AS IS OFTEN the case with lottery winners and regular guys who somehow get the homecoming queen to accept their proposals of marriage, there is a question that out-of-nowhere All-Americas tend to ask themselves more than anything else.
That question is, "Why ask why?"
Goodness knows, there is enough bad stuff out there to cause people to doubt themselves and their place in a sometimes cruel world. So when something wonderful and kind of unexpected occurs, the natural tendency is to just roll with it and count your blessings.
That would explain the seemingly laissez-faire attitude adopted by Penn State redshirt sophomore defensive end Aaron Maybin, who wasn't even on the depth chart for the Nittany Lions' season opener, yet wound up a first-team All-America as selected by the Associated Press.
When you go from having 12 tackles - total - in 2007 to 12 sacks, 19 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles the following season, maybe the worst thing you can do is wonder why and how it all happened.
"I don't know. I try not to think about it," the serendipitous Maybin said when asked about his dizzying ascent from a possible rotation-type guy on Penn State's defensive line to its most acclaimed star. "In any case, that's really not something I can control now. Things happen for a reason."
As is the case with run-stuffing junior defensive tackle Jared Odrick, Maybin, a 6-4, 247-pounder from Ellicott City, Md., is contemplating an early jump to the NFL. Each has filed paperwork with the league to assess his draft prospects, although Maybin said his only focus for now is on fifth-ranked Southern California (11-1), which takes on No. 6 Penn State (11-1) in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
"I'm really not concerned about it," Maybin said of the NFL evaluation of his potential for going high in the draft, should he choose to come out. "I probably won't get the report until after the Rose Bowl, anyway.
"That's all right. I really don't want to think about anything but the upcoming game. I have this image in my head of me getting to and taking down [USC quarterback] Mark Sanchez. I hope it comes true."
If Maybin's superior play and, let's face it, good fortune continue to hold, don't be surprised if he roughly introduces himself to the Trojans' standout passer and gives those NFL personnel directors something additional to consider.
Had everything gone according to plan - and, really, does it ever in football? - the pass-rushing sensation of this year's Nits was supposed to be Maurice Evans, the 6-2, 264-pound junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., who registered 12 1/2 sacks, 21 1/2 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles in 2007. Evans was dominant enough to earn first-team All-Big Ten recognition for his play as a sophomore, and a raft of preseason All-America mentions going into this season.
But, as Maybin knows only too well, things happen. Police, investigating loud noises at an apartment Evans shared with several other players, found marijuana on the premises that led to three-game suspensions for Evans and defensive tackle Abe Koroma.
Even that turn of events did not quite fully open the door for Maybin. In the first game the Lions played without the suspended Evans, against Oregon State on Sept. 6, redshirt junior Jerome Hayes, another undersized defensive end with speed off the edge, got the start. But Hayes - who had suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the seventh game of 2007 - suffered the same injury to his left knee against the Beavers.
Just like that, Maybin was a starter . . . Or maybe not just like that.
Coach Joe Paterno said he did not decide to dress Maybin for the Aug. 30 season opener against Coastal Carolina until just a few days before kickoff, when Maybin resolved to his satisfaction a matter regarding class attendance.
"My problem with Maybin was always the fact he's kind of a happy-go-lucky guy," Paterno said. "I had to call him in a couple of times and say, 'Hey, if you don't get going in class, I'm not going to play you.' That was it. He's a good football player."
Maybin now admits he wasn't always so happy-go-lucky, or reluctant to question the vagaries of fate. His mother, Connie, died from complications of childbirth while delivering his sister. Aaron was only 6 at the time.
For years, Maybin said he had nightmares and "acted out," even resisting the notion of a new woman in his father Michael's life after he remarried. But his stepmother, Violette, was patient and caring, and eventually Aaron's anger subsided.
Bulked up from his listed preseason weight of 236 pounds, Maybin in effect became the new Evans, utilizing his quickness to shed blockers and put pressure on opposing passers. Even when Evans' suspension ended, in the Sept. 27 Big Ten opener against Illinois, he found Maybin and the other starter at defensive end, steady if unflashy senior captain Josh Gaines, difficult to dislodge. Playing in nine games and starting three, Evans finished the regular season with unremarkable totals of 31 tackles, three sacks and 4 1/2 tackles for losses.
Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, though, said Evans' numbers do not come close to addressing how important he has been to a unit that ranks fourth nationally in scoring defense, fifth in total defense, ninth in rushing defense and 12th in passing defense.
"Everyone gets caught up in individual statistics, but it's all about team at Penn State," Bradley said. "Maurice has done extremely well this year and done some things a lot better than he did last year. Maybe it doesn't show up in the sack totals, but a lot of times sack totals are overblown. People make too big a deal about that."
Well . . . it depends on one's point of view. When Maybin and Evans were on the field at the same time against Michigan State, Spartans quarterback Bobby Hoyer felt as if he were in the middle of a wide-angle nightmare.
"Those guys were flying off the edge," Hoyer said. "They are probably the most athletic guys we have faced all year." *