Former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Michael Mauti is heading back home this holiday weekend to the Crescent City, ready to take the next step in his NFL journey. This time, Mauti will be wearing black and gold, suiting up for the team his father, Rich, played wide receiver for in the 70's and 80's.
The Saints claimed the 6'2", 243-pound Mandeville native off waivers Sunday, after Mauti spent the past two years establishing himself on the Vikings' special teams unit.
Minnesota took Mauti in the 7th round of the 2013 Draft out of Pennsylvania State University, which is also where his father played college ball.
The Saints are obviously hoping Mauti will be an asset on the field, but perhaps it's what the 25-year-old can potentially bring to the locker room that is most valuable to a defense still in search of leadership after the departures of Jonathan Vilma, Jabari Greer, Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper.
Mauti earned the reputation of a team-first leader while in Minnesota but especially in Pennsylvania, where he is credited with helping the Nittany Lions persevere through the crippling NCAA sanctions handed down in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The coaching carousel and public judgement that ensued certainly made the decision to stay and play at Penn State difficult for a group of young players who might not have known who Sandusky was until the scandal emerged.
Mauti - who earned his degree in Crime, Law and Justice from Penn State in December 2011 â was a cohesive force and true leader for the Lions at a time when it certainly wasn't a popular or glamorous position. He also led by example, overcoming numerous injury setbacks and a medical redshirt to continue suiting up for Penn State during the 2012 season.
The emotional impact Mauti had on his teammates is perhaps no better demonstrated then by looking back at the Lions matchup with Wisconsin at the end of the 2012 season. The week before, Mauti â who was a top candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year â suffered the third ACL tear of his collegiate career.
Mauti was forced to sit and watch the final game of his collegiate career with a team that he had fought so hard to keep together, wondering if his professional dreams were also expiring. The linebacker's senior season ended after 11 games, 95 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery
Mauti's teammates found a way to carry him into battle with them one last time though, at least figuratively.
Every Penn State player took to the field that day against Wisconsin, proudly wearing a large "42" on their helmets. Wearing a teammate's number is usually reserved for a comrade who has passed on, but in this case, the Nittany Lions thought it was an appropriate gesture for a student athlete who meant so much to the program and to them as individuals.
No doubt, the Saints locker room will be better for having Mauti's brains, loyalty and heart in its midst.
Will the team be better on the field? That's a question that will be answered in the coming weeks. But it certainly seems like if any athlete can overcome three ACL tears (one in his right knee, two in his left), Mauti is a good bet.
In his two seasons with the Vikings, Mauti played in 23 games, recording two defensive tackles and 17 special teams' stops.
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