Zach Roberson puts on a Summerville Bears football T-shirt. It’s a hot July day in Bismarck, N.D.
Former Mother Lode League stars Gary Gellerman (5), Zach Roberson (11) and Scott Maldonado are teammates at the University of Mary in North Dakota. RHONDA OLSON/COURTESY PHOTO
One of Roberson’s roommates, Scott Maldonado, on the telephone, interrupts his long-distance conversation.
“Hey, Zach,” yells Maldonado, a Calaveras graduate of 2007, “can you please take off that ugly shirt?”
Instead Roberson stretches the shirt so it nearly lengthens to his knees. Then the greatest quarterback in Summerville football history turns around.The backside of Roberson’s T-shirt is a testament to Summerville’s 2009 Mother Lode League championship.
“Oh, brother,” says Maldonado. “Now, you’re torturing me, eh?”
Another roommate of Roberson and Maldonado is linebacker Gary Gellerman. Like Maldonado, Gellerman is one of Calaveras’ all-time football greats.
Out of earshot of Roberson, Gellerman, with a chuckle, says, “It’s perfectly OK if Zach wants to talk about the Calaveras-Summerville games during the 2007 or 2008 seasons (both Redskin wins). But with regards to the 2009 game (a Bears win), well, that’s off limits.”
“Honestly,” says Maldonado, “Zach, Gary and I love to MLL trash-talk with each other. But it’s all just in fun. The truth is Zach is a great guy. When I was being recruited here in December, Zach was my wing man, showing me around. He’s a really cool guy and having him here helped make my ultimate decision to attend school here that much easier. Gary, Zach and I are all teammates now, and we’re all pulling for each other.”
The trio are members of the University of Mary Marauders. This is a proud NCAA Division II football program. Since current head coach Myron Schultz took full reigns in 1999, Mary has an outstanding overall record of 93-48.
In 2011, Mary had a 5-6 mark. Three of those losses were by three points.
“We were all disappointed with losing those close games last season,” said Marauders second-year offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki. “We’re planning on a better 2012. And we’re thrilled that we have Zach, Gary and Scott here. We have no doubt all three are ready to do everything they can to help us have an excellent season.”
After graduating from Summerville in 2011, Roberson was given a partial athletic scholarship and redshirted during the Marauders’ 2011 season.
“Zach showed us that he was a big, strong, athletic quarterback who had a good grasp of our offense,” said Schultz. “So when our first-string quarterback went down with an injury last fall for a few games, we were scared that we’d have to pull his redshirt. We were stressed about that.”
“We had to make a choice,” explained Kotelnicki. “Did we really want to burn a full year of Zach’s? We didn’t. Zach is so much further ahead of where we could possibly have expected him to be. So we saved that full year for him.”
“As a competitor, naturally, I wanted to get on that field,” said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Roberson. “Now, looking back on it, I am 100 percent certain that my coaches made the correct decision in keeping my redshirt. And then I just worked my butt off during spring ball.”
The culmination of that hard work showed in Mary’s Spring Game, when Roberson raised eyebrows with a superlative performance: 12 completions in 19 attempts for 135 yards, one TD pass and no interceptions.
“In that Spring Game, Zach showed us a lot,” said Kotelnicki. “He had become more physically mature. His shoulders had broadened. He got stronger. He showed great poise.
“One of the best things Zach has going for him is that he has very high expectations of himself. We like that. The fact that Zach is currently playing behind a great quarterback (2012 Division II preseason All-American junior Craig Bagnell), does not matter to Zach. I tell Zach, ‘Keep trying to beat him out.’
“We want Zach to keep developing at this fast a pace. His release is so much faster. He can bounce around better on his feet. He has improved a lot with his checks. The truth is we’ve thrown a lot on Zach’s plate — and he’s handled it all.”
“Playing at Summerville, playing for (head coach Ben) Watson, helped me in my development,” said Roberson. “Watson had me doing so many different things: quick-game, straight drop-back, play-action, sprint-out. He showed me how to read the coverages, how to throw to spots, not just a receiver.”
Immediately after Mary’s 2012 Spring Game, Watson conversed with Roberson via phone.
“I was thrilled for Zach,” said Watson. “But I sure wasn’t surprised. You’re never gonna meet a more competitive guy. Now, heading into his second year playing college football, the fact that he’s so skilled, such a quick learner, very intelligent and extremely coachable, should pay off even more.”
“Zach took 50 percent of our reps this spring,” said Schultz, who also serves as his own quarterbacks coach. “He’s coming along great. Zach has shown us that he’s got a good grasp of our offense. He makes strong decisions and he can make all the throws we need him to.”
“I watched Zach quite a bit this spring,” said Maldonado. “And what I noticed is that Zach got better every practice. His ability to read a defense is outstanding. He has excellent arm strength, good size and throws a great ball. He’s a gamer. There’s two quarterbacks I wasn’t able to pick off this spring and Zach was one of them ... and don’t think he doesn’t keep ribbing me about it! I have to get one from him this fall.”
Maldonado, a 6-2, 205-pound human missile, has made a fast impression at Mary for his play at safety.
“There’s a fire inside Scott and he wears it on his sleeve,” said Schultz. “He is physical and runs fast. Our opponents in our league (Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference) will pound the ball right at you and Scott’s great strength is he’ll pound right back.”
Maldonado played for San Joaquin Delta College in 2007.
“It was a really good year,” said Maldonado. “But afterwards, due to financial issues, I worked with Anheuser-Busch for three years. I was making good money but decided I could do more with a solid education and a degree.”
So in 2011, Maldonado went back to Delta, was greeted with open arms by its football program and ultimately led the team in interceptions.
Division I Portland State then wanted Maldonado.
“But due to the eligibility rules, I would only have been able to play one year at Division I or two more years at Division II,” explained Maldonado, now 23 and a junior. “I wanted two more years of football.”
And Schultz wanted Maldonado.
“It was very interesting what happened,” recalled Schultz. “I was out recruiting. I had been looking at kids at Modesto Junior College and then went over to Delta and I was sitting in the weight room and talking with their coach. Then in walk three guys. It took me two seconds to figure out that I wanted two of those guys — and they were Scott Maldonado and Gary Gellerman. They didn’t wince when I said the words ‘North Dakota.’ They were excited. I did have to watch film, just to see if the rubber met the road. But, obviously, they were both very good football players.”
Both Maldonado and Gellerman, on partial athletic scholarships, enrolled at Mary in January.
“Scott plays hard and he plays fast,” said Gellerman. “He knows how to cover. He is also such a smart player.”
“There is no quit in Scott,” said Roberson. “He hits like a rocket. He’ll take on anyone at anytime. He’s one of the fastest guys on our team now. I see him starting right away for us.”
“We’ve got three very good safeties, Scott being one of them,” said Schultz. “We’ll start two but they’ll all be on the field.”
During his three years away from playing college football, Maldonado coached on Jason Weatherby’s Calaveras staff.
“I was tickled to death that Scott decided to go back and play football,” said Weatherby. “He hits. He brings it every play. I’m certainly very proud of him.”
“Scott has character,” said Watson. “To go back from working a job and then coming back to play football is a testament to his character. I admire that Scott was thinking, ‘This game has something left for me and I have something left for it.’ ”
“To me,” says Maldonado, “safety is the best position on defense. It’s about speed. You can go hard every play and that’s my mentality. I enjoy being the quarterback of the defense.”
“As the offensive coordinator,” said Kotelnicki, “I have to confess that during this past spring, having my offense go against Scott Maldonado and Gary Gellerman — two guys that are so good — sometimes made me pull the hair out of my head. On the one hand, you love that your offense is going against such great defensive players like that. But I’m much more looking forward to those two causing havoc for our opponents this fall rather than our own guys.
“They are both awesome additions to our team. Scott and Gary are both very friendly — off the field.”
Gellerman was a three-year, two-way starter for Calaveras (class of 2010). Then he was a two-year standout starter at middle linebacker for Delta.
“I have a lot of memories of Gary playing high school football,” said Watson. “And — this is the highest compliment I can give Gary — none of those are fond memories. When he was at linebacker, he was a nightmare to try and get things done against. Then he’d become the anchor of their line at center and lead the way for their always-strong running attack. To start both ways for three years at Calaveras says a lot about Gary. He brought it every down, and I have no doubt he’ll do that this fall for University of Mary.”
“I can almost guarantee that Gary will do very well,” said Weatherby. “He is an awesome football player and I could see him starting his first year there. Coming from a JC program, his coaches will be hoping he’s ready. As an incoming junior, they don’t want to make you into a player, they expect you to be ready. And I have every confidence that they’ll find Gary more than ready.”
Mary plays a 3-4 defense and the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Gellerman is projected to play inside backer.
“Right now, Gary is one of the four inside backers that we feel good about,” said Schultz. “And, in actuality, he may already be the top dog. All four will play but we see Gary having a pivotal role for us.”
“We noticed Gary right away in the spring,” said Kotelnicki. “We had graduated some tough inside backers so we were glad to see Gary making an impact right away.”
“In high school,” said Gellerman, “the MLL was mostly a running league. Then at Delta our conference was all about passing. So I had to learn the art of pass dropping, finding your guy, finding that receiver. It was pretty challenging, but I felt I picked it up.”
During Mary’s spring practices, Gellerman played almost every rep at inside backer.
“I like the philosophy of the defense here: Don’t over-think, just play fast,” said Gellerman. “In the spring, a coach told me that if we were playing games right now, I’d probably be starting. So I’ll keep working hard to try and keep it that way.”
“Of course I had remembered that Gary was very good in high school,” said Roberson. “But during spring ball, Gary really opened my eyes. He’s big, strong, and he is a natural-born linebacker. He can stop the run and cover the pass. I’m pretty sure he’ll start for us this fall.”
“Gary played so solid in the Spring Game,” said Maldonado. “He’s right in the thick of things. Gary has a lot of speed at linebacker. This defense is about playing hard and playing fast — and that’s how Gary plays.”
Mary begins practice on Aug. 10. The season begins on Sept. 1.
“Right now,” said Gellerman, “I feel we have a solid team. What drew me to this program is that we have competitive athletes and competitive coaches, people that want to win. To me, as an athlete, that is absolutely what I play sports for — to win.”
“Our goal as a team is to keep getting better each week,” said Kotelnicki. “And Scott, Gary and Zach are three key guys that we are counting on to make our team better — and help us win football games.”