In 2008 Mandeville's Michael Mauti followed in his dad's footsteps and opted to play inside linebacker at Penn State. His father, Rich Mauti, played for the Nittany Lions, then for the Saints.

Mauti has met with the Saints, and he'll be drafted into the NFL later this month. And to many in Pennsylvania, he's a hero for how he helped his university survive.

Doug Mouton / Eyewitness Sports
Email: | Twitter: @dmoutonwwl

NEWORLEANS-- The Joe Paterno statue at Penn State came down in July 2012.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the NCAA dropped the hammer on the Nittany Lion football program.

'We weren't sure we were going to have a team to play with,' said Michael Mauti. 'And that would have really affected, that would have had a domino effect across our whole community, our university. That football team there is like the center of attention, so it was a very serious situation. It was intense.'

For the first time ever, the NCAA gave Penn State players the right to leave immediately with no penalty. The entire team became free agents, with colleges across the country calling.

'You have to understand how dire the situation was, and when I say dire, I mean literally,' Mauti said. 'I'm sitting up in Coach O'Brien's office at like (10 p.m.), I've been there all day, we're calling parents, high school coaches, guys, trying to keep them, get them to stay here. And he asked me, Mike, you ever played offense? I said, I played a little tight end. Is it going to be that bad? He's like, let's hope not.'

Mauti got a ton of offers to leave Penn State too, but said he never considered it.

The Nittany Lion team that started the season wasn't good. They started 0-2, but quickly turned it around and won eight of their final 10 games to finish an incredible 8-4.

'What a bunch of guys who just took it upon themselves, they played for each other,' Mauti said. 'They played for something that was bigger than the game.'

And Mauti was the senior leader on the field and off, answering every question about a scandal that he had nothing to do with and making 95 tackles and three interceptions.

A knee injury cost Mauti his final two games, but he was so loved by his teammates the seniors wore his number on their helmets in the final home game, and fellow linebacker Gerald Hodges wore his jersey.

'The seniors came to me and they wanted to do something for Mike, and that's what they decided to do,' said head coach Bill O'Brien. 'It just shows you what Michael Mauti means to this football team and this program. We wanted to send Mauti out on a high note. He's a tremendous senior leader for us, and we were honored to put his name on our helmets.'

Many in Pennsylvania now say the way Mauti and his teammates handled themselves in 2012 may have saved the university.

When he was here at Mandeville High, it wasn't a given that Mauti would play his college football at Penn State. In fact, he took visits to Florida and Oklahoma, and Penn State came into the process late.

But he said once he visited the Nittany Lions, he knew that was the place for him.

'It just so happens that the place for linebackers is Penn State. They've got great guys up there. I just wanted to be part of that tradition, that legacy sort of thing. And it was just a special place.'

The knee injury will undoubtedly drop Mauti at least a round or two and cost him some money, but he says he will be 100 percent by training camp.

The bottom line? He will get his chance to play in the NFL.

'It's not about the money to me. That's not why I'm here,' Mauti said. 'I just want to play football, because I love the game, and I just want to get an opportunity, and I think I'll get the opportunity. That money will hopefully be in the second contract when we're talking down the road.'

Mauti has a chance to be a special player. His experience at Penn State has uniquely qualified for the business that is pro football.

'I wouldn't change a thing, because that's what made me who I am,' Mauti said. 'That's my story, you can't go back and change it. It was a roller coaster. A roller coaster. But I wouldn't change a thing, I mean, that's life. That's life.'

Mauti said it would be a dream come true to play for the Saints. He did meet with Sean Payton and Rob Ryan.

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