Twice in his high school career, Wisconsin Lutheran advanced to the WIAA Division 3 state final at Camp Randall Stadium (2005 and 2007). Both times, the Vikings came away winners, outscoring their opponents in the final game of the season 106 to 9, including last year's 49-6 triumph over New London.
Less than nine months later, Zeitler will be back on the field where he hoisted the state championship trophy. This time, he expects to have a whole new set of nerves.
During his Monday press conference, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said Zeitler, along with fellow first-year offensive freshmen Jake Byrne, Jake Current and Bradie Ewing, are likely to see playing time in their first game as members of the Badgers.
When Zeitler was informed, those familiar big-game nerves started to kick in.
"In high school when we got to state those two years, it was awesome playing out on the field but there was no one in here," Zeitler said. "On Saturday when the stadium is actually filled, that is going to be one heck of an experience. It's total night and day and definitely a cool possibly to play my first game. Hearing that is definitely going to want me to prepare harder."
If Zeitler sees action on the offensive line against Akron, it will be a huge honor to the Milwaukee native and justify the amount of hard work he has put in during such a short time.
Unlike Byrne and Current, Zeitler did not participate in spring workouts, causing his fellow freshmen to get familiar with the college offense while Zeitler remained in school to earn his degree. But even though his classmates were running routes and learning schemes, Zeitler was far from lazy as he prepared for his college career the only way he knew how.
"I just worked my butt off with the lift program they assigned to us," Zeitler said. "I knew that others came in the spring so when I came here, I did everything I could to show the people in camp that I worked hard and that I was dependable to have on the field. I think my work ethic showed over the summer and that has put me in this position."
It also helps to have a veteran front to watch and learn from. With Gabe Carimi, Andy Kemp, John Moffitt, Kraig Urbik and Eric Vanden Heuvel in front of him, and starting a combined 104 games between the five of them, Zeitler has been able to get the answer to many questions in the early weeks of the season.
"It's really cool to watch these guys," he said in reference to his line mates. "They are all great guys and they are willing to help you if you have a question for them. It's a great stress reliever knowing you have veteran guys in front of you."
But out of all of the line veterans, Zeitler, ranked as the fourth-best lineman in Wisconsin and 22nd best lineman in the nation by Scout, has played particular close attention to Urbik's attributes and characteristics and has started to model himself after the senior.
"He plays my position and has been a great teacher," Zeitler said of Urbik. "Since he does everything right, it's easy to watch him on film to see what I am supposed to do and copy him to get it right. He always does his footwork right and plays low and explosive. I just try to do everything I can to be like him."
Solid footwork like Urbik's is going to be a must if the Wisconsin line is going to have success against Akron. Although the Zips lost six defensive starters from a team that went 4-8 last season, Akron runs a unique 3-3-5 defense that banks on misdirection and surprise, hoping to catch the opposition off guard.
"On almost any play they can throw a linebacker somewhere else, they move a lot and they are shifting all over," Zeitler said. "In some offenses, it can confuse you because it's easy to miss a guy in our assignment or your zone. They're tricky to defend. It will be a challenge."
With a lot being thrown at him in the first could of weeks, Zeitler has responded admirably to the challenges on the field and in the film room to earn a chance to play in his first game as a college athlete. So how nervous will he be for this one? Fortunately for Zeitler, the nervousness will not outweigh the excitement.
"For this one I'll probably be nervous because it's the first one at Camp Randall but I have a quiet confidence," he said with a smile. "I have been looking forward to this game forever so I want it to come. It's going to be great to finally live one of my dreams and play here. I am just pumped up."