Overcoming adversity

Blue White Illustrated caught up with former Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti this week as he continues to rehabilitate his injured left knee while training for an opportunity at the National Football league from his home in Mandeville, La.
Singularly focused on continuing his football playing career, Mauti opens up about facing adversity, perseverance and the great benefits both have had on his life in this, the second part of our exclusive interview.
To read Part I, click here.
BWI: When you're invested so physically and emotionally in something the way you were at Penn State throughout your career, there must have been a mourning period as your career came to a close. Was there any sense of grief at the season ending?
Mauti: "It was really hard. It was hard. The only way I can explain it is that we held on so hard and we fought so hard, it was almost like you're gripping onto a baseball bat as hard as you can, sitting there for an hour and gripping it as hard as you can. Then, you try to let go and your hands are stuck, even when you let go. Your hands are still stuck in fists.
"It was hard trying to let go because that's all we knew. For months, literally months, we gripped as hard as we could and really, just trying to recalibrate and trying to spread out my hands, it was hard. I'm sitting here doing it now.
"I just remember it because we went so hard every day for months and completely sold out everything we had. We were just completely dry. Emotionally, physically, we put every ounce into it. We emptied the tank, literally, every drop.
"It's fulfilling because you know we did everything we could and left no stone unturned, but at the same time, it was difficult to try to recalibrate your focus onto the next chapter, which was training and rehabbing for me. So, that took me a couple of weeks, for sure."
BWI: At what point did you feel less like the death of something and more like turning the corner? You have to grieve almost, right?
Mauti: "It took every bit of the month. It was like a couple of weeks, really, because you go through these phases. You're happy, you're reflecting and you're laughing and then all of a sudden, it's like, 'Man, it's over.'
"Then you start getting emotional and it was just a roller coaster. It really did take a lot of time to just get yourself back together. Really the only word is recalibrate your focus. I literally had to just take some time to recharge and go fill the tank back up."
BWI: Did you feel that once you had gotten home to really rehab in earnest? Did it become a distraction?
Mauti: "Once I left State College. It didn't really happen until I left because you're reminded of it every single day in everything you do, being in the building and being around all the same people. It really was hard to focus on what I was doing because everything reminded me of the last five years.
"Especially with it being over, it was just time for us to move on and it was time to go onto the next chapter. Really, once I left and got home and started training again I really started feeling good about a new challenge. I've got a new goal and that's what I'm going after now."
BWI: What is that specifically?
Mauti: The ultimate goal is to play in the NFL. Any career in the NFL. Right now, it's just focusing on getting healthy and I know, when I'm healthy I can play at a high level. I've proven I can do that.
"No one ever really talked about the fact that I was coming off an injury this year because there was so much other stuff going on, which was a good thing for me that I know I can come back and play at a high level. I'm going to just do that again.
"There's no other options really. I'm just training myself as hard as I can to be ready for the next level. I'm just looking for an opportunity to play and, wherever that is, whoever gives me that opportunity, I think they know what kind of player they're going to get. I'm just going to be playing for a new team."
BWI: To even have that opportunity, how much does that mean to you?
Mauti: "That in itself, I've been dreaming about it since I started playing football. I just know I'm going to do everything I can to make it happen. It's exciting to be in the position I am where now it's here and I have it in front of me. I can see it now. I'm doing the same thing, just giving everything I can and going as hard as I can to make it happen."
BWI: Was there ever a doubt that you'd be able to put yourself through that rehabbing process again?
Mauti: "It's really just like anything else or any other time I've been through it. There's that little, very small amount of time where you question it and you're saying, 'Why me?' and you're doubting yourself and asking questions. But, I mean, that's something I've been able to look back on and, given my experience, I know what I can do and I know how hard I can work to overcome adversity.
"There's really no question what I can do, it's just a matter of just doing it again. I'm back on the horse now and I've made that decision. I made it pretty quickly and now I'm just going full drive now."
BWI: What can be said for going through as much adversity as you have? How does the process of going through adversity affect you as a human being?
Mauti: "It's really invaluable what it's done for me. People have always said, 'If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.'
"I just joke around, I've got a lemonade shop on the corner. I'm sitting here cranking out lemonade for four years.
"You can go about adversity two different ways. You can either look it in the eye and put your fists up, or you can turn your back. There's just no way I could turn my back. That's just the kind of person I am. What it's done for me, it's invaluable. It's just basically shaped me and everything I do. These experiences will last a lifetime."
BWI: Where do you get that from?
Mauti: "I think it has a lot to do with the way I was raised. My dad instilled that in me, really at a young age. I mean, really, it's the people you surround yourself with. There's a lot of different things, but really, ultimately, it's who you want to be.
"You make that decision based on what you want your story to be and what you want your legacy to be. This just happens to be that I was put in this situation and this is what I want it to be. I'm in control of my own destiny, my own life, and this is what I want it to be. This is the route that I'm taking.
"At each obstacle, you have a choice. You can go one way or the other, so I just keep making those kinds of choices and that's the way you're going to be. You can look at it a number of different ways, but then I guess that's what makes sense to me."
BWI: Just as a fun bonus question… What do you think of the Governor's lawsuit against the NCAA?
Mauti: "The bottom line is, what the NCAA did was illegal. It went against every protocol they had. They didn't even do their own investigation. There's no way they can just do that.
"I think it's good that there are people out there that are fighting for Penn State and fighting for the football program, and I will always be behind those people, no matter who it is. So, I just think that everybody deserves due process. That's what this country is built on. That's why this is America. I would say that I'm in support of due process, 100 percent. I am a criminal justice major, so…"