By Terry Toohey, Delaware County Daily Times
October 01, 2010
Penn State defensive end Pete Massaro would not have subscribed to that theory before he tore the anterior cruiciate ligament in his right knee.
Until that seminal moment, the 6-4, 255-pound redshirt sophomore from Marple Newtown viewed injuries as a curse, not something beneficial to one’s career.
All that changed 17 months ago when Massaro planted his right foot and heard a pop in his right knee while pursing a tackle during the Blue-White game April 25, 2009.
In an instant, Massaro’s 2009 season was gone.
Once he got over the initial shock, Massaro decided to use the injury to his advantage. Considered a bit small at 245 pounds to play defensive end in the Big Ten, Massaro used the time to put on 10 pounds of muscle to go against the mammoth offensive tackles that dominate the conference.
Massaro also used the time to work with defensive line coach Larry Johnson. The pair worked on hand placement and leverage, two areas he needed to improve upon to get into the rotation on the defensive line.
“The rehab was really tough,” Massaro said. “The first few weeks were the hardest. It took a while to get to the point where I was able to feel like an athlete again. Overall, though, I think the process went really well. I think I’m a better player because I went through that.”
Few can argue with the result.
After coming off the bench in the first two games, the two-time All-Delco selection made his first career start in Penn State’s 24-0 victory over Kent State two weeks ago. He was in the starting lineup again last week as the Nittany Lions rallied for a 22-13 victory over Temple.
While the starting lineup for this week has not officially been announced, Massaro will be in the rotation and get his first taste of Big Ten play when the No. 22/20 Nittany Lions (3-1) open conference play at No. 17/18 Iowa (3-1) Saturday night (7 p.m./ESPN).
“We’re really excited about playing them,” said Massaro, who turns 21 Saturday. “Obviously, it’s been pretty rough against them the last few years, but we’re trying to forget about that and focus on the game this year and the team that we have now.”
Massaro was not on the field when the Lions dropped a 21-10 decision to the Hawkeyes last year. The injury to his right knee saw to that. Nor did he play in the 24-23 loss to Iowa the year before that. Massaro sat out that season as a redshirt.
However, he has made up for lost time.
Already the owner of one of the top grade-point-averages on the team (3.82 through the spring semester), the finance major is tied with Nate Stuper and Devon Still for the team lead with two sacks. Massaro has been involved in nine tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and has forced and recovered the only fumble the defense has caused in four games.
“I feel like I have my legs under me,” Massaro said. “I’m playing more reckless. I don’ think about the knee at all.”
Massaro’s boundless energy has pumped some life into the Penn State defense that gave up 180 yards on the ground and 409 yards overall in a 24-3 loss at No. 1 Alabama three weeks ago.
The Nittany Lions have allowed 214 yards rushing and 430 yards overall in the two games since the Alabama loss. Penn State has also forced six turnovers (five interceptions, one fumble) in that stretch.
Massaro only had one tackle against Kent State, but his spirited performance drew praise from his teammates and the coaching staff.
“He did a great job coming off the edge today,” defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said after the game. “When you get (to the quarterback) with four guys, you don’t have to dial up too many stunts. Pete gives us a good edge pressure and that helps us.”
“For a kid to have torn an ACL and come back and not only not lose a beat, but come in and start, and make plays, it speaks volumes of his character and his work ethic,” added defensive tackle and team captain Ollie Ogbu.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno was equally impressed with Massaro’s performance.
“I think Massaro did well,” Paterno said. “I think Massaro is going to be a good football player.”
That’s high praise from JoePa.
Whether that results in a third straight start when the Nittany Lions take on the Hawkeyes Saturday does not matter. Massaro is glad to be on the field because he knows from experience that it can be taken away in an instant.
He is a better player and person because of that experience.
“Having to sit out for a year and watch everything that goes out on the field, you want to go full speed every play,” Massaro said. “You want to work as hard as you can and get as much production as possible.”