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PSU’s Zettel embracing new position

UNIVERSITY PARK – Change often invokes fear as it involves delving into the unknown, the unfamiliar.

But not for Anthony Zettel.

After spending two seasons at defensive end, Penn State coach James Franklin and his crew moved the redshirt junior further into the line at defensive tackle.

Franklin announced Zettel as one of the coaches’ top defensive players from Penn State’s game against Rutgers on Tuesday, so clearly Zettel not only has embraced his new position, he has excelled there.

When Zettel left Franklin’s office after discussing the position change without much concern as he was already planning on moving in on the line. Playing at defensive tackle was a goal of his since he was a freshman.

“I feel really comfortable (at tackle),” Zettel said. “There’s a lot less pressure, and I can just really take off and react to whatever block I have.”

Since switching positions in the offseason, Zettel has had to pack on the pounds. As a freshman, he was a 250-pound defensive end, but is now listed at 282. Even with the additional 30 pounds, he is still considered underweight when matched up against 300-pound linemen.

Zettel said he feels his opponents might underestimate him because of his size, but he has used this deception to his advantage.

“His tenacity is unbelievable. His quickness is unbelievable and he’s not the biggest guy,” Franklin said before later adding, “I think it’s a combination of his strength – he’s got one of the strongest power cleans and deadlifts on our team – and his quickness, which make him so disruptive in there.”

And disruptive Zettel has been.

So far this season, Zettel has recorded three sacks and seven tackles for losses, making him fourth in the nation in the latter category. He had three tackles for loss in last week’s 13-10 win at Rutgers.

Zettel said even he is surprised by his stats this season and is satisfied with his play in the backfield, but like most athletes, he knows there’s always room for improvement. If he doesn’t start playing down lower, then he feels his stats may not be as impressive against bigger opponents on the schedule.

Despite the minute issues, he is still averaging a sack per game. Zettel is on track to quickly surpass his four sacks last year as a defensive end, but that’s not to say he wasn’t good at his position last season.

In fact, Zettel was second on the team in sacks and had 16 tackles after starting in all 12 games last fall.

The defense works intricately as a collective, and it has worked in sync in Penn State’s first three games of the season. Forcing turnovers, sacking quarterbacks and holding up opponents’ offenses have been vital to Penn State’s 3-0 record.

“A lot of the motivation comes from just trying to be best I can be. I came here for school and football and I want to do both,” Zettel said. “When I’m out there I’m just a competitive guy. I hate losing.”

Since Franklin and his coaching staff have transported from Vanderbilt to Penn State, the team has been responding well to the new playbook, especially those working with defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

“Coach Shoop’s defense allows me to play like this,” Zettel said. “All of my teammates around me are a tremendous help. I’m just part of the puzzle.”

Although Zettel has finally put on enough weight to make the positional change he has always wanted, there’s always the struggle of keeping that weight on. But Zettel doesn’t see that as being too much of an issue because he is continuing to work hard at being the best he can be at his position.

Zettel has been working outside of team facilities over the past two years as he has taken up an interest in UFC fighting. Working with Bruce Lombard at LionHeart Fitness in State College, Zettel considers UFC fighting a hobby for now, but definitely something he would consider professionally in the future.

But for now, Zettel is focused on football. If he were to change to UFC fighting in the future, history shows that the change should be of no problem for him.

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