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True freshman LB Mauti adds extra spark to Lions

Michael Mauti had one last guy to get past before heading off the field last Saturday.

A man in a light brown leather jacket squared up with Mauti and exploded into the true freshman linebacker, wrapping him up in a bear hug.

Rich Mauti let out a loud yell and a laugh as he met his son, who had just polished off the best performance of his young career in Penn State’s streak-busting win over Michigan at Beaver Stadium.

The father was a two-year letterman at Penn State as a receiver (1975-76) before playing eight years in the NFL. Both of his sons – Michael and walk-on receiver Patrick – are currently on the team.

It was apparent to more than just the Mauti family of the impact Michael made on defense against the Wolverines.

“I think he’s getting better all of the time,” coach Joe Paterno said. “He was a kid that had some tough luck his last year in high school. He had a great reputation in high school and then he broke his ankle. His dad was a heck of a guy here, his older brother is a walk-on, and he’s smart and tough. I think each week he’ll get better. I think he’s made good progress. He’s still got a ways to go. Remember, he’s a true freshman.”

With Penn State struggling to wrap players up through the start of the second quarter, defensive coordinator Tom Bradley made sure to get Mauti and Bani Gbadyu on the field for a much-needed spark.

Mauti caught everyone’s attention near the end of the first quarter when he hammered Michigan’s Sam McGuffie on a kick return, sending the ball flying out onto the grass. The forced fumble helped earn him some extra playing time.

He finished the game with seven tackles – including two assists on tackles for a loss – most notably helping bring down Brandon Minor in the backfield on a third-down play with Penn State trailing in the second quarter.

Mauti played mostly in place of senior Tyrell Sales on the outside when he was in the game, while Gbadyu got some snaps in the middle with Josh Hull on the sidelines.

“It’s great to be able to have that kind of depth that you can stick some kids in there and let them take a look at what’s going on in there,” Paterno said. “And they get a chance to go back in and play a little better.”

Hull and Sales are still expected to start and see most of the time on the field on Saturday at Ohio State, but the Lions now have some more flexibility in their schemes.

Penn State had trouble early on containing Michigan quarterback Steven Threet on designed keepers – a problem that could be greatly magnified against the Buckeyes and athletic signal caller Terrelle Pryor.

“We’re well-equipped to handle it,” Sales said. “We’ve shown we can come out and make adjustments. … Rarely are we outmatched athletically out there.”

Here’s the kicker

Penn State received its 19th verbal commitment for the class of 2009 on Wednesday, as kicker Anthony Fera switched his pledge from Michigan to the Nittany Lions, according to Scout.com and Rivals.com.

Fera is rated the No. 2 kicker in the country by both recruiting services and becomes the heir apparent to record-setter Kevin Kelly, a four-year starter who will graduate after this season.

The 6-foot-2 Houston native quickly jumped on an offer from the Wolverines in early September but was seen on the Penn State sideline against Illinois at the end of the month.

His strong leg is reminiscent of former Lion David Kimball, as both are capable of booting a kickoff through the uprights 80 yards away.

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