Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Big Z a Big Hit Small Hometown in Michigan Savors Every Minute of His Emergence, Too

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Big Z a Big Hit Small Hometown in Michigan Savors Every Minute of His Emergence, Too

Article excerpt

WEST BRANCH, Mich. -- If it wasn't for a green water tower with the city's name plastered on it or the handful of stoplights running through the downtown Victorian district, one could blink and miss West Branch.

It's far enough away from Michigan's many lakes that it doesn't attract tourists for water sports or skiing, but close enough to the dense woods to make it a prime spot for hunting and cabins. Named by lumberjacks and home to roughly 2,139 people, West Branch is a place where everyone knows everyone.

Boasting 1.48-square miles from one end of town to the other, with railroad tracks in between, it's a hotbed for Michigan and Michigan State fans. It's about 2 hours and 20 minutes from East Lansing and 21/2 hours from Ann Arbor, but many residents aren't talking about the Spartans or Wolverines. The place nicknamed "the city with a smile" --and a smiley face on every street sign -- claims a Penn State defensive tackle who makes them proud.

West Branch is the hometown of redshirt junior Anthony Zettel. This former defensive end who moved inside in the winter has been everywhere this season. He has clogged the middle, blown up plays in the backfield while tying for a team-high four sacks. He has swayed momentum, picking off passes in consecutive games against Michigan and Ohio State. He cruised 40 yards along the visiting sideline for a touchdown after picking off the Buckeyes' J.T. Barrett.

Heading into a game Saturday against Maryland, Penn State's defense is ranked seventh in Division I-A, third against the run. This 6-foot-4, 282-pound athlete is a big reason why.

"He is explosive, he's been dynamic in there, he's got great get off on the football. He's created problems," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. "He kind of reminds me of Charlie Sheen's character in 'Major League'. He's funny, a little off the wall."

Zettel's freakish athleticism -- like driving a golf ball 300 yards and throwing a football about as far as any quarterback on the team -- also carries over to the defensive line, where the Nittany Lions move him around. It has resulted in 21 tackles, eight for a loss, four sacks, three pass breakups, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and one touchdown.

"He always had good instincts and a really strong core," Zettel's father, Terry, said. …

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