HEISER: Penn State's Zettel may have ulterior motive for zany antics
In 20 seconds, Anthony Zettel established himself as a true Internet sensation.
In the process, he also cemented his reputation as one of the more outlandish figures in all of college football.
Zettel, however, is more than just an eccentric personality. He's also a pretty fair player.
Right now, however, the college regular season is still weeks away, so Zettel's off-the-field antics are garnering far more attention than his sacks and interceptions.
Zettel's first brush with cyber celebrity came in May. The Penn State defensive tackle, coming off an All-Big Ten junior season, is seen uprooting a sizable tree with a perfect form tackle. The 10-second video quickly went viral and made appearances on multiple media platforms, including ESPN.
That apparently wasn't enough for Zettel.
In a new 10-second video posted Sunday, Zettel is seen showing off some of his best dance moves in the PSU locker room before delivering a devastating roundhouse kick to a water bottle that would make Chuck Norris proud. The bottle was sent hurtling across the room at near supersonic speed and almost separated a teammate's head from his shoulders. (Note: Freshman running back Saquon Barkley displayed impressive quickness in dodging the projectile. If he can show similar elusiveness on the football field, the Nittany Lions may have a real keeper).
Anthony Zettel...@Zettel98pic.twitter.com/WylTela80F— Nick Bowers (@Nbowers28) August 10, 2015
Not surprisingly, the second video also became a cyber hit.
What does all this prove?
Well, for one, it shows that the 6-foot, 4-inch, 284-pound Zettel is one freakish physical specimen.
Tales of his athletic prowess are already legendary in Happy Valley. According to coaches and teammates, he can hit a golf ball 375 yards and owns a couple holes-in-one. He can throw a football 80 yards. He's reportedly one of the best basketball players on the Lions' roster. And as his roundhouse kick shows, he has serious mixed-martial-arts skills.
Secondly, it demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Zettel is one zany human being.
PSU head coach James Franklin can only hope that Zettel's quirky activities don't cross the line into dangerous.
At PSU's media day on Thursday, Zettel admitted that his tree-tackling episode could have left him seriously injured.
"It wasn't the smartest thing I've done," Zettel told the Reading Eagle. "It didn't feel good on my shoulder, so I'm glad I didn't get hurt. But it happened. We evolved on things we wish we didn't do."
Franklin, for his part, was circumspect in his response to the tree video.
"Although it was interesting and fun to watch, it was not real comforting," the head coach said.
Franklin has not yet reacted to the water bottle video, but his heart had to skip a beat when he saw Barkley, one of his prized freshman recruits, diving to the floor to avoid serious bodily harm.
The PSU coaches have to walk a fine line with Zettel.
If they try to rein him in too much, they risk dulling the edge that has made him an All-America candidate. He's coming off a season in which he led PSU in tackles for loss (17), sacks (eight) and interceptions (three). There have even been whispers that he should be a Heisman Trophy candidate.
In addition, it's clear that his teammates love Zettel like a favorite crazy uncle. They happily post his virtuoso video performances on their social media sites and they've also elected him a team captain. He's a leader, largely because of his demonstrated on-field production and fun-loving off-field attitude.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, unlike Franklin, has opted to embrace Zettel's shenanigans, even re-Tweeting the tree video.
Zettel's videos may also serve another purpose — to intimidate the opposition.
Imagine you're an offensive guard with average athletic ability and the Lions are your next foe. Then someone shows you a video of Zettel flattening trees, turning water bottles into scud missiles and brushing away offensive linemen like life-sized rag dolls. Those images are equal parts frightening, fearsome and fascinating. They're bound to make some foes at least a tiny bit apprehensive — possibly even afraid.
That could give the PSU standout a significant psychological advantage before he even steps on the field.
Maybe Zettel isn't so crazy after all.
In fact, maybe he's crazy like a fox.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.