The legend of Anthony Zettel is growing.
Name a sport and First Team All-Big Ten defensive tackle can not only play it, but do something that leaves other outstanding athletes shaking their heads.
There’s the one of him unleashing a football 75-plus yards.
“I thought I could throw it farther than him,” fellow defensive tackle Austin Johnson said at the team’s Pinstripe Bowl media day on Saturday. “After I saw that, that wasn’t going to happen. I was in shock when I saw that.”
The 6-foot-4, 275-pounder was also a captain of his high school basketball team. In baseball he pitched, played corner infield and centerfield.
Zettel chuckled when asked if he was one of the biggest center fielder’s ever.
“I’d be out there doing squats,” he said. “I was just bored. I didn’t feel like getting the ball hit to you three times a game was fun.”
At Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Mich., he switched from baseball to track and had the strangest combination of events — shot put, discus, 4x100 relay and 100. He was pretty good at that too, running 11.55 seconds in the 100 — ”I wasn’t fast but I was fast enough” — and setting a state record in his division in the shot which has yet to be broken.
He also claims to be a pretty good swimmer and he claims to be able to hold his breath for 1 minutes and 45 seconds.
He can play football, too.
The junior led the Nittany Lions in tackles for losses (15) and sacks (8) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (3).
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop calls Zettel “freakish.”
Linebacker Mike Hull agrees.
“He is the weirdest athlete I’ve ever seen, but he’s one of the best ones I’ve seen,” said Hull, the Big Ten linebacker of the Year. “He doesn’t look like he’s that great at everything, but he’s so good at basketball and good at baseball. He’s good at whatever he does.”
And that translates to the field.
“Just putting that combination at defensive tackle, he just blows people out of the water,” Hull said.
Shoop believes the best is yet to come.
“He’s so strong for a 280-pound guy, plays with such good pad level and has such great get-off and is so disruptive up front,” Shoop said. “He’s turned himself from being a rotation defensive end to one of the top defensive tackles in the country.
“He led the team in tackles for loss and interceptions,” Shoop added. “That doesn’t happen a whole lot. That’s kind of a strange hat trick right there. What I want to have happen in this game is he have the type of game he’s capable of having so he gets exposure and sets the table for what should be an outstanding 2015 season for him.”
As good as all of the sports are for Zettel, he said maybe his most “freakish” athletic feat is driving a golf ball more than 300 yards.
Has he entertained thoughts of entering a long drive contest? Former Nittany Lion javelin thrower Carl Wolter has won two world titles.
“I thought about it. I know one of the best long drive guys in the history was a Penn State javelin thrower,” Zettel said. “I watched a lot of videos of him. I can hit it about 375, but those guys can hit it 450.”
Making an impact
When asked what redshirt players have impressed him in early bowl practices, the first name off coach James Franklin might be a surprise.
Kicker Joe Julius.
Julius, a freshman from Lower Dauphin High School, appears to be the heir apparent to senior Sam Ficken, who was the most dependable piece of the Penn State offense this season. Ficken connected on 23 of 28 field goal attempts and led the Nittany Lions with 93 points.
“I think Joe Julius has done a really good job,” Franklin said. “That’s going to be an important piece moving forward with Ficken graduating and moving on, and he’s done such a great job for us. But he’s a guy that’s been impressive.”
“Joe Julius has done a good job of getting better each day,” added special teams coach Charles Huff. “The biggest thing for specialists, as you know, is consistency. ... From the beginning of the year until now, he’s done an excellent job in improving on his consistency. I’m really looking forward to seeing him perform in the spring, when attention is a little more on just him.”
Thanks to injuries, Franklin said the Nittany Lions had just 41 scholarship players available for the regular-season finale against Michigan State.
He hopes to have some of those players back in the lineup against Boston College.
He specifically mentioned linebacker Brandon Bell, who missed the final two games of the regular season.
“We’re expecting to have him back,” Franklin said. “I think that’s going to be really important for us, especially against a team that runs the ball. We ended up having to play a lot more nickel and dime than we probably would have.”
Take me out
to the ballgame
Penn State’s three assistanst coaches who appeared on Saturday are happy to be in the Pinstripe Bowl, but don’t expect them to root for the guys wearing the pinstripes.
None proclaimed to be a Yankees fan.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, a big Pirates fan, might be the most excited to make the trip to the Bronx.
“This is a real thrill,” he said. “I’m a big baseball fan. The opportunity for us to play in Yankee Stadium is pretty cool. Anybody who knows, knows I played baseball in college.
“I dreamed some day I might be playing center field or pitching in Yankee Stadium. But, I’ll take this one. This is good.”
Offensive coordinator John Donovan professed to being a Mets fan, while Huff said he likes the Orioles, the team that beat out the Yankees and others for the AL East title last season.