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May 1, 2013

Opportunity of a lifetime

Michael Mauti won't miss the waiting.

Thursday night, Friday night, and most of the afternoon Saturday, the Nittany Lions' former All-American linebacker and 2012 Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year sat with his friends and family at his parents' house in Mandeville, La., waiting.

A sure-thing early-round pick in the NFL Draft prior to a third anterior cruciate ligament tear in November, Mauti's stock plunged to the point where signing a rookie free agent contract wasn't out of the question. A childhood dream of being selected in the Draft, Mauti had done everything within his power through a five-year career at Penn State to secure that future.

So, upon hearing his cell phone ring while seeing his name flash across the ESPN screen late Saturday afternoon, a seventh round, seventh pick by the Minnesota Vikings, Mauti was naturally overjoyed.

"I guess you could say it was really overwhelming, the emotion of everything that I've been through," Mauti said. "I guess relieved is a good word, but really just anxious to get going and just to finally have that sense of relief. Relief is the best word I think. That sense of, 'OK, you've done everything you could to get to this point, you have an organization to work for now.'

"I got a job, basically. It's just a good feeling."

So good, in fact, that Mauti broke down and cried.

Taking in congratulations from new teammate Gerald Hodges, his family, and friends, all of whom were instrumental in spurring on the achievement, Mauti reflected on what led him to the moment while looking ahead to his future in the highest level of professional football.

"I was very emotional," he said. "There's only two times I've ever cried in my life of happiness, and that was after that Wisconsin game and then on Saturday. It was just a dream come true. I'm just living the dream right now, playing in the NFL, getting an opportunity."

Of course, to capitalize, Mauti still needs to heal completely.

If his self-released video showing his progress through rehabilitation is any indication of how things are going, his target of returning to the playing field in August could be a reasonable expectation. Saying that he understands patience is extremely important at this phase of the rehab, cautious to avoid re-injury by rushing, Mauti said he's confident the Vikings' training staff is more than capable of guiding his future efforts.

"This has been the smoothest rehab process just because of the surgery that I had," he said. "You just gotta be patient with it because, you're feeling great, but you gotta just make sure that you take your time with it and be patient. That's just something I've been through before, so it's really been a smooth process this far.

"I'm running and at this point, I'm in the hands of the Minnesota doctors and medical staff, so I know that they'll have my best interest as far as when I'm going to be healthy enough to be on the field. I'm planning on that to be in August, so we'll see how it goes with them."

According to Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, a veteran of the NFL coaching ranks, even with the most recent injury, he had no doubts that a team would be willing to take a chance on Mauti.

"In fact, I thought maybe he would be drafted a little bit higher," O'Brien said. "Obviously, the knee injuries probably dropped him a little bit in the draft, but he's with a great organization. I just got an email (Tuesday) from (Vikings' head coach) Leslie Frazier just saying how happy they were to have both of those guys, Gerald and Michael, in that organization. I think they'll bring him to training camp and let him rehab and get back at his own pace."

Finishing his Penn State career with 95 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, and 2.5 sacks in an injury-shortened 11-game senior season, Mauti is excited to prove the Vikings correct for using a coveted draft pick to give him the opportunity.

"That definitely shows their confidence in me physically," Mauti said. "I know a lot of people have questions about it, but they feel confident in their ability to rehab, obviously they did that with Adrian Peterson and a couple of their other guys. They know what they're doing.

"Once I get healthy, I think they got kind of a bargain, which is going to be good. They're going to get my worth out of me. It's going to be a great relationship, so I'm just looking forward to it."





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