Blue White Illustrated

June-July 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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J U N E / J U L Y 2 0 2 2 31 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M S P R I N G F O O T B A L L 2 0 2 2 the effort it would take to do the sim- plest daily tasks, leg immobilized and uncomfortable, he was left with a feel- ing of complete unfamiliarity. "It would take half an hour just to move," he said. "You've got to plan out your day accordingly, how to get from point A to point B." Both Mustipher and Isaac are past that point now, though they're at dif- ferent mile markers along the way. Making Steady Progress Coming off a knee injury he suffered in Penn State's 23-20 loss at Iowa last October, Mustipher is still in rehabili- tation mode as the team transitions from spring practice into the sum- mer months. It typically takes between eight and 12 months for a player to return to full par- ticipation after an injury of that type, and the veteran lineman is nearly seven months through it, still progressing through the day-to-day grind of his rehab regimen. Determined to avoid any setbacks, Mustipher says with confidence that he'll be ready when preseason camp opens in late July. Isaac, who sustained a ruptured Achilles tendon last June, is much further along. First returning to the practice field in a limited capacity during the team's bowl prepara- tions, the edge rusher progressed through winter workouts and into spring ball with an ever-expanding opportunity to participate. Penn State's coaching and train- ing staffs took a conservative ap- proach as he continued to recover this spring. Drill work progressed into team work, and eventually Isaac was able to see limited contact in the Blue-White Game on April 23. With his steady progress, Isaac began to rekindle memories of his first couple of years at Penn State. Too good to keep off the field as a true freshman in 2019, he positioned himself as the heir ap- parent to Odafe Oweh during the nine- game 2020 campaign. Isaac showed flashes of potential during a season in which he finished with 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a pair of quarterback hurries in a rotational role. He flashed that potential again in the team's recently concluded spring prac- tice sessions, this time for a new defen- sive coordinator, Manny Diaz. The for- mer Miami (Fla.) head coach was seeing Isaac for the first time, and he under- stood the kind of impact that the 6-foot- 4, 244-pounder could have this fall. "He just has some things you can't teach in terms of athleticism, his ability to bend, turning the corner, his length, the way he can get his hands on offen- sive linemen," Diaz said. "We're excited to see him grow in his role every day. And the more he's around, the more he makes our corners better [by pressuring the passer]. Great players affect other guys that they play with, and I think Adisa has got a chance to be that guy." 'I Knew Right Away' With Isaac sidelined from the outset last season, Mustipher became the de facto headliner of the defensive line in his absence. He lived up to the role, too, switching to nose tackle and growing into it with strong performances against Auburn, Villanova and Indiana. But just a few plays into Penn State's visit to Iowa, Mustipher's progression was upended. "I knew right away. On the field, I knew right away I was probably [out] for the season. I heard a pop that I hadn't heard before," Mustipher said. "And I had never been hurt. So, it was all new to me, but I was numb to it." That numb feeling stayed with him in the aftermath of the injury. Mustipher said he wasn't sad or angry. Instead, he was coming to grips with a new real- ity that included watching practices, rehabbing, and just figuring out how to get up and down the stairs in a full leg brace. Eventually, he came to understand that the ups and downs served only as distractions from his primary aims. "If you allow those emotions to take over, you're not going to be able to go in and attack the rehab and attack the strength training like you want to be- cause you're not looking at it in a posi- tive light," Mustipher said. "Every day is going to be a battle. You've just got to rely on the people who support you, your teammates, the staff, your family back home, to get you through all that." To do so would require a major turn for Mustipher, who is among the team's more effervescent and gregarious per- sonalities. Head coach James Frank- lin said the 6-4, 329-pound lineman needed to be willing to allow others to help him. As Mustipher acknowledged, it was a difficult instance of role rever- sal. He had gone from leading the team out onto the field as a captain to being on the sidelines without real purpose, and he was unprepared for the sense of whiplash that the change evoked. Despite his injury, Mustipher received second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches. He was also named the winner of the team's Ridge Riley Award, which goes to a player who displays sportsmanship, scholarship, leadership and friendship. Mustipher said he's had a specific purpose in mind while working his way back, one that he shares fully with Isaac. "I'm trying to come back better than I was last year. That's the only goal we've got," Mustipher said. "We don't put all the hours in, the treatment, and the lifting and all that other stuff to just get back out on the field. Yeah, we can't wait until we do. I know Adisa has [returned to the practice field], but I haven't yet, and I'm going to be excited. "But the goal is not to be the same. The goal is not to be less, it's to be bet- "The goal is not to be the same. The goal is not to be less, it's to be better than I was. So that's my motivation right now. That's why I'm going so hard." M U S T I P H E R

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