Penn State redshirt sophomore Pete Massaro was an unheralded recruit when he came to Happy Valley three years ago out of Marple Newtown HS in Newtown Square, Pa.
He stayed that way, taking a redshirt, then missing all of his redshirt freshman season last year with a torn ACL suffered in the 2009 Blue White Game.
Now, after such a long wait, Massaro is preparing for his first Big Ten game as a Nittany Lion. Furthermore, his recovery and subsequent expanding role this season has made him an early-season fan favorite.
Currently, Massaro's 3.5 TFL for 18 yards in losses tie to lead the Nittany Lions, and his 2.0 sacks for 10 yards in losses also tie for the Lions' leaders.
This morning, Massaro chatted with reporters via teleconference to talk about his progress from the injury, looking forward to this weekend's game, and more:
As a guy who watched what happened the past two years against Iowa, how much are you looking forward to getting on the field this year in a game like this?
Massaro: I'm just kind of excited to start Big Ten play. Iowa is a good football team and we're really excited to play them. Obviously it's been pretty rough the last few years against them but we're just trying to forget about that and focus on the game this year and the team that we have now.
Are you guys going to try to keep Stanzi in the pocket as much as you can?
Massaro: Yeah, he's pretty mobile so we're going to have to adjust our rush lanes a little bit, make sure we're not rushing behind the quarterback and kind of keep him in the pocket and put some pressure on him. Force him to make some bad throws.
Can you describe how you got hurt in the Blue White Game and how long it took you to come back from that injury?
Massaro: Well, I think it was some kind of bootleg that our offense ran and my foot kind of planted in the ground and my knee twisted. Then I felt the pop. Rehab was really tough. Obviously the first few weeks were the hardest getting to the point where I was able to feel like an athlete again. But overall, I think the process went really well and I think I'm a better player now that I went through that.
What worked against Temple after the first quarter to clamp down on them?
Massaro: I think it was kind of our attitude on the field. I think in the second quarter and from there on, we kind of realized that we couldn't lose this game and we really had to step it up. I think the intensity picked up. I think Mauti had a lot to do with that, Mauti and Stupar. I think that our attitude was definitely the biggest part in turning the game around.
Are things easier for you now that you're starting to play more?
Massaro: Yeah, I guess you could say that. I think I'm getting a little bit better at certain things each game, and obviously there's a lot of things that I still need to work on. But I think reaction time is one of the things that does improve from game to game.
Can you expand on why you think you're better for having gone through the injury?
Massaro: I mean, the first thing is it really gave me a chance to get stronger. Before I got hurt, I was probably weighing around 245 and I didn't feel like my strength was where it needed to be to compete with some of the tackles and the bigger tackles in the Big Ten. That was probably the most important thing was getting stronger. It gave me a chance to get in the weight room and gain some weight and everything. I feel like that's been a really good thing for me. Another thing, I worked with coach Johnson last year when I was able to and we worked on hand moves and stuff like that. I feel like that part of my game has improved as well.
It seems like you're moving at a different energy level than anyone else on the field. Do your coaches or teammates comment on that?
Massaro: Not really. I mean, having to sit out for a year and watching everything go on on the field, you want to go full speed every play and you want to work as hard as you can to get some production.
Can you describe the expectations for yourself before the injury?
Massaro: I was really looking forward to last season. I felt like I could help the team and the DLine out. It was a pretty big blow to me when I got hurt, but I just had to get my confidence back and remind myself that I can get the job done. I guess it really didn't affect me as much in the end as I thought it would.
How difficult was the first time getting back on the field?
Massaro: I mean, it took a few days to get used to the contact since I hadn't gone full contact in the spring. But, after the first few hits, I kind of felt like I had never missed anything. I mean, I did start off a little bit slow at the beginning of camp but I feel like by now, I kind of have my legs back under me and I'm playing more reckless and not really thinking about the knee at all.
You're probably one of the smaller defensive ends in the Big Ten. What do you have to do when you take on these 310 pound tackles to get the upper hand?
Massaro: I think the most important thing is leverage. I've gotta keep my pads down and really push to get the tackle locked out.