Penn State defensive end Pete Massaro has returned to the practice field with the knowledge of what it takes to come back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, something he has already done in his career with the Nittany Lions.
Massaro, a former star at Marple Newtown High School in Delaware County, is seeing his first on-field action since tearing the ACL in his left knee during spring practice of last year. In the spring of 2009, during the Blue-White Game, he tore his right ACL, not returning to the practice field until 2010 pre-season camp.
In an interview with reporters Wednesday, Massaro said his knee right now is about 80 to 85 percent but that it’s “pretty close” to 100 percent. He said his goal is to return to the form he showed at the end of 2010, his last full season of competing, but also realizes he must take his time.
“I’ve just got to keep telling myself I’ve got to take it slow,” he said. “I’ve got to take it one day at a time, not get too far ahead of myself, because it does take time to get that muscle memory back. It’s kind of a slow process. I’m kind of glad that I’m getting that out of the way now as opposed to during camp. So I think it’s a good thing.”
Massaro, who admitted he is a little rusty, said he’s experienced “a fair amount of contact” thus far but that his daily workload is monitored by the coaches.
“I don’t think about (my knee) when I’m out there,” he said. “That’s something that will slow me down if I start to think about it. There are times after I come out of a drill or a scrimmage or practice or whatever I’m doing, I’ll say, ‘Wow, that was a little scary.’ But there’s nothing that I think about while I’m in there.”
He said there still are some things that feel a little uncomfortable with his knee, including a brace that he must wear but he hopes to shed in time for the start of the 2012 season.
Massaro said there is also the mental side of making sure his knee is fine, something with which he has experienced with his comeback from his first torn ACL.
“There’s definitely times when I feel my head gets in the way more than my knee does,” he said. “There’s other times where I can take a step back and say, ‘Well, that part of it was mental, and the other part was definitely a little bit of rustiness on the part of my knee.’
“When I think back to last time when I came back from the last knee in camp, I was a little bit rusty then also. So I know it’s something that I’m going to have to go through. It’s just kind of an adjustment period. If I keep my nose to the grindstone and take it one day at a time, I know it’s going to turn out all right.”
Massaro, who has junior eligibility although he received his undergraduate degree in finance last December, is learning new schemes and terminology under defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who was hired by new head coach Bill O’Brien to succeed long-time defensive coach Tom Bradley.
“It’s just kind of been a fresh start with everyone learning the new terminology,” Massaro said. “It’s something we’re going to have to adjust to. It’s kind of like learning a new language.”
Massaro said the younger defensive ends have been impressive so far in camp, and he mentioned redshirt freshman Deion Barnes, from Northeast High School.
“Deion is really showing flashes and I think he’s going to be a really great player,” Massaro said.