It’s almost impossible to wipe the smile off of linebacker Michael Mauti’s face at training camp. He was a player who wasn’t even on some teams’ draft boards in 2013 because he wasn’t recuperating from his first ACL surgery, he was recovering from his third.
He had promised on draft weekend that he would be on the field for the first day of training camp and, true to his word, he was there and practicing. Granted, he was wearing a bulky knee brace that limited his movements, but he wasn’t going to allow what might be his only opportunity to play in the NFL fall by the wayside.
A year later, Mauti is fully healed from his last surgery and ready to fight for a starting job in the middle of the Vikings defense. He has spent the last seventh months preparing for the 2014 season and, for the first time in a long time, he’s spent those seven months without visiting a surgeon or a rehab specialist.
He sees a difference in his intensity and his approach to the season. While it would make sense that the biggest difference would be physical, instead it’s been more mental than anything else.
“I see a big difference just in terms of my confidence,” Mauti said. “It’s to the point that I don’t think about it all anymore. It hasn’t been an issue whatsoever. I can concentrate on doing the things out on the field that I need to do without giving it a second thought.”
Last year’s training camp was a very different story. Mauti had met the challenge of rehabbing with the opening camp as his target date, but there remained some concerns as to how much he could do and whether he could do enough to impress the coaching staff. He had reason for concern because seventh-round draft picks have very little job security when 100 percent healthy, much less at less than 100 percent.
“I rehabbed my butt of last year with the goal of being ready by the first day of training camp and I accomplished that goal,” Mauti said. “Having that big brace on it was a constant reminder and it was kind of uncomfortable because, when you’re making cuts and quick moves, it was always a reminder that my knee needs to be stable. It took some time to get over the mental part of it and I was able to work through that and get on with playing the game I love.”
One of his biggest obstacles to making an impact with the Vikings was the concern he had that was the hardest part to shake – the internal questioning of whether he was ready.
“It wasn’t always easy,” Mauti said. “I remember thinking about it the first few times I stuck my foot in the ground and truly tested it. You can simulate that in practice or working out on your own. Everything in football is about reaction and instinct. You don’t have time to think too much. Your brain tells you what to do and your body reacts immediately. You can’t hesitate. After I got over that – the thoughts in the back of your mind whether it was going to be OK – everything has been better since.”
While there was some early trepidation about whether he could go all out and do what he does naturally, after a couple of weeks Mauti felt he had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
He wasn’t going to let the little voice in the back of his head win out and made the conscious decision to let go of those thoughts and do whatever was needed to get the job done.
“There was a point last year at the end of training camp where I really tried pushing myself because I didn’t know what the coaches were thinking about me,” Mauti said. “I didn’t know if I would make the team or not. I was hopeful that I would, but I didn’t know. It was then that I just pushed it as hard as I could to make sure the knee would hold up and, at that moment, I turned a corner.”
For most players, hitting training camp brings an end to the fun things they do during the offseason. From the time they arrived in Mankato until they clean their lockers out following the last game of the season, it’s almost all business. For Mauti, having an offseason in which he has been able to enjoy those months like the rest of his teammates has been a pleasant surprise and one he wants to get accustomed to.
“It was really fun,” Mauti said. “When you’ve spent as many offseasons as I have recovering from surgery and going through the rehab process, being able to enjoy an offseason and not have to wake up every day thinking about what I had to do that day to get my knee better. I’ve actually been able to have fun – go fishing, hang out with friends, that kind of things. It’s been a lot of fun, because it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to enjoy the things most people take for granted.
“I feel as good right now as I’ve felt in a long time. I have a lot of confidence and I think I’ve got myself back to the kind of football shape I was in before the last knee injury. This has been a new experience for me coming into a training camp without having to rehab an injury and I’m looking forward to showing the coaches and my teammates what I can do.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
No knee rehab ‘a new experience’ for Mauti
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