PJ Mustipher opens up about injury, set to take part in Penn State’s training camp
INDIANAPOLIS — Just five snaps into No. 4 Penn State’s contest against No. 3 Iowa, PJ Mustipher heard a pop in his left knee and fell to the turf at Kinnick Stadium.
Mustipher immediately knew something was wrong, but he tried to convince himself he could stand up.
While lying on the ground, one thought raced through Mustipher’s head.
“Just laying on the field, I wasn't even thinking like, 'Dang, this really happened,'” Mustipher said. “I was just like, 'Why now?' We're 5-0, one of the best teams in the country. And then you get hurt. But that's a whole part of life.”
James Franklin and the training staff surrounded him on the field, and by halftime, he couldn’t even walk.
Mustipher missed the rest of the campaign with a left knee injury, and not only did the blue and white lose an integral part of its defense but a leader on the gridiron.
For the remaining eight games, the defensive tackle was seen on crutches or rolling around on a scooter.
Mustipher’s injury signified the derailment of the Nittany Lions' 2021 season after they provided fans with hope through the early part of the year.
Penn State fell to the Hawkeyes 23-20, and it finished off the year, losing six of its last eight contests, falling far from the fourth-best team in the nation.
As for Mustipher, he was on his way to having his best season in Happy Valley, recording 21 tackles, with three tackles for loss and a sack before losing his senior season.
However, the Owings Mills, Maryland, natives' time as a Nittany Lion didn’t come to a close after the injury due to the NCAA-granted extra year of eligibility.
Recovering from an injury is never easy, and Mustipher experienced that firsthand, with his knee injury being the first time in his career he’s suffered a major injury.
Mustipher opened up about his rehab, noting some days felt good, and he was able to stay motivated, while on other days, he struggled to find the motivation to go into the training room.
One of Penn State’s team captains could’ve easily headed back to Maryland since he was only taking two classes.
The team captain was eager to get back on the field with his teammates and found himself living through others, admitting it wasn’t good for his mental health when he was alone.
However, many of his teammates noted that Mustipher was always in great spirits around them throughout his recovery.
A teammate Mustipher has experienced a lot with is quarterback Sean Clifford.
The 2022 campaign marks the fifth season the duo has played together, and Clifford couldn't be more excited to have Mustipher return to the field.
“PJ is a great dude, and he deserves the world of football,” Clifford said. “He was there for the team the whole year, didn’t bat an eye, and the minute he made his decision to come back, I’ve never been more proud to be able to be next to a guy and call him my brother and a friend.”
Clifford also sustained an injury in the loss against Iowa but was able to return to the gridiron two weeks later, albeit playing through the injury.
Injuries happen throughout the season, and having a guy like Mustipher, who has battled through a serious injury, will only be beneficial for the program.
“We all like to think we're tough and ready for anything,” Mustipher said. “I thought I was tough, but this process showed me I gotta work on my strength a little bit just from a mentality standpoint… Everybody has stuff in life that is going to humble them. I think this was one for me.”
Mustipher also had the possibility of going to the NFL, where his older brother Sam is an offensive lineman for the Chicago Bears.
However, after sustaining the injury, it was difficult to predict his draft stock and made his decision to come back very time-consuming.
Mustipher talked to his brother Sam, the rest of his family and the Penn State coaching staff before announcing his return on Jan. 4.
The rising fifth-year senior mentioned he was cleared by doctors at the end of April and has been “checking off boxes” in his rehab process.
One of those boxes was passing the yearly conditioning test of 12 80-yard sprints with changes of direction, and he claimed he did it at the same time as before the injury.
Mustipher and Franklin confirmed he’ll be “full go” when training camp gets underway on Sunday, and Mustipher went even further by saying “130%” when the season begins on Sept. 1.
“I’m so happy it doesn’t even feel real. I’ve been out for so long it doesn’t even feel real that we’re about to start camp,” Mustipher said. “I've been working hard, been putting in the work, and I'm just ready to go out there and kind of finish what we started last year… Man, I just want to be one of the pieces to this puzzle that's going to do amazing things this year.”
To celebrate his return to the gridiron, on Penn State’s trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten media days, he feasted at St. Elmo Steak House in downtown Indianapolis with Franklin, Clifford, Patrick Kraft, Ji’Ayir Brown in attendance.
Franklin said Mustipher was enjoying himself in celebration of passing the conditioning test, while Mustipher said he made sure to order the most expensive foods since Franklin was paying for it.
His order included one 20-ounce steak, two “massive” lobster tails, one “pound” of mashed potatoes, shrimp that came with St. Elmo’s cocktail sauce and one bourbon butter cake.
The 6-foot-4 321-pound defensive tackle almost ordered the lobster mac and cheese but noticed it didn’t cost enough, so he substituted it for the lobster tails.
Mustipher mentioned that Franklin had to pay for it since training camp starts over the weekend, but his over 200 dollar dinner is a small price for Franklin to pay for the return of one of his team captains.
“He's in great spirits. He feels, both mentally and physically, 100% back,” Franklin said. “PJ's a football guy, and he's been an unbelievable representative of our program and our conference for five years now… We are blessed and fortunate to have PJ back as a leader of our defense, and I think you guys will see big things out of him this year.”
Alex Rocco is a rising junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com