NFL draft closer to home in New Orleans.

But the work he’ll leave behind in State College will never be forgotten. After a draining 2012 season – both emotionally and physically – Michael Mauti will clearly be known in Penn State annals as one of the program’s best leaders.

“It’s been a great experience up there,” Rich Mauti said. “It’s just time to move on.”

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junkyardpig
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junkyardpig 12/26/12 - 01:05 pm
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the scumbag is in prison,

the scumbag is in prison, more are being prosecuted. I dont think the team should be penalized for something they had no control of. the kids (players) are being punished for ? no bowl games, loss of scholarships, removal of games won in the past. so unfare. ohio states situation seems to be overkill also. so unfair to the student athlete to have to put up with this crap.

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