Penn State's Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges the reason 'Linebacker U' is alive and well

Michael Mauti is the undoubted vocal and emotional leader of Penn State's defense. (Gene J. Puskar/AP file photo)

When they line up on the field, Gerald Hodges said he and fellow Penn State linebacker Mike Mauti are essentially the same person.

"We play with the same level of intensity and nastiness," said Hodges, the former Paulsboro standout.

Off the field? Hodges flashed a smile as he began to describe his teammate. 

"Mauti cannot sit still,” Hodges said. “Even before games, he always has to be moving around. I’m more of a relaxed person."

They might not be the odd couple, but they do complement eachother. And the duo is a big reason why -- amidst a season of changes, transition and upheaval -- Linebacker U is alive and well at Penn State.

Mauti and Hodges have combined for three Big Ten defensive player of the week awards this season. And both were named semifinalists for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's top linebacker. Penn State is the only school in the country with more than one player on the 12-player list.

Combined, the seniors have 119 tackles -- though they each know who has more (it's Mauti).

"We’re constantly comparing," Mauti said. "But we just want to make plays. That’s what it comes down to.”

Said coach Bill O'Brien: "Mike makes a play, Gerald is jumping on his back, celebrating with him. Same thing when Gerald makes a play, Michael is right there with him. As far as comparing stats and all that, you know what I always say, ‘Stats are for you-know-what.’”

What's even funnier is that Hodges is right: Off the field, the two could not be more different. Hodges is from a Philadelphia suburb. He's more reserved when it comes to talking to the media -- he refuses to discuss NFL aspirations until the season is over -- and sometimes appears shy. He has a buzz cut and wears glistening diamond earrings.

Mauti, on the other hand, is from Louisiana. He's the undoubted vocal and emotional leader for Penn State, especially in the tumultuous offseason. Not long after the NCAA sanctions were announced, Mauti -- who has slicked back, long hair -- appeared in a video, posted on YouTube, where he firmly reaffirmed his commitment to Penn State. He seemed a bit angry at the time.

What the players have in common -- besides their on-field dominance this season -- is that they've been plagued with injurires throughout their career. Now fully healthy they are a perfect complement. But it's one of the first seasons they've been on the field together at the same time.

Mauti joined Penn State in 2008; Hodges game the year after. Mauti missed the 2009 season with a torn ACL and returned in 2010 -- thats when Hodges missed most of the season with a broken leg. Last season -- expected to be their first together -- Mauti suffered another torn ACL.

On Saturday, the two will be called upon to slow down Braxton Miller, Ohio State's elusive dual-threat quarterback. Senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill knows his teammates are up for the challenge.

“They have all the energy in the world. It’s crazy,” Hill said. “I wish I had a motor like them. It seems like they’re going full-speed every single play. Even when they’re talking, they’re going full speed.”

-Emily Kaplan