Defenders Zettel and Johnson form colorful duo at Penn State
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Penn State defensive tackle Anthony Zettel is amassing quite a collection of viral videos.
There’s the one of him recreating Michael Jackson’s ”Thriller” dance in his dorm room as a freshman, another where he uproots a tree with a tackle and a spot of him doing his best dinosaur and pig-in-a-slaughterhouse impressions.
The senior’s most recent release shows him bouncing on his feet before leaping and delivering a devastating spin kick to a water bottle held high by a teammate.
”I saw that,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. ”He’s had a lot of videos. He’s really interesting.”
Even more so when paired with Austin Johnson.
The junior defensive tackle joins Zettel to form one of college football’s most dangerous inside tandems. They also could be the country’s most colorful defensive duo. But tackling a tree doesn’t interest Johnson – he won’t try to top Zettel there.
It may be the only thing they’re not competitive about.
”I’m just a natural athlete so I’m better than him at most stuff,” Johnson said with a grin recently. ”Of course he thinks so, too. That’s how everybody should feel.”
Poll Penn State players and most have their minds made up as to which one of their star tackles is better at what.
The 6-foot-4, 323-pound Johnson is nimble for a big man. Nimble enough to top Zettel on the basketball court, teammates say. He tends to give off a more intimidating vibe, too, with more tattoos and a dyed blonde mohawk. On the field, Johnson is better suited to take on double teams – and blow them up.
Zettel, at 6-foot-4 and 284 pounds, is better with a golf club – he sunk his second hole-in-one in June – and gets the edge as a more complete dancer. His martial arts skills appear to be ahead of Johnson’s (a trait Zettel boasts). He’s also the better pass-rusher, with 16 sacks over the last three seasons.
But what would one be without the other?
The friendly rivalry only helps both players.
”I couldn’t ask for a better teammate,” Zettel said. ”He’s made me 100 percent better.”
Johnson says Zettel is ”really good at everything,” playing a similar style at a different position.
They fueled one another last season and powered Penn State’s defense to the top of nearly every major statistical category.
Zettel made 40 percent of his 42 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and finished with eight sacks. Johnson was a constant force, often occupying multiple blockers to free up his teammate. The Nittany Lions finished second nationally in total defense, third in rushing defense and among the Top 10 scoring and passing defenses.
”Anthony is as an explosive of a defensive tackle as there will be in the country,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. ”He has great twitch, great get-off, and Austin is more your prototypical NFL prospect.”
Shoop relied on Johnson and Zettel as tone-setters in a turnaround year for Penn State’s defense. After allowing just over 26 points per game under former defensive coordinator John Butler in 2013, Penn State cut that average to 18.6 per game once Shoop took over.
Zettel and Johnson will keep Penn State’s defense with the elite, Shoop believes.
Johnson, meanwhile, doesn’t mind that he and Zettel are already being billed as the top tackle tandem in the Big Ten, perhaps the country.
”If somebody’s going to say something like that then you definitely have to prove it and show it,” Johnson said. ”I definitely want to do that with him.”
So much so that Johnson was thinking about Zettel when he sat for five and a half hours to get the massive tattoo on his right arm in January. It’s of two gladiators, brandishing swords, ready for battle. They appear to burst out of Johnson’s massive arm.
Johnson said one represents him, the other could be Zettel.
”Of course, I’m the one with the six pack,” he said.