UNIVERSITY PARK -- When they look at the stat sheet after games, linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges often follow a pattern. They study their own statistics, then search for the other's.
It's part of what they call a friendly competition. Hodges wants to make Mauti better. Mauti wants to make Hodges better. This year, with both finally healthy and playing at their peak, they have become one of Penn State's best linebacker duos in recent history.
"Each and every game, we motivate each other," Hodges said.
When this season ends, it will be possible to evaluate where the Mauti-Hodges duo ranks among Penn State's linebackers of the past decade. And, if they keep it up, they should rank highly.
Right now, Mauti has 83 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three interceptions. Hodges has 76 tackles, a sack and an interception. If they continue at this pace, Mauti will finish with 104 tackles and Hodges with 100. It would be the first time since 2007 and just the second time in the past decade that two Penn State linebackers each have 100 tackles in a season.
The previous two Penn State linebackers who compiled comparable numbers were Sean Lee and Dan Connor. They combined for 283 tackles, 10 sacks and two interceptions combined in '07.
Mauti and Hodges had little reason to envision themselves playing in the same linebacker corps.
Mauti visited Penn State before the '07 season as a high school senior, and Lee showed him around. He picked the Nittany Lions because Penn State was "Linebacker U."
Hodges played safety in high school, graduating in '09, and spent the first half of his true freshman year in that position. Ron Vanderlinden, the linebackers coach, recruited him to Penn State, and Mauti remembers how Vanderlinden never stopped recruiting Hodges once he joined Penn State's secondary.
"I figured it was a matter of time before he became a linebacker," Mauti said.
By October of that season, he had switched to his new position, largely because of injuries to linebackers, including Mauti. He hasn't moved back, and, in 2010, the two played linebacker together for the first time.
On the field then and now they look similar. Each seems to be near the ball on every play. They cover much of the field, seemingly without getting tired. It's a defining characteristic teammates often refer to and what they see in each other.
"We're basically the same exact person, same exact intensity, and same thought process," Hodges said.
Cornerback Stephon Morris knows both of them well enough to see beyond the field. He characterizes Hodges as a master of preparation. When you see him get beyond the line of scrimmage in a blur to make a tackle, like he did three times in the first half against Purdue, it's not all because of the speed he has for a 6-foot-2, 237-pounder.
"It's remarkable," Morris said. "He watches hours of film on his own."
Mauti's older brother, Patrick Mauti, assigned the same trait to Mauti. Patrick said Mauti's two knee ligament injuries forced him to become more studious in his game preparation.
The result of everything, from the preparation to the energy to the gradual improvement, has been the success of this year. Hodges and Mauti were both named mid-season All-Americans by Phil Steele's College Football. They have won the Big Ten Conference defensive player of the week award three times.
They've performed as well as any Penn State linebacker pair has in the past 10 years, and each is aware he must live up to the production of the other.
"On the field, we're constantly comparing," Mauti said. "We just want to make plays, so that's really what it comes down to."