Sure, Mick Williams is cemented into the starting right tackle spot for Pittsburgh, and Myles Caragein certainly should get considerable playing time at nose tackle. However, after offseason micro-fracture knee surgery, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Gus Mustakas feels better than he's been in two years.
"Going into my junior year, the second game in the season, I tore my ACL,'' Mustakas said. "So, I sat out the rest of that year. Then, my redshirt junior year (last fall), I was coming back, but my cartilage was all messed up. They wanted to do surgery before the season, but I couldn't do it. I didn't want to do it.
"I would have missed half the season or more. So, I played with it, basically on one leg all year. (But) every Thursday, I had to get my knee drained, and I could only play 20-25 plays a game. I didn't do too bad, but it wasn't how I wanted it to be. Then, I had surgery after the season, and things are great now.''
It's hardly any consolation for Mustakas, but the type of injury he suffered generally happens to basketball players. All the pounding on hard courts can affect knees the way Mustakas was hurt. He said a doctor drills holes in the kneecap and create new scar tissue.
It appears to be a long road to recovery, but Mustakas has been doing everything with his teammates for a couple months now after light work during the spring. And he swears he'll be ready to go full speed ahead during camp.
"Since the surgery, I've been feeling better every day,'' Mustakas said. "I feel real good right now, and I can't wait to get back on the field. It's been a long time since I've felt this good, so it's about time. I'm ready to go right now.
"It's just summer workouts, but I can run and do everything. I think I'll be able to play like I did my sophomore year and junior year before I got hurt. Hopefully, I'll play even better than that, because I'm a fifth-year senior.
"This is my last go-around, and I have to make the most of it,'' Mustakas added. "So, I'm going to leave everything out there this season. The seniors, we won't accept anything less than a Big East championship. I won't accept anything less, so that's what we're gunning for after missing out last season.''
What did Mustakas learn from all this.
"You never know what's going to happen, so you can't take anything for granted,'' Mustakas said. "I guess you have to take things one play at a time on the football field and give it all you've got every play, because it might be your last one. I'm grateful and thankful for everything I've accomplished at Pitt.
"I've graduated, and I just have to decide what classes I'll take. Like I've said, I'm not looking past the first game, let alone this season, because who knows what's going to happen? What I do know is that I feel good, and I'm definitely ready to have a real big year during my senior season.''
As a freshman in 2005, Mustakas recorded three sacks and seven tackles in 11 games in limited play off the bench as an undersized defensive end. He bulked up some and moved inside in 2006 and started all 12 games. Mustakas had an interception and a fumble recovery with 24 total tackles, including 15 solo.
However, while Mustakas was a solid run-stopper, his primary role was occupying blockers so Pitt's linebackers could make the plays. His play was spectacular in two starts in 2007 with four unassisted tackles and 11 total stops with two behind the line. Basically, though, he played just one full game.
Mustakas had three starts in 13 games for the Panthers last fall. He had a sack, fumble recovery and pass breakup with nine solo tackles, 14 overall, and two stops behind the line.
Mustakas Can't Wait To Get Back On The Field
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