So the 6-foot Zuzek wound up at Navy, where he is a 318-pound sophomore starter at guard who will get a chance to show Penn State what it missed when the Midshipmen (0-1) go up against the Nittany Lions (0-2) on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
It sounds like a great story line, but Zuzek isn't buying into it. In his mind, there isn't a whiff of revenge in the air.
"No, I don't play like that," he said. "I believe I'm in the right place. God willing, I'm able to play on Saturdays. God put me in this place for a reason, so I don't hold grudges like that."
Zuzek said that when he was growing up, half of his friends cheered for Penn State, his favorite team, and the other half rooted for Notre Dame, the Mids' season-opening opponent two weeks ago in Ireland.
He said he is "really excited" to be playing at Beaver Stadium, though he had to come up with 18 tickets for family members and friends.
Height aside, one wonders why Division I teams wouldn't have gone after Zuzek. He has bench-pressed 500 pounds. He is technically sound enough in Navy's precise triple-option offense to be a starter in his second season. He can hold his own stamina-wise, given the demands of life at the academy.
"The physical test is different for the offensive and defensive linemen in a sense that we can't run that fast being as heavy as we are," he said. "We can't run the mile as fast as we want to. But with the military stuff, it's all about how much you want it and how much you're willing to put out. I don't see myself as losing because of my weight."
The Midshipmen had to replace four starters on their offensive line after a 5-7 season in 2011, and Zuzek moved in at right guard. It's not an easy system to learn, but Zuzek has handled it well. His high school coach is not surprised.
"He's a very intelligent player," said Brian Fluck, the head man at West Catholic. "When he was here, he knew everybody's assignments on the line, knew what everyone was supposed to be doing. I'm sure he picked that up in their offense where the linemen have to communicate with each other."
Zuzek admitted that it hasn't been easy to learn all the nuances of the blocking schemes. There have been some bad days.
"It's a lot of hard work," he said. "We can't take any days off. We can't have a lackadaisical practice. Everything's got to be sound. We don't have much experience, so we've got to be running on all cylinders and do everything perfect if we want a chance to win."
Zuzek is one of several Navy players with Philadelphia-area ties. A pair of seniors, slotback John Howell (Lansdale Catholic) and linebacker John Michael Nurthen (Great Valley), are on the Mids' two-deep. Sophomore fullback Maika Polamalu (Pottsgrove) is the son of former Penn State defensive tackle Aoatoa Polamalu, a member of the Nittany Lions' 1986 national championship team. Maika is a cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
Inquirer beat writer Joe Juliano talks about Shawney Kersey's departure, and Penn State's challenge facing Navy's triple-option offense. philly.com/lioneyes
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