On July 25, 2012, Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich began the next phase of Penn State football. They led about 30 teammates onto the Penn State practice field and into the future by making a declaration.
“We take this as an opportunity to create our own legacy,” Mauti said in the televised statement. “This program was not built by one man and this program sure as hell is not going to get torn down by one man.”
This year marks the 10-year anniversaries of multiple mile markers in Penn State football history: the hiring of Bill O’Brien, the death of Joe Paterno, the NCAA sanctions, and the removal of the Paterno statue outside Beaver Stadium.
But 2022 also brings the anniversary of those two minutes in late July, when a group of Penn State football players affirmed their commitment to the program. Two days after the NCAA announced its sanctions, which included scholarship reductions and an open transfer plan, Mauti and Zordich became the faces of the program.
They already were key players: Mauti, an All-American linebacker who had come back from two major knee injuries, and Zordich, the versatile former linebacker who transitioned to a hybrid fullback role on offense. But on July 25, 2012, Mauti and Zordich sought to bring together a group of players, and a fan base, that faced splintering.
Mauti and Zordich made a short but compelling statement that presented an unified voice. It contained some memorable lines:
“We want to let the nation know that we’re proud of who we are,” Zordich began. “We’re the true Penn Staters.”
“No sanction, no politician, is ever going to take away what we’ve got here,” Mauti said. “None of that is every going to tear us apart.”
“We have an obligation to Penn State, and we have the ability to fight for not just a team, not just a program, but an entire university and every man that wore the Blue and White on that gridiron before us,” Zordich said. “We are going to embrace this opportunity and we are going to make something very special happen in 2012.”
“We’re going to show up every Saturday and we’re going to raise hell,” Mauti concluded.
“I can tell you, he sold a lot [of tickets],” then-Penn State Athletic Director Dave Joyner said of Mauti a few days later.
Beneath their unified stance that day, however, the Lions faced a whirlwind. Teammates were exploring transfer options, coaches didn’t know who or how many might leave and recruits had significant questions. As the documentary Saving the Roar explored, the 2012 team helped keep the program together by keeping that team together.
Two days after making thatr statement, Mauti joined O’Brien and teammates Jordan Hill and John Urschel in Chicago for Big Ten media days. Mauti was a late replacement for Silas Redd, the running back who ultimately transferred to USC.
In Chicago, Mauti continued serving as the program’s new lead voice. Where O’Brien spoke speculatively about the sanctions and other coaches poaching his players, Mauti confronted the moment squarely.
Mauti said he felt uncomfortable sharing a room with NCAA President Mark Emmert and asked why he saw assistants from other programs on Penn State’s campus. He also noted that department heads and college professors at Penn State contacted him to say that, after seeing the statement, they wouldn’t miss a game.
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“It’s just what needs to be done right now,” Mauti said in Chicago. “I know that it needs to be done, I have the platform to do it, and I’m honored to have the privilege to speak on behalf of my teammates.”
Penn State ultimately went 8-4 that season, and the Maxwell Football Club named O’Brien as its coach of the year. Mauti, however, did not finish the season, sustaining a knee injury in Week 11 against Indiana. But by that point, Mauti already had solidified his Penn State legacy.
The NCAA sanctions were reduced in 2013 and ended in 2014 during James Franklin’s first season as head coach. In 2017, then-Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany praised Penn State for the way it handled the sanctions.
“It’s been a difficult, difficult road for the institution, for the department, for the friends and for the Paterno family,” Delany said in 2017. “So I would say, in totality, it’s maybe the most difficult set of circumstances I’ ve ever been asked to participate in and assist with.
“Having said that, I can look anybody in the eye and salute Penn State for the progress they’ve made, the seriousness with which they’ve treated this issue, the education that has been absorbed, the changes that have been made by various people.”
O’Brien, now the offensive coordinator at Alabama, was less than a week into the sanctions era when he was asked to discuss their impact at the 2012 Big Ten media days. “I would say I would probably have to revisit that in about 10 years,” O’Brien said. “Not now.”
Here’s Mauti and Zordich’s entire statement from July 25, 2012.
Michael Zordich: We want to let the nation know that we’re proud of who we are. We’re the true Penn Staters. We’re going to stick together through this, we’re going to see this thing through and we’re going to do everything that we can for the university. We know it’s not going to be easy, but we know what we’re made off. We know that through this ride, there’s going to be tough times ahead. But we know what our coaches are made of and we know what the university is made of. And we’re ready and willing to fight and stick together to get this thing to the end.
As a team, we don’t see this as a punishment. This is an opportunity. This is the greatest opportunity a Penn Stater could ever be given. We have an obligation to Penn State and we have the ability to fight for not just a team, not just a program, but an entire university and every man that wore the Blue and White on that gridiron before us. We are going to embrace this opportunity and we are going to make something very special happen in 2012.
Michael Mauti: We take this as an opportunity to create our own legacy. This program was not built by one man and this program sure as hell is not going to get torn down by one man. This program was built on every alumni, on every single player that came before us, built on their backs. And we’re going to take that right now. This is our opportunity to do that.
Zordich: When we go out there every Saturday, we suit up for our teammates first of all. But second of all, it’s for the fans, the students and all the families of Nittany Nation that supported us through all this. We’re going to do everything in our power to make them proud. We’re going to do everything in our power to get this place back on track. So I’m personally calling out every member of Nittany Nation — all the students, faculty, fans and family members, alumni, everybody that is — please, please come support us through this, because we need you just as much as you need us. And together we’re going to get through this thing to the end.
Mauti: No sanction, no politician is ever going to take away what we’ve got here. None of that is ever going to tear us apart. Right now, all we can do is, we can put our heads down and go to work. That’s all we can do. We’re going to fight for Penn State, we’re going to fight for each other, because this is what Penn State is about: fighting through adversity. And we’re going to show up every Saturday and we’re going to raise hell.
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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button’s on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.