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Out For The Season, PJ Mustipher Remains Vital Part Of Penn State’s Culture

When James Franklin talks about players that help his program run the “right way,” the first guy he mentions is typically PJ Mustipher. For the head coach, the right way is exemplified by not only by consistent on-field production, but by cultivating a culture of positivity within the locker room and in the community.

Prior to Mustipher’s abrupt season-ending injury in the Nittany Lions’ week six matchup against Iowa, the Maryland native was having his most productive statistical campaign to date. In less than half a season, Mustipher posted 21 total tackles, three tackles for loss, and one sack, putting him on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 37 tackles set in 2019.

More importantly, Mustipher’s impact as a catalyst and veteran leader on the defense line extends far beyond his on-field improvement. For Derrick Tangelo, Mustipher’s starting counterpart at defensive tackle, Mustipher’s presence within the team hasn’t dwindled since his absence.

“He’s one of the most selfless guys on the team,” Tangelo said Tuesday. “He really puts the team above himself. [Being at practice is] just one of the examples. I can give you countless examples, but that’s just the PJ thing to do. He’s always locked in, and he always wants the team to do as best as it can, so it was very inspirational to see him come back out.”

As a first-year transfer, Tangelo credits a large portion of his integration into Penn State’s defensive system to Mustipher’s leadership. Without having a vocal commander like Mustipher, the former Duke Blue Devil believes that the inexperience and youth on the defensive line could have potentially overshadowed the unit’s early season accomplishments.

“PJ’s a very vocal guy, a very team-oriented guy, [and] he likes to see us succeed,” Tangelo said. “Just having him around to be able to answer any questions or point out anything that he sees on a technique or from a scheme standpoint, I feel like that’s valuable because he does have the most experience.”

Aside from his role in the trenches, Mustipher’s presence is also sorely missed by other defensive leaders, including Jesse Luketa, who has split reps this season at defensive end and linebacker. While the versatile veteran knows Mustipher’s impact is irreplaceable, he’s excited to see his teammates step up and fill the current void.

“It sucks seeing a guy like PJ go down,” Luketa said. “Just knowing how much he’s invested, his leadership, it’s just a thrill being able to play beside him. Losing him, it sucks, but it also presents so much more opportunity for the guys in the room. We’re excited. We have a standard, and I feel like we’ve been consistent with that week-to-week. It doesn’t matter who’s going to be in the rotation with us. The standard is the standard, and we’re going to continue to meet it.”

According to Franklin, Mustipher’s impact likely won’t be duplicated, but Dvon Ellies and Coziah Izzard have taken the most reps in place of the All-Big Ten honorable mention’s starting spot. Although Mustipher’s leadership has remained steady, Franklin has gone above-and-beyond to make sure the senior has enough support to weather the adverse situation.

“He’s handling it extremely well, like he does everything,” Franklin said. “But sometimes, when guys are handling things too well, that concerns me, too. I kind of try to give him a big hug every single day and check on him and ask how he is, and tell him if he needs anything, that we’re here.”

While Mustipher won’t be seen in a Penn State uniform for the remainder of the 2021 season, his role in guiding the Nittany Lions to a potential spot in the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff is just as important as any other working component.

“His leadership has still been extremely strong on our team, as I expect it would be,” Franklin added.

In its first matchup without Mustipher, Penn State will take the field at noon on Saturday, October 23, at Beaver Stadium to face Illinois. The game will air nationally on ABC.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a junior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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