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A champion again, Penn State signee PJ Mustipher ready for next chapter
PJ Mustipher capped off his high school wrestling career with a second straight state championship, cementing his status as one of the Mid-Atlantic region’s most impressive young athletes. The 6-foot-5, 283-pound McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Md.) senior, a Penn State football signee, Mustipher succeeded in his mission to capture a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association heavyweight title last winter. Despite that accolade, he kept pushing.
“I’ve learned my mental toughness is there and I never relaxed,” Mustipher told Land of 10. “Being a state champion last year was my main priority. I accomplished that and it would’ve been easy for me to say, ‘Well, I got my goal. I’m just going to cruise.’ I didn’t do that. My goals were high.”
The championship-clinching match occurred Feb. 17, ending when his opponent was disqualified for flagrant misconduct. This victory avenged a loss in December to the same foe at the Beast of the East showcase tournament, held at the University of Delaware.
“I went into the season wanting to run through state [competition] and not lose to anybody. Then I lost,” Mustipher said. “That’s just mental toughness and shows me I can battle through adversity. I went back to the drawing board, knew what I had to work on with my coaches, and got the results I wanted.”
Mustipher pinned every opponent during postseason action leading up to the state championship showdown, including a first-round win to claim top honors in McDonogh’s conference. A dominant force during his upperclassman career, he also finished second at The Ironman tournament (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio) this season, representing the best finish for a wrestler from his program since Myles Martin, an All-American and NCAA champion at Ohio State.
Soon after the state championship repeat, Mustipher’s older brother — Notre Dame offensive lineman Sam Mustipher — recognized his accomplishment:
— Sam Mustipher (@S_Mustipher) February 19, 2018
Shortly after his Aug. 7 verbal commitment to Penn State, Mustipher explained how lessons on the mat transition to success in the trenches.
“It’s just one on one. If you lose, it’s all on you. If you win, it’s all on you,” he said. “How much work you put in alone is going to translate to how well you do against an opponent. I think that’s the same focus on the football field, because you’ve got to whoop that offensive guard’s behind every play. You’ve got to make grown men do what they don’t want to do.”
Considered the No. 5 defensive tackle and a top-100 overall recruit in 247Sports 2018 composite rankings, Mustipher did plenty of that during his efforts on the football field. The sport now receives his full focus following the end of a distinguished wrestling career.
Mustipher reached the final last weekend at National Preps wrestling championships (Bethlehem, Pa.) before bowing out.
“PJ has just been a spark for our team,” McDonogh wrestling coach Pete Welch told Tim Schwartz of The Baltimore Sun. “He’s not just a football player. He’s a great football player, but he’s come along in wrestling. … In the finals he ran into a kid who was just as athletic and strong and does a lot of wrestling and he was in a position to win but got caught. He did a great job getting there.”
Here is an example of Mustipher’s prowess on the wrestling mat:
PJ Mustipher prepared to impact Penn State defensive line
The benefit of a lengthy, successful wrestling season is evident for the future Penn State player.
“I’m in the best shape of my life right now,” he said. “It’s going to give me an advantage when I first come in. Wrestling helps with so much, and conditioning is one.”
Mustipher said he plans to bulk up this spring, tipping the scales at approximately 295 pounds when he arrives in Happy Valley. He expects to compete at 300-plus pounds during his college career, vying for early reps along the interior.
One of four Penn State signees on the defensive line, Mustipher carries immense expectations for this group’s potential. He will join Judge Culpepper, Aeneas Hawkins and Jayson Oweh as newcomers up front this summer.
“I dream about the things we’re going to do in these upcoming years,” Mustipher said. “All the guys in this class, I’m telling you, everybody is special.”
Opposing teams struggled to stop Mustipher during his days spearheading the McDonogh defensive attack. He collected 133 tackles and 43 sacks during the past three seasons, according to his Penn State signee profile.
Perhaps the most penetrative interior pass rusher among 2018 prospects, Mustipher secured at least 14 sacks in each of those three seasons. His ability to adapt against an array of blocking schemes stood out along the way.
Peter Kafaf, a specialty technique trainer at The Lab Football Academy, has worked with Mustipher in the past, and he previously helped mentor No. 1 overall 2016 recruit Rashan Gary and starting Penn State tackle Will Fries. He noted Mustipher’s mental aptitude and general attitude as positive signs for his Penn State future.
“PJ is a very fast learner,” Kafaf said. “His approach to the game is mature and professional, so I think he’s going to be a standout player at the next level.”
Mustipher faces serious competition for a spot in defensive line coach Sean Spencer’s rotation, especially considering the presence of three redshirt freshmen tackles (Damion Barber, Corey Bolds and Fred Hansard). Mustipher is optimistic he can challenge for immediate reps, but said he understands that outcome depends on him starting strong in State College.
“I feel as though if I put in the work and do everything on my end, the goal to play early and everything will take care of itself,” he said. “The coaches want me to come in and compete, but that’s not up to them. They can say it as many times they want, and I can say the same thing, but I’m going to have to put in a lot of work during these next few months to play the best football I can play in 2018.”
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