Penn State Football

The mettle of Anthony Zettel: Why Penn State’s biggest personality is great for college football

Penn State defensive tackles Austin Johnson, left, and Anthony Zettel pose for a photo during the Nittany Lions’ recent media day.
Penn State defensive tackles Austin Johnson, left, and Anthony Zettel pose for a photo during the Nittany Lions’ recent media day. CDT photo

There are some things that suck the fun out of college football these days.

Anthony Zettel isn’t one of them.

He is the fun.

One of the biggest disappointments in the game is the inevitable rollout of police reports around the nation every year. These bear accounts of the poor choices of players such as Florida State’s former backup quarterback De’Andre Johnson, who pled “not guilty” to a misdemeanor battery charge after video surfaced of the 19-year-old striking a 21-year-old woman in a bar, or suspensions from a rising number of FBS programs for off-the-record reasons, and many, many more.

Zettel can be harmful, too, but in good ways. Like on the eardrums, as he impersonates Bigfoot or a velociraptor in front of waiting ESPN cameras. Or to a golf ball, as he “hits it further than anyone I’ve seen,” according to teammate Angelo Mangiro, or to a basketball rim as he throws down a dunk.

These days, television deal discussions kick around piles of money in rooms stiflingly thick with dull projections of the vast monetization of college football, and stiff suits that may never see a stadium on a Saturday morning.

Zettel is kicking, too, a flying roundhouse that Chuck Norris would be proud of, in the Penn State locker room. He almost took running back Saquon Barkley’s head off in the process, but hey, that’s something that naturally comes from being within a 10-foot radius of Zettel, it seems.

You might see something cool, or you might get your shorts lit.

Watching him on the field is flat-out fun, too.

The guy plays with a hybrid attitude that puts both “I’m-so-happy-to-be-here” and “I’m-about-to-send-you-into-orbit” mindsets into one 6-foot-4, 284-pound, tattooed body. He plays like a kid and a professional at the same time, and isn’t that the best and truest aspect of college football these days?

In the offseason, he made headlines for his viral video in which he tackled and uprooted a tree.

This season, Zettel will operate under two mentalities: Either you’re the guy holding the camera, or you’re the tree.

His eight sacks, team-high 17 tackles for loss and three interceptions last season, alongside his dominant presence, helped Penn State’s total defense rank second in the FBS and seventh in scoring defense.

Jawing is a part of the package with Zettel, too. It’s been said he chatters to opponents, to teammates, heck, if a chunk of turf ever tripped him up on some sort of subsoil suicide mission, he’d chirp at that, too.

“Oh, we’ll talk to each other,” said teammate and close friend, junior defensive tackle Austin Johnson, who often picked up double coverage last season to free up Zettel on the pass rush.

“I can’t really repeat what we say,” he laughed, covering his face with his hands.

There’s pressure on Penn State this season, on head coach James Franklin and his squad to improve upon a mediocre 7-6 season in 2014 (2-6 in the conference) with a predominantly green group.

Zettel dons a chicken-head mask and high-steps all over that pressure, arms flapping, as teammate Ben Kline films.

“He’s an interesting guy,” said Franklin of Zettel, who was recently named a captain.

To elaborate, he’s a pass-rushing, high-kicking, hole-in-one hitting, slam-dunking, pound-you-into-the-ground, tension-easing, walking viral video.

He’s what makes college football fun.

And, cameras out and ready to record, we’re all just along for the ride.