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Optimistic offseason for O'Brien, Penn State

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Optimistic offseason for O'Brien, Penn State

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Star linebacker Michael Mauti's college football career had just come to an end in November when he spotted the next generation of Penn State football players.

So, he decided to do what Mauti had done time and again during his Nittany Lions career: He helped others, and imparted some inspirational words along the way.

Adam Breneman, one of the top tight end prospects in the country, is one of them, and he listened intently. Mauti indeed passed the torch of leadership to Breneman and some other high school seniors on recruiting trips to Happy Valley that day, setting the tone for a critical offseason at Penn State.

Indeed, there is no bowl game to rally around this season. No sunny destination dancing around in the Nittany Lions' heads. No fun-filled reward for all of their hard work in this season of recovery at Penn State.

But there is hope. There is optimism. And there is Year 2 of the Coach Bill O'Brien era to sculpt.

No better time than the present.

Under O'Brien, Penn State finished an overachieving 8-4 with a second-place finish in the Big Ten Leaders Division. The Nittany Lions went 6-2 in conference, and likely would have been a lock for a New Year's Day bowl game. As it is, Penn State is not in a bowl for the first time in eight seasons.

But there is much to build on. An emotional 24-21 overtime win, for instance, over Wisconsin in the finale sent the program into the offseason on a high note.

And O'Brien will need that in his first full offseason to secure a recruiting class amid scholarship cuts. The sanctions - levied in July for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal - limit Penn State's recruiting classes to no more than 15 a year for the next four years, starting with the 2013 class to be signed in early February. Most teams can sign 25. There is also a four-year postseason ban to digest.

O'Brien will also need to find new leaders. Mauti was one of a group of seniors who helped keep most of the team together in the frenzied weeks after the NCAA announced the punishment.

Breneman, a highly touted senior from Cedar Cliff High in Camp Hill, Pa., has a chance to be in that leadership mix someday. He has been part of a contingent of recruits who have been vocal about keeping their commitments despite the penalties.

``Now, it's our turn to come in, and, in a couple years, lead the program,'' Breneman said recently, recounting Mauti's postgame words to him. ``That was definitely very motivating to talk to him.

``It's a huge thing. Big shoes to follow up.''

Breneman, coming off a right knee injury that sidelined him for his senior season, plans to enroll at Penn State in January after finishing his prep work a semester early. That will enable him to participate in spring practice.

There's an extra benefit for Penn State if players officially join the program in January, instead of waiting until early February to declare their college choices. January enrollees count against 2012, when there are no scholarship limits. That means the 2013 team could have more 15 new scholarship players while still meeting the NCAA sanction guidelines.

So far, recruiting has been good, especially given the unprecedented circumstances of the past year. Joining Breneman in January will be junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson, a quarterback who figures to compete with Steven Bench now that record-setting starter Matt McGloin is out of eligibility.

Penn State also has a verbal commitment from blue-chip quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg of Virginia, though he is not expected to join the team until this summer.

``You never know until guys sign on the dotted line,'' O'Brien said last week about recruiting. ``But we feel good where we're at.''

As for the current Nittany Lions, NCAA rules prevent coaches from overseeing offseason workouts, though coaches can determine what areas need to be improved in the ramp up to March and spring practice. O'Brien said his coaching staff is looking at improving flexibility and speed, while reducing body fat and creating more muscle mass.

``Is there a disadvantage to not having bowl practice? Certainly,'' O'Brien said. ``But there's also the advantage of not having them.''

In that respect, O'Brien said, that means concentrating on academics to finish the semester. One-on-one meetings with players focus on grades and requirements for majors these days, as well as ``how can they improve in football and in their role on the team,'' he said.

Unofficially, players can get together on their own for workouts. That will be especially important in the passing game, for instance, with a bevy of returning receivers. Record-setting wideout Allen Robinson, for example, has to get acclimated to a new starting quarterback.

For McGloin, this is a bittersweet time. Surely, he will miss being on the field, but he can also walk away knowing he did all he could in his final season. For now, he's busy handing the leadership responsibilities on offense to Bench - the only scholarship quarterback on the team.

``I've told Steven, it's not my team any more. You have to take over, you have to manage stuff,'' McGloin said this month. ``He knows that. I'll be around helping him out, getting ready to take over.''

Mauti is moving on, too, after a left knee injury sidelined him for the season finale against the Badgers. His father, Rich - himself a former Nittany Lion - has declined to offer more detail on his son's injury. But he did say that the younger Mauti was going to get back into shape and will prepare for the NFL draft closer to home in New Orleans.

But the work he'll leave behind in State College will never be forgotten. After a draining 2012 season - both emotionally and physically - Michael Mauti will clearly be known in Penn State annals as one of the program's best leaders.

``It's been a great experience up there,'' Rich Mauti said. ``It's just time to move on.''

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Andy Murray to play doubles at the 2019 Citi Open after last year moved him to tears

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Andy Murray to play doubles at the 2019 Citi Open after last year moved him to tears

Andy Murray is coming back to the 2019 Citi Open as a part of his return to tennis. Murray will play alongside his brother Jamie, a two-time major doubles champion, in the men's doubles draw.

This was first reported by Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times.

Coming back to D.C. could not be a bigger staple of confidence that Murray has in the direction of the Citi Open. A year ago Murray, 32, was left on the court after a singles match at 3:00 a.m. moved him to tears. It was a match he won but the emotions from his injury comeback took over. Ultimately, he would withdraw from the tournament before his next match.

This year the Citi Open is under new ownership as Mark Ein takes over. Last year several players and fans were frustrated with the massive scheduling problems that occurred because of rain halting play. A change in ownership was made with a six-figure financial loss being a black eye in last year's event. According to the New York Times, doubles will now be more prominently featured in the event. 

Playing doubles continues the work Andy Murray put in at Wimbledon with Serena Williams. Making the Round of 16 of the mixed doubles draw became the furthest that Murray had ever advanced in doubles competition at a major. He has risen to a 132-world doubles ranking. His brother is No. 8.

It will be the first time the two-time Grand Slam singles champion has played with his older brother Jamie since 2016. They do have a history of playing together though. Mostly before his success on the singles court, Andy and Jamie have a 29-24 ATP doubles record. 

As he continues to debate his future in the sport, it will only be his fourth event in 2019. 

Murray joins a star-studded cast that will be at the Citi Open. He joins Stefanos Tsitsipas, Frances Tiafoe, Nick Kyrgios, Sloane Stephens and the Bryan Brothers. 

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The 10 craziest, most entertaining tennis meltdowns of Nick Kyrgios' career

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The 10 craziest, most entertaining tennis meltdowns of Nick Kyrgios' career

Nick Kyrgios is known for his abilities on a tennis court, and no we are not talking about his tennis abilities. 

Kyrgios has the best tennis meltdowns that we have ever seen. Better than John McEnroe, Mikhail Youzhny, Serena Williams, Marcos Baghdatis, whomever you think about when discussing tennis blowups. 

To make Kyrgios more special he has memorable outbursts on a fairly regular basis. So many that narrowing down his meltdowns to a top 10 list is a fairly difficult task. 

This year he is making his return to Washington D.C.'s Citi Open and with the short fuse that Kyrgios brings, every match he plays in becomes a must-watch. 

From time to time, the 24-year-old has destroyed a racket or two... or three in his short career. He's argued with officials. Argued with fans. Argued with pretty much anyone that could disturb him on a tennis court. His racket tosses are unconventional and he always finds a new way to make headlines.

Needless to say, he is controversial for a sport that has a prim and proper history. His attitude is further amplified when he gives up in the middle of games and sets. He randomly turns into a trick shot artist. He doesn't have a coach and openly admits he does not take his profession seriously. It's a shame, really, because he is truly one of the best athletes on the ATP Tour and when he hones in for a big match he plays like a top-10 player. 

In May, before the French Open, he made another stir off the court by calling out two of the best in the sport. He said Novak Djokovic's celebrations are "cringeworthy" and Rafael Nadal has "super salty" double standards. Then he hit a ball right at Nadal in an entertaining Second Round match at Wimbledon.

Here's a non-inclusive list of Kyrgios' top 10 meltdowns/ blowups. And here's to hoping that we'll get another one worthy to go on this list at the 2019 Citi Open.

#10 - Racket toss out of the stadium - 2019 Queens Club Championships

Frustrated, but not enough to destroy a racket, Kyrgios decides to just toss this one out of the court area. He was upset that the umpires "rigged" the match against him and decided to go through the motions in the final points. For multiple transgressions in the tournament, he was fined $17,500.

#9 - Meltdown Down Under - 2017 Australian Open

Playing Andres Seppi this is one of the iconic meltdowns of Kyrgios' career. This match is when many first heard of the young Aussie. A slew of expletives led to code violations, mostly at himself. And in true self-destruction fashion, delivered a half-hearted racket smash

#8 - Umpire coaches up Kyrgios - 2018 U.S. Open

Only this would happen to Kyrgios. In the middle of a Second Round match at the U.S. Open, chair umpire Mohamed Layhani stepped down to give Kyrgios what appears to be a pep talk after dropping the first set and going down in the second to Pierre-Hugues Herbert. "I want to help you" and "you're great for tennis" were overheard on the video. The umpire would later be suspended for his actions, but it worked and Kyrgios won the final three sets. 

#7 - Kyrgios and John McEnroe lose their minds - 2018 Laver Cup

This will give anybody a good laugh. It's almost unfair that it is only No. 7 on this list, but John McEnroe did most of the work in this blowup. Here, McEnroe was the coach of Kyrgios in the team tournament between Team Europe and Team World. 

#6 - Booed off the court - 2016 Shanghai Masters

This match had a little bit of everything, or nothing depending on how you looked at it. Eventually, he was booed off the court because of his lack of effort and he was honest about it in the postgame press conference. Kyrgios was suspended for eight weeks following this performance and fined $32,900.

#5 - Kyrgios insults Stan Wawrinka's girlfriend - 2015 Rogers Cup (NSFW)

Nowhere should this be considered the 'top.' But in 2015 Kyrgios got heated in a match against Stan Wawrinka and lashed out with a leud comment about Wawrinka's girlfriend. Kyrgios received a maximum $10,000 fine for unsportsmanlike conduct and a 28-day ban from ATP competition. The ATP also levied a $25,000 fine on Kyrgios if he had another inccident over the next six months, which he did not.

#4 - "Why are you watching me on a Sunday night" - 2019 Miami Open

Chirpping at a character like Kyrgios is never a good idea. An unfortunate fan at the Miami Open found out the hard way and Kyrgios clapped back. After shouting at the tennis player (not seen in the video), Kyrgios went right after him with a "You got nothing else to do on a Sunday night?" Kyrgios won the argument as the fan was escorted out of the match. 

#3 - "There is music playing... while we are playing" - 2016 Australian Open

Kyrgios did not like music distracting him during a match against Tomas Berdych. While hilarious, there are no expletives or equipment damage in this freak-out. They would play through the music and Kyrgios would go on to lose. 

#2 - When throwing a racket isn't enough - 2019 Italian Open

Sometimes throwing a tennis racket to voice your displeasure is not enough. So, Kyrgios kicked his water bottle and threw one of his on-court chairs out into the middle of the court. That is to go along with his profanity-laden rant that went along with it. Kyrgios was defaulted, lost his accumulated prize money ($37,881 US), forfeited 45 ATP points and was fined $25,525.

#1 - Why smash a racket when you can smash three? - 2016 Western and Southern Open

The best tennis outbursts are the smashing of rackets. Playing in Cincinnati after dropping a set to Borna Ćorić, Kyrgios let loose on three rackets. The one he was playing with and two backups in his bag. 

BONUS:

If these displays of Nick Kyrgios are not enough for you, here's the lighter side of him during last year's Wimbledon. He recognized a reporter from a party he attended the night prior:

And... a pretty flawless interview with a kid.

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