UNIVERSITY PARK — Michael Mautis impact on the Penn State football team is best described not by the tackles hes made, sacks hes accrued or fans hes pumped up with his fiery on-field persona.
The tears that welled up in first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roofs eyes after his star linebacker was carted off the Beaver Stadium turf on Saturday do Mautis Penn State legacy much better justice.
Im sick, Roof said with red eyes. I love that kid. That kid, hes meant a lot to us. Hes meant a lot to me personally and I have the utmost respect for him.
Penn State coach Bill OBrien said he did not have an update on Mautis health and wouldnt until early this week. The Nittany Lions usually release their injury report on Tuesday mornings.
When it happened, the injury looked serious.
Mauti was hurt by what appeared to be a chop block delivered by Indiana running back DAngelo Roberts in the first quarter.
With Mauti tied up, his arms locked with Indianas Collin Rahrigs, Roberts came from Mautis left and threw his shoulder into the Penn State linebacker below the waist.
Although the NCAA describes a chop block as an illegal action defined as a high-low or low-high block by any two players against an opponent (not the ball carrier) anywhere on the field with or without delay between the blocks; the low component is at the opponents thigh or below, Indiana was not penalized.
Mautis best friend and teammate, Michael Zordich was on the sideline when the injury occurred and didnt get the best look at it. Instead, Zordich pieced the play back together from what teammates told him about it during and after the game.
It happens often, Zordich said of chop blocks. The only thing that I heard was that he was engaged up top and then he got hit. So thats obviously illegal. Thats something that should be called. If thats the case and that happened, Id consider that a cheap shot.
Although the Penn State defense lost Mauti early, the Nittany Lions front seven still dominated for much of the afternoon. Penn States defense allowed the Hoosiers to gain just 24 rushing yards, racking up seven tackles for losses and five sacks.
To see him go down was hurtful but we basically used that as fuel, Penn State safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said.
Mauti kept his helmet on as he was carted off the field. His mom, Nancy, was emotional on the sideline being consoled by Mautis father Rich as Mauti made his return to the Penn State sideline on crutches for the fourth quarter.
Soon, one by one, most of his teammates came over to the bench to offer words of support.
Wideout Christian Kuntz shook his hand before Frank Figueroa and Alex Butterworth trotted over to tap Mauti on his head.
While hes shied away from the label as Penn States de facto leader, the usually reserved Mauti has meant more to his teammates off the field than arguably any other player this season.
He embodies what Penn State is all about, OBrien said.
When the NCAA punished the Penn State football program following the release of the Freeh Report a university ordered investigation that implicated top Penn State officials for their roles in allegedly covering up the actions of Jerry Sandusky Mauti was front and center with Zordich as the voice of more than a hundred players that had no hand in any misdoings.
It was Mauti, along with Zordich, who challenged the NCAAs decision to hit the Nittany Lions with a four-year bowl ban in addition to a $60 million fine, serious scholarship restrictions and gave Penn State players the option to transfer out of the school and retain all their remaining eligibility.
A handful of players left, including former starters Silas Redd, Justin Brown and Anthony Fera.
Most stayed. Mostly because of Mauti.
Mike Hull, who has played alongside Mauti and has come on as one of the teams most promising linebackers as a sophomore, said he was 50-50 on whether to leave Penn State or stay.
He was one of the guys to help me decide to stay, Hull said. Just talking with me every day, just giving me confidence and telling me how much I meant to the football program and the team.
While Mauti has come back from serious injuries twice before he tore his right ACL in the summer leading up to his sophomore season in 2009 and tore his left ACL in the fourth game last year his future is uncertain as Penn State has just one game remaining.Mauti, who leads the team with 96 tackles this season, is out of eligibility and would finish with 210 tackles over his career.
NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. said on Thursday Mauti could be a late first round to second-round selection barring further injury and considering how teams viewed his injury history.
For Roof, who bit back tears when talking with a small group of reporters, Mautis future isnt questionable. Roof is certain the player who helped ease his transfer to Penn State will recover.
When asked what the future holds for Mauti, Roof was to the point.
Football, he said.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @ traviswjohnson_.