New Minnesota Viking linebacker Michael Mauti was the inspirational leader of an embattled Penn State football team in 2012.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt did not have a player selected in the NFL draft for the second consecutive year, but Division II California, Pa., did.
Eric Kush, a three-year starter on the offensive line for the Vulcans, was taken in the sixth round Saturday by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bridgeville native who attended Chartiers Valley High School was the only player from the WPIAL to be drafted this year.
Penn State had two players chosen on the final day of the draft. Linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti were both selected by the Minnesota Vikings. Hodges was taken in the fourth round, Mauti in the seventh.
Three West Virginia players were drafted, but none Saturday in rounds four through seven.
Running back Ray Graham was the Pitt player with the best chance to get drafted, but his surgically repaired knee and slow 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine scared teams away. Graham signed as a free agent with the Houston Texans after the draft.
Kush, 6 feet 3 and 305 pounds, was second-team all-state as a senior at Chartiers Valley when he weighed only 245 pounds. He was a late bloomer who did not get on the radar of college coaches until his senior season.
"He wasn't looked at by a lot of Division I schools," said Chris Saluga, the head coach at Chartiers Valley when Kush played. "He was a top-level Division II recruit. He wasn't a dominant player until his senior year. He started as a junior, but he wasn't dominant. Anymore, you have to have a really good junior year to get recruited by Division I schools."
Chartiers Valley has produced a couple of NFL players in recent years, but Kush is the first player Saluga coached who was drafted. Ray and Ross Ventrone made the NFL as undrafted free agents. Ross Ventrone is currently on the Steelers' roster.
Hodges, a 6-foot-1, 243-pounder, followed Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill, who was taken by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round Friday night. Hodges, fourth in the Big Ten with 109 tackles last season, was getting antsy and wanted to relieve some stress early Saturday afternoon as the fourth round wore on, so he took a shower.
"When I was in the shower, I heard my phone ringing," Hodges said. "I started crying. I couldn't believe it."
A converted safety, Hodges was told he'd have a chance to compete for playing time in his rookie season.
"I told them I could play inside or outside," Hodges said. "I have a great coach in Mike Singletary and I'm ready to go. I never played middle, but I would sometimes come in the box [at Penn State].
"I feel very comfortable in pass coverage. That's one of my strong points. That's why I thought I would go earlier than I did. I feel real comfortable playing in the box and playing in coverage."
Mauti had three ACL surgeries during his Penn State career. The last came after he sustained an injury in the second-to-last game of the season against Indiana.
Several other local players signed as free agents after the draft. Pitt receiver Mike Shanahan (Norwin) signed with the New York Jets; Pitt center Ryan Turnley (Hopewell) signed with the Buffalo Bills; Pitt tight end Hubie Graham signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Boston College offensive lineman John Wetzel (Brashear) signed with the Oakland Raiders.