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A Grayshirt Season? : Kutztown's 46-Year-Old Defensive Tackle Has Been a Media Sensation, but the Question Remains: Will He Play?

October 19, 1994|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KUTZTOWN, Pa. — The sophomore they call "Iceman" rumbles through the crowded campus dining hall, stops to run his student ID card through a scanner, gets the go-ahead for dinner, grabs his tray and silverware and sets forth to do what college football players do best:

Eat.

The grub is typical dormitory fare. Tonight's special is sweet potato pie . . . with spinach?

There's enough starch on his plate to open a shirt laundry, but a man's got to eat.

So, the Iceman loadeth. Then, on to the salad bar, where en route he joshes with teammates who threaten him with noogies.

Seated, Iceman says a silent pre-meal prayer, hopeful his signals will penetrate the din of a fingernails-on-chalkboard rock song blasting from an overhead speaker.

Asked if he could name that grunge tune, Chuck Roseberry reveals for a moment what he is--a 46-year-old grandfather of four.

"Music?" he says sarcastically. "I thought it was a noisy (ceiling) fan."

*

Most thought Roseberry was nuts. Certifiable. It was one thing to make like Rodney Dangerfield and go back to school in his mid-40s, quite another to walk into the football coach's office and ask for a tryout.

But that's what Roseberry did last February. Al Leonzi, the third-year coach at Division II Kutztown University, almost split a gut.

"You're at the wrong office," Leonzi told Roseberry, "You have to go to admissions."

Roseberry kept a foot wedged in the door and asked the coach to hear him out.

Leonzi told him to pull up a chair.

Roseberry successfully begged for the chance to live his life over. The first 45 years had gone bust. Roseberry had played his last football game Thanksgiving Day, 1965, but could never clear it from his memory.

His school, Warren Hills High of Washington, N.J., had defeated Hunterton Central.

"Great game," Roseberry recalls. "At the end of it, I wouldn't go out. I knew that was the end for me."

A good enough linebacker to get recruiting nibbles from UCLA, Miami and Texas, Roseberry was, however, an academic failure.

"I used to get in trouble so I wouldn't have to take my

finals," he says.

Roseberry assumed he was stupid.

In 1965, no one considered dyslexia.

Resigned to his fate, Roseberry enlisted in the Navy, served in Vietnam, then pursued a career as a police and correctional officer.

But he always considered himself a social misfit. "If I could have had an operation to have the pain removed, I would have done it," Roseberry says.

Three attempts at marriage failed.

"My drug of choice was alcoholic women," he says between bites of meat loaf. Three grown daughters, all from his first marriage, don't speak to him. "They treat me like a bum."

In 1990, he joined the Army Reserves to take advantage of Uncle Sam's post-service college plan, only to find himself smack-dab in the Persian Gulf War as part of the 402nd Military Police Unit, sucking sand in Saudi Arabia.

Stooped in a bunker, in a scene right out of "Forrest Gump," Roseberry confided to a friend about his dumbness, explaining that when he read things, the letters were all jumbled.

"You're not dumb," the buddy said. "You've got dyslexia."

Renewed, Roseberry returned home to learn that marriage No. 3 was over, except for the paperwork. Working out in a health club near his home in Pogelsville, Pa., he met Abbie Klapac, a perky 40-something aerobics instructor and personal trainer.

Klapac encouraged Roseberry to enroll in school at nearby Kutztown, founded in 1866 and a quaint jewel of a college town about 100 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Kutztown U., which dropped the "State" a few years back, is tucked in rolling Pennsylvania Dutch farm country, where time stands still for Amish horse-and-buggy rigs that hold up traffic.

Roseberry enrolled last January.

"I dreamed the dream," he says. "Abbie told me it was OK to live it."

Playing football was his own idea.

"Walking in to ask to play was easy," Roseberry says. "What scared me was walking back into an academic situation where I was never successful."

Leonzi invited Roseberry to spring practice. If nothing else, the coach was going to get some psychological mileage out of it. If he can do it, you sure as hell can do it, Leonzi envisioned screaming at his 20-year-olds.

"That was in the back of my mind," the coach acknowledges.

The Kutztown players didn't know what to make of "Pops."

"The first day I saw him, I didn't know what he was doing," senior linebacker John Mobley, the team's best player, remembers. "I thought he was one of the coaches. I thought he'd be here a couple of days."

Rob Holmes, the Kutztown quarterback, was quick to joke, "When he used to play, he folded his helmet and put it in his pocket."

Roseberry, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive tackle, took it all in stride and outlegged a dozen or so quipsters up the dreaded hill climb.

When fall practice rolled around, so did Roseberry. Matt Santos, the school's sports information director, was sitting on a public relations powder keg and didn't know it.

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