Penn State football: Zettel brings grit, tenacity to Lions defensive line

tjohnson@centredaily.comNovember 6, 2013 

— The first two lines of an Edgar Albert Guest poem tattooed on the inside of Anthony Zettel’s right bicep are words the sophomore Penn State defensive end lives by.

See it through when you’re up against trouble ...

He’s had the tattoo for awhile now and is contemplating getting a few more lines of the poem needled into his arm. But he admits, it might take up more room than he has left on his inner arm and he definitely can’t get the entire thing done. It’s a long poem, afterall.

But Zettel can recite the remaining lines even though his tattoo artist left them out.

“It’s just a tattoo that helps you build,” he said. “When you’re up against something tough, don’t ever give up and face it squarely. Don’t run around it.”

They may as well be words of encouragement for the offensive linemen tasked with blocking him every Saturday. So far, Zettel has succeeded in causing trouble for opposing offenses. He’s been quite efficient in his first two seasons at Penn State.

Zettel has recorded 26 tackles in 20 games played since he relocated from West Branch, Mich., where he was the state’s No. 3 overall prospect at Ogemaw Heights. Then, Zettel had a knack for physical, aggressive play and he’s continued to play that way since arriving in Happy Valley. In the last two seasons, Zettel has made eight of his tackles, or 30 percent of them, behind the line of scrimmage.

He’s also added six sacks and an interception.

“I think number one, he plays extremely hard. He plays every play like it’s his last play,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said. “I think the other thing he is, he’s a very strong player. He has great playing strength, so he’s able to play off blocks and explode off of a block and make a tackle for a loss.”

Zettel grew up admiring Jake Long (now an offensive tackle for the St. Louis Rams) but started watching film of Tamba Hali when he arrived at Penn State. As a freshman, Zettel was part of a group of Penn State players who worked out with Hali when the former Penn State standout returned to campus in the offseason.

Since then, Zettel has tried to model his game after Hali’s.

“He has the best hands I’ve ever seen,” Zettel said. “The way he works and moves and he’s basically just got a great skill set.”

While Hali finished his Penn State career with 151 tackles (31 1/2) for losses and 12 sacks, Zettel is on pace to finish with 14 sacks if continues at his current rate. Hali did most of his damage as a senior and from the outside. Zettel has taken advantages of limited playing time in his first two seasons.

Like Hali, Zettel has proved himself to be a relentless player as games wear on. Zettel ended regulation against the Illini by chasing elusive quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase down from the backside. Once Zettel caught the Illini quarterback, he had no trouble dragging Scheelhaase down by his jersey to force overtime.

O’Brien mentioned Zettel’s strength as one of the hallmarks of his game, specifically his hand strength. Zettel, who was also a touted basketball player, starred on Ogemaw Heights’ track and field team and still holds the high school LP Class A record in the shot put with a heave of 61 feet, 8 inches.

“He’s able to hang on and make those tackles or sacks. So I give him a lot of credit,” O’Brien said. “He’s come up with some really big plays for us. I think it has a lot to do with how hard he plays and how strong he is.”

He’s graceful and a man of the arts, too.

Not only does Zettel enjoy poetry, he likes to sing and he’s quite the dancer for a 6-foot-4, 260-pound defensive lineman. There’s a video on YouTube of him performing the dance from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” with a description: “Zettel pulling the moves.”

His first steps on Saturday’s however are made with aggression in mind.

“He’s definitely someone who’s going to come off the ball aggressive and he’s going to go hard every play,” offensive tackle Adam Gress said. “Whenever I’m lined up from him I’m always ready to go because I know he’s bringing it to the table.”

Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @bytravisjohnson.

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