UNIVERSITY PARK — Pete Massaro crossed his right knee over his left leg and twisted his right shoulder, a limber beginning to an ideal mid-October afternoon.
Massaro, along with many of Penn State’s other seniors, bantered at the front of the stretching line. The temperatures rested in the mid-60s. The Nittany Lions are owners of four straight victories and play Iowa under the Kinnick Stadium lights Saturday.
These weeks make an excruciatingly painful career worthwhile.
Massaro is as healthy as he’s been since a Week 2 loss at Virginia. Spending as much time in Tim Bream’s training room as the practice field isn’t how Massaro, a fifth-year senior defensive end, envisioned finishing his career.
Before Wednesday’s practice, Massaro said he never considered abandoning football, regardless of the pain and frustration the sport produced.
“I have a persistent personality,” he said. “Once I start something, I’m going to see through it until the end. That’s exactly what I’m going to do here. My demeanor has not changed.”
Every time Massaro appears healthy, his body breaks down.
He tore the ACL in his left knee in the spring of 2011. The injury slowed him in training camp. Massaro also tore the ACL in his right knee in the 2009 Blue-White Game.
If only it were as simple as a knee injury. In Massaro’s words, the second knee injury presents “chronic” problems solved through careful pain management.
Playing defensive end also tests every muscle, ligament, joint and bone in his upper body. On a sweltering afternoon at Virginia on Sept. 8, Massaro injured his shoulder. The injury, which Massaro called “acute,” forced him to miss games against Navy, Temple and Illinois. He occupied a limited role in Penn State’s most recent game, a rousing 39-28 victory over Northwestern earlier this month.
Massaro revealed the extent of the injury Wednesday. The details are gruesome.
The injury is called a shoulder subluxation, a partial dislocation producing what Massaro called a “nasty” bone bruise and tissue damage. He wears a harness as he waits to regain full motion.
“As the days go on,” he said, “it’s going to become less and less of an issue.”
Four days away from on-field activities, which Penn State received last weekend, aided the recovery and allowed him to visit his girlfriend in Connecticut. He spent part of the weekend in a football stadium, watching Temple’s 17-14 victory over Connecticut.
Football might be the source of lifetime pain, but it’s a passion Massaro will never shake.
“It’s really tough,” he said. “Everybody gets injured in this sport, whether your time is when you are 22 years old like I am or 37 years old like (Baltimore Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis is. Everybody gets hurt. It’s just a matter of when it’s going to happen. Being able to deal with that stuff in years past has given me a little patience.”
Nothing is guaranteed in the final six games. The roster is loaded with young, talented defensive ends. Redshirt freshman Deion Barnes leads the Nittany Lions with four sacks. Redshirt freshman Anthony Zettel is tied for second on the team with two.
Barnes and Zettel play Massaro’s position. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson and defensive coordinator Ted Roof face difficult decisions in the next six weeks.
Do you play a dedicated senior who has suffered for so long over two big pieces of your program’s future? Answering those tricky questions is partially why Division I assistants collect six-figure salaries.
For his part, Massaro has enjoyed watching Barnes and Zettel develop.
“I’m nothing but happy for them,” Massaro said. “Those guys are going to be really outstanding players and there’s no use in me getting down about my injuries. I just try to do the best I can to try to help those guys get better because unfortunately I’m not in control of when I get injured and what hurts me. I just have to accept that.”
Massaro also must accept his career will end soon. No matter how many games they win, the Nittany Lions finish the season Nov. 24 against Wisconsin.
That might be more painful than any the aches in Massaro’s knees and shoulder.
“The team has gone through some trials and obviously with my injuries I have gone through some personal ones,” he said. “That’s all in the past now, and I’m looking to move forward and try to finish this season strong.”