JOSEPH SANTOLIQUITO, For the Daily News
THE NOISE engulfed Pete Massaro as he walked off the field that one last time at Beaver Stadium in November. The Penn State defensive end had that pins-and-needles feeling coursing through him. He never felt more alive on a football field.
Penn State culminated a tumultuous season by pulling off a 24-21 overtime victory over eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin, and Massaro, a Marple Newtown product, had played a part in it – along with the rest of the seniors on Penn State’s team.
Massaro, however, had a little more to overcome than everyone else. He survived ACL surgeries on both knees that would have deflated anyone. Plus, he was one of the seniors caught in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal that rocked Penn State’s football program.
Now, Massaro wants to continue playing football. The odds are stacked high against him that he will be drafted in the upcoming NFL draft, April 25-27. But there is a possibility the 6-4, 255-pound Massaro will be extended a free-agent offer from some team.
Last season, he played in nine games and started in the last six for the Nittany Lions. He made eight tackles, one for a loss and defended one pass. And he was all over the field in his final collegiate game against Wisconsin.
Massaro knows what it’s like not playing. He spent close to 2 years combined rehabbing from a torn ACL in his right knee, injured in Penn State’s Blue & White 2009 spring game. After fully recovering from the first surgery, he tore his left ACL during the second 2011 spring practice.
Both injuries occurred the same way. He planted his foot and the rest of his body got twisted awkwardly in the mix of the play.
“I want to play again, and I think I owe it to myself to at least take a shot at it, after everything that’s happened,” said Massaro, who had a good pro day, benching 225 pounds a personal-best 22 times and running the 40 in 4.8 seconds. “I’ve been working really hard since the season ended to work on all my structural issues. I think I have a handle on that, and I had a pretty good pro day.”
What can’t be measured in Massaro’s journey is his character. If NFL teams drafted on that, he would be a first-round pick.
“Pete has an innate quickness that you can’t teach, and he’s relentless; he has a motor, and in football, one guys stops playing before the other guy, and it’s never been Pete,” said Ray Gionta, Massaro’s high school coach. “Pete is tough to keep down. I think a lot of that is how Pete was raised. He comes from a great, solid family, his mother Lisa and father Pete. He is persistent, he’ll never give up. The relentless nature he has evolved watching the college kids practice as he was being recruited through high school.
“I ran into [Penn State assistant coach] Larry Johnson at a football clinic in Philadelphia last weekend. He told me Pete had a great pro day and he would be invited to an NFL camp. Anytime that happens, you have a shot. You never know what’s going to happen. All you ask for is an opportunity. This is the healthiest Pete’s been in a while. He’s going to give it everything he has. Pete is going to be successful at whatever he does, and he does have a love for the game.”
If Massaro gets a tryout and makes an NFL team, he wins. If he doesn’t, he still wins. He has an immense safety net and a bright future in finance. He’s already graduated with degrees in finance and economics, carrying a 3.87 GPA. He’s received a nice offer from a Wall Street firm.
He doesn’t have to look too far for motivation. Any mirror would do. The knee injuries. Being an innocent victim in the eye of the Sandusky storm. Having sanctions placed on his team that really had nothing to do with him. He’s still ahead. He survived. He wants to continue playing.
“The knee injuries tested me. They were tough things to stomach; you feel trapped for 9 months, but there was never any thought of quitting,” said Massaro, who is being represented by Wayne-based agents Brett Senior and Casey Muir. “I look back at everything at Penn State as one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was a fair amount of us against the world. There were questions about the Penn State football culture that left me speechless. I made lifelong friends and came across some of the best people that I know. The whole culture thing was tough for me to swallow, personally.
“The seniors had something taken away, but we had something bigger to play for. We were playing for Penn State, and all the businesses and people that supported us. If we had let the whole thing fall apart, the town of State College would have crumbled. A lot of the businesses there rely on Penn State football and the crowds. We had the town on our backs and that gave us a chance to fight for something a little bigger than playing in a bowl game. To be honest, walking off the field after beating Wisconsin, there was no better feeling. The redemption after that game, I don’t know if I would have gotten that in a bowl game, no matter how big the stage was.”