UNIVERSITY PARK — As fury unfolded around him 120 paintball guns thumping staccato rhythms, fluorescent paint cartridges cracking, splashing and ricocheting off teammates and bunkers alike Anthony Zettels weapon suddenly stopped firing.
With a jammed marker in his hands, a replacement nowhere to be found, Zettel decided to put his team the Penn State defense first.
The sophomore defensive end stood up from behind his barricade, dropped his paintball gun, ripped off his shirt and ran into a hailstorm of enemy fire.
Perhaps he was trying to create a diversion? Maybe he was trying to inspire his teammates with his heroics? Either way, paintballs soon tore into him, leaving bloody, blotchy welts up and down his torso, battle scars hed later show off in a picture posted on Twitter. Zettels sacrifice didnt go unnoticed. Later, his teammates would call him a warrior.
He decided he was just going to run out there with his shirt off and take out a bunker, junior linebacker Glenn Carson said. I like it. A guy thats going to run out there unarmed with no shirt on, thats a guy that I like to have on my defense.
Its these sort of outings away from the Lasch practice fields that have helped break up the monotony of preseason football camp for a group of young men who have been put through hell over the past nine months. Theyve heard the criticism and vitriol spewed their way from outsiders and theyve watched key teammates walk out of the Lasch Building for the last time. Theyve taken the NCAAs harshest penalties onto their shoulders. But it hasnt stopped them from having fun.
In early August as camp kicked off, Penn State players were surprised by the strength and conditioning staff who organized the paintball shootouts behind Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
While some players, such as Carson and fifth-year senior defensive end Pete Massaro had played paintball before, many of the Nittany Lions hadnt picked up a paintball gun so much as fired one in their lifetimes.
I played when I was younger but a lot of guys on the team had never played before so I think everybody had a great time, Massaro said. We were talking about it days afterward how much fun we were having. Theyve done a great job of splitting up the grind of camp and were thankful for that and weve had a good time.
The off-the-field shenanigans didnt stop when all paint rounds were spent, however.
A trip to a local bowling alley soon followed with movie screenings sprinkled in here and there.
Little stuff like going bowling, going to the movies, paintball, all that, that stuff really helps because you get tired of seeing the same people just on the football field or just in the weight room, redshirt sophomore tight end Kyle Carter said. We actually get to see each other outside, having fun, doing a lot of different things and it just gets you comfortable with your teammates.
Its also helped them bond with a coaching staff pieced together in the late winter months to replace the only group Penn State players had ever known.
Its definitely been more fun, interacting with the coaches, senior cornerback Stephon Morris said. You get to see the guys every time in practice but to interact with them off the field, we didnt do that in the past. We would just practice and go to the dorms and pretty much go to sleep because we were so tired.
Few were too tired to chow down on roasted pig by the campus pool after a team meeting earlier this week. The surprise party was thrown by head coach Bill OBrien to recognize the teams preseason work thus far.
Senior linebacker Mike Mauti injected some humor when he flailed his way into the water from atop the high dive as teammates goaded him to climb higher. Carson said there was no doubt Mauti wouldve made a higher jump had the ladder not been roped off.
Theyll surprise us with a movie or something, that really helps out people if theyre on the edge, I dont know if I can do this or not, center Matt Stankiewitch said. It really helps them know that the coaches know its tough, theyve been through it too and we just have to keep pushing a little harder.
Although it was largely considered a light-hearted affair, players insisted the competitiveness on the paintball field rivaled that of what theyre used to seeing on the Lasch gridirons. For starters, players were at a disadvantage almost immediately.
They had the best guns, Carson said of the training staff. They had the full, automatic guns. They set it up so I think they got to choose and it was a little unfair. I think they mightve got the better of us. I think (strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald) was on the back of a golf cart shooting at us.
While Fitzgerald and his staff made it tough on players during the first session of paintball, before the offense took on the defense, OBrien and his assistants havent taken it any easier with football related activities.
Two-a-days are still two-a-days. And couple those with the growing pains of a team trying to learn brand new offensive and defensive schemes while adopting an entirely new strength program and the daily labor process is still exactly that.
I think its definitely helped us become closer as a team, going bowling with each other and interacting with each other, Morris said. Its definitely been more fun but its still a grind, still hard, probably one of the toughest camps Ive ever been a part of.
Travis Johnson can be reached at 231-4629. Follow him on Twitter @traviswjohnson_