When Antonio Shelton was a freshman, the number zero appeared as a seed planted within him after seeing a Penn State Athletics poster with a player wearing the number that is neither prime nor composite.
Now, four years later, the defensive tackle has an opportunity to manifest that epiphany and don the No. 0 jersey in competition this fall.
The NCAA announced in February it would be allowing football players to wear No. 0 for the first time in college football history.
Penn State, one of the history-rich powerhouses in the sport, decided in September it would start a special teams tradition with the new number.
No. 0 will be given to the leader who best represents the special teams unit, as decided upon by the coaching staff.
And Shelton could have a shot at becoming the first player in Penn State history to wear it.
A redshirt senior, Shelton has become one of the most vocal players in the Nittany Lion locker room, and may see time with special teams on field goal defense.
When Penn State’s video surrounding the No. 0 was released on social media, Shelton had a simple message for the coaching staff.
Now in his third season as a teammate of Shelton’s, redshirt sophomore Judge Culpepper said he has seen Shelton cause a social media firestorm before.
“He’s a vocal guy,” Culpepper said. “He’s vocal on social media and he’s vocal in person. He’s a guy with a ton of experience, he’s seen a lot of stuff.”
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Shelton was one of many current Nittany Lions featured in the video announcement showcasing star special teams play.
His love for the number wasn’t just fostered by the poster, it was kindled by a 1996 movie starring another prominent athlete — Michael Jordan.
“I think it looks cool,” Shelton said. “One of my favorite movies is ‘Space Jam,’ and all of the monsters were No. 0 — it’s just one of those things.”
In his fifth year with the Penn State program and James Franklin, Shelton’s pleas for a new number are made jokingly.
“Part of it is jokes and me just messing with Coach Franklin,” Shelton said. “Because if you notice, we don’t have any defensive linemen with single-digit numbers.”
The Colombus, Ohio, native has earned the ability to jest with Franklin over the years, as he started every game he appeared in and totaled four tackles-for-loss on the inside of the defensive line in 2019.
Shelton isn’t the only one campaigning for him to wear the lowest single-digit number this season — other players on the defensive line, such as redshirt junior Fred Hansard, are also calling for it as well.
“He’s my brother and we’re wild dogs for life, so I want to see him put that No. 0 on,” Hansard said. “Anything can happen, so we can pray he gets it.”
Having worn No. 55 since his arrival at Penn State in 2016, every past moment in competition for Shelton would go into the history books alongside his old number — and his family would have to get new gear.
“The only person who would be upset would be my mom, my parents,” Shelton said, “because of all of the stuff they have that has No. 55 on it.”
Shelton’s parents aren’t the only ones who want him to keep wearing his current number of No. 55, as Culpepper would like to see his teammate continue wearing the double-digit uniform.
“I like No. 55 on Antonio, it makes him look huge.”