Zeitler's legend no longer resides in the Wisconsin locker room and on the football field, as he has received All-American first-team accolades as a senior. Ever since the UW coaching staff first caught a glimpse of his fierce desire, impressive strength and tremendous tenacity during the high school camps he attended, Badgers fans have learned to appreciate the man his teammates dubbed as "The Terminator" upon his arrival on campus as a freshman.
Moffitt, a 2010 All-American, joked that the goal of the offensive linemen was to transform Zeitler from machine into a man. His legend grew with each game that he suited up for Wisconsin, and the coaches knew that while their right guard was a man of few words, no one on the team displayed his passion and tenacity for his work on the football field, in the weight room and in the classroom.
"He is a great worker," Moffitt said of Zeitler, "He is relentless. He is focused. He is a serious guy. He wants to hit people and he is a very physical player." Yet if Moffitt and the rest of the UW offensive linemen could make one change in Zeitler, it would be this: "They said their goal for the rest of my time here is to make me human," Zeitler said sheepishly. "They're working on it."
They can rebuild him. "He's a cyborg," Moffitt said, only half-joking. "He is the Terminator. If he ever gets a cut, be careful. His circuits will electrocute you. He doesn't bleed blood. It's just oil - WD40." Translation: Zeitler's focus, drive and determination to make himself into a great lineman make him seem more like a machine than a man.
His intensity in the classroom was so pronounced during his freshman year that members of the academic staff in the Fetzer Center expressed concerns to the UW coaches. An official once told coach Bret Bielema: "Some of the academic people are afraid of Kevin and his antics. If he doesn't get something he really gets frustrated and angry." Bielema's response: "He's not going to hit anybody. Just work it through with him."
Zeitler, a kinesiology major, remembers those days. "My first semester I picked way too tough of a schedule for a freshman," he said. "I was about to blow my mind. I had a horrible schedule as far as time commitment with football and school. I was so busy and that really got me. I was so stressed to get everything done."
So stressed that he would scratch his head to the point that existing scabs ruptured and he was bleeding from his scalp. "I do have these (scars) on my head and I did scratch that and there was a little blood," Zeitler said. "But it wasn't like I dug into my scalp."
Much like Rodney Dangerfield, offensive linemen rarely "get any respect" from fans and media, but that seems to suit Zeitler's personality, as he prefers to let his actions speak volumes for his ability. The consensus from professional scouts is that there is no other offensive lineman eligible for the 2012 draft that possesses the bone-crunching hand punch that the senior right guard delivers on a consistent basis.
In 35 games as a starter for Wisconsin, Zeitler was a dominant force on the right side of the line. The team's renowned running game amassed more that 60 percent of its yardage on the ground on that side of the field in 2010, with Zeitler leading the charge — an impressive figure, considering he did not start until the team's fifth game that campaign. In 2011, he established a Big Ten Conference record, registering 33 touchdown-resulting blocks, including 29 for a ground game that found the end zone 46 times.
In 2010, Zeitler registered more touchdown-resulting blocks (19) than any interior lineman in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks and his average of touchdown-resulting blocks per game (1.46 overall/1.78 as a starter) were the most by a Badger since All-American tackle Joe Thomas (1.64 per game) captured the prestigious Outland Trophy in 2006.
Those numbers were pale in comparison to his 2011 performance, as he became just the third player in the collegiate ranks, at all levels of competition, since 1985, to produce two blocking consistency grades of 100 percent, joining Larry Allen of Division II Sonoma State (1993) and Southern California's Tony Boselli (1994) in accomplishing that feat. Just four other linemen have garnered 100 percent grades for blocking consistency more than once in a career (see Career Notes).
Even Wisconsin offensive line coach Bob Bostad — he joined the Buccaneers after the 2011 season — will tell anyone willing to listen that Zeitler hasn't received enough credit for his play. "I've always said he is probably the most underappreciated guy on our team," Bostad said. "He is a really, really good player who has been overlooked. But his time is coming right now."
Bostad, who moved from tight ends coach to offensive line coach after the 2007 season, is a tenacious technician. He wants his unit to be smart and unyielding, physically and mentally. That tenacity is a perfect match for Zeitler's makeup. "He has mellowed," Bostad acknowledged. "But has his preparation declined? His time spent? His intensity? No. I think he would be disgusted if anybody mentioned that."
"From recruiting him I really liked his work ethic, and I thought he was going to work himself into a player," Bostad added. "He has probably been one of our more consistent guys. So, from that standpoint, he has been invaluable. I think if you were to ask him, he knows where he has to improve and he is aware of that. The good thing about him is that if you tell him something he'll try to do it.
Zeitler entered the 2011 season rated as the second-best senior guard by The NFL Draft Report, a scouting information service used by league headquarters and their affiliated college scouting directors. "Really?" Zeitler said. "That's kind of cool. I didn't know that. Any of that stuff doesn't matter if I have a bad season. I need to have my best season."
Now, entering the 2012 NFL Draft analysis process and after his sensational 2011 campaign, Zeitler is the top-rated offensive guard prospect, according to The NFL Draft Report.
Prior to enrolling at Wisconsin, Zeitler attended Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee, where he moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore. Scout.com gave the blocker a three-star rating, placed him 22nd among the nation's down linemen and called him the fourth-best player in the state. Moreover, the National Honor Society member graduated with a 3.8 grade point average.
After playing in just three games a freshman, Zeitler earned All-Big Ten Conference third-team honors, as he started all 13 games at right guard as a sophomore. He registered 16 touchdown-resulting blocks and recorded 118 key blocks/knockdowns, coming up with eight downfield blocks for a rushing attack that averaged 203.85 yards per game, leading the conference in that category.
Bill Nagy opened the 2010 campaign at Zeitler's normal right guard spot, but when Nagy shifted to center, Zeitler started the final nine contests. He dominated the action in the trenches, as the UW Badger Power Award (weight room dedication) and Academic All-Big Ten Conference choice added first-team All-Big Ten honors (The NFL Draft Report), as he registered 100 key blocks/knockdowns and paved the way for 19 of the team's touchdown drives.
He dominated as a senior, including his classic battle vs. All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy of Michigan State in the inaugural Big Ten Conference Championship Game, Zeitler graded at least 95 percent for blocking consistency in each contest, breaking the school season record of nine performances of 90 percent or better by Thomas in 2006.
Zeitler led the nation's offensive linemen with a 97.23 percent grade for blocking consistency, along with producing 142 key blocks/knockdowns and 33 touchdown-resulting blocks. His 13 downfield blocks paced all Big Ten Conference linemen, as he has had classic battles vs. some of the elite defensive lineman in the collegiate game, including his complete shutdown of Penn State's Devon Still and Jordan Hill, regarded by many as the best defensive tackle tandem in the nation.
All-American and All-Big Ten Conference first-team selection by The NFL Draft Report, as that scouting service calls him the "most underrated player in the league and most underrated offensive lineman in college football," in addition to placing him at the top of their prospect ratings chart for offensive guards eligible for the 2012 draft…Added All-American first-team honors from the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and Pro Football Weekly, in addition to receiving second-team recognition from Yahoo! Sports and Phil Steele…Unanimous All-Big Ten Conference and Academic All-Big Ten first-team choice and co-winner of the Badgers' Tom Wiesner Award (Wisconsin-born student-athlete)…Member of the Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List, an honor given to the top interior lineman in the country…Missed a week of August camp while recovering from a left high ankle sprain, but the senior right guard was back at his usual position with the first unit for the season opener vs. Nevada-Las Vegas…Joined Joe Thomas as the only Badgers to register blocking consistency grades of 90 percent or better in nine consecutive games during a season, as he would go on to set a record with 13 straight efforts (every game of the season except the bowl game, since the departing coaches did not put together a coaching tape of the Rose Bowl). Each of those marks was 95 percent or better…Through the team's regular season schedule and the Big Ten title clash, the senior right guard led the nation with a 97.29 percent grade for blocking consistency, becoming only the third player in college football since 1985 to register two or more 100 percent blocking performances during the same season…Also led the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks with 142 knockdowns/key blocks and 33 touchdown-resulting blocks (includes 29 for a ground game that scored 46 times)…Paced the Big Ten linemen with 13 downfield blocks, thanks to his stellar performances executing the "power sweep-left" that highlighted the guard's foot speed and balance working through the "trash"…Did not allow a quarterback sack or pressure on 302 pass plays and was penalized just twice, but his holding call late in the Illinois contest is highly questionable…Helped the Badgers rank fourth in the nation and lead the conference in scoring offense (44.62 ppg), as he was a major reason Wisconsin led the league and placed 10th in the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks in rushing (237.38) and pace the Big Ten while finishing 15th nationally in total offense (466.92 ypg)…In the Nebraska clash, Zeitler graded 99 percent with 13 knockdowns and three touchdown-resulting blocks, clearing a rush lane when he flattened defensive tackle Jared Crick, who fell into safety Austin Cassidy on Montee Ball's 3-yard scoring run…Scored a perfect grade (100 percent) as he produced 11 knockdowns vs. Indiana, leading the charge on James White's 15-yard scoring scamper…Held All-American nose guard Jerel Worthy to no tackles, as Zeitler worked in unison with center Peter Konz to neutralize in locking down Worthy long enough for Montee Ball to rush for 21 yards deep into MSU territory. The next snap resulted in a broken play, but Zeitler was out in front along the right sideline to seal off two defenders while quarterback Russell Wilson turned the corner to scoot 22 yards for a touchdown in the Michigan State contest.
Zeitler was an Academic All-Big Ten Conference choice, adding first-team All-Big Ten recognition from The NFL Draft Report, despite not joining the first unit at right guard until the season's fifth game…Was selected All-Big Ten honorable mention by the league's coaches and media…Selected UW's co-Offensive Player of the Game vs. both Michigan and Minnesota…Registered 100 key blocks/knockdowns, 19 touchdown-resulting blocks and seven blocks down field, as he helped the team greatly improve its offensive output…The Badgers finished 18th in the nation in sacks allowed (14) after placing 54th in that category in 2009 (23)…He also helped UW rank 21st in the nation in total offense (445.15 ypg), lead the league while ranking fifth in the NCAA FBS ranks in scoring offense (41.46 ppg) and 12th among major colleges in rushing (245.69 ypg)…Registered an 89.89 percent grade for blocking consistency, producing marks of 90 percent or better vs. Austin Peay, Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan and Northwestern, as he did not allow a quarterback sack in any of his thirteen appearances.
Third-team All-Big Ten Conference selection by Phil Steele…Took over right offensive guard duties, starting all 13 games as a sophomore…Helped the Badgers finish 15th in the nation and lead the conference in rushing, averaging 203.85 yards per game…Also led the way as Wisconsin paced the Big Ten with an average of 445.15 total yards and 31.77 points per game…The front wall allowed 23 quarterback sacks (54th nationally), but their right guard did not allow any opponent to get to a Wisconsin QB during 340 pass plays…Registered 118 key blocks/knockdowns, sixteen touchdown-resulting blocks and eight blocks downfield, as he recorded an 88.92 percent grade for blocking consistency…He graded at least 90 percent for blocking in each of the Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, Northwestern and Hawaii contests…Produced multiple touchdown-resulting blocks vs. Northern Illinois, Fresno State and Hawaii.
Zeitler lettered as a true freshman, but was limited to just three games of playing time, appearing in the Badgers' first two contests, vs. Akron and Marshall before returning to the field again Game 10 vs. Indiana.
2011 Season…Missed a week of August camp due to a left high ankle sprain…Left early in the fourth quarter vs. Nebraska (10/01) when he re-injured his ankle, but was back in the lineup the following week vs. Indiana.
CAMPUS AGILITY TESTS
5.39 in the 40-yard dash…1.78 10-yard dash…3.03 20-yard dash…4.61 20-yard shuttle…7.77 three-cone drill…29-inch vertical jump…8'5" broad jump…450-pound bench presBench pressed 225 pounds 32 times…31 7/8-inch arm length…9 3/4-inch hands…80 ?-inch wingspan…33 Wonderlic test.
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Dave-Te Thomas has more than 40 years of experience scouting for the NFL. At NFL Scouting, Thomas handles a staff that evaluates and tests college players before the draft and prepares the NFL's official Draft Packet, which is distributed to all 32 teams prior to the draft.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.