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GRIDIRON GRANDPA

Call him "Iceman." His Kutztown University teammates do. Not that Chuck Roseberry is a well-preserved Neanderthal unearthed and thrust into the modern world. Not quite. But close.

Roseberry is a defensive tackle for the Golden Bears. He also is 46 years old, with children older than his teammates _ with grandchildren, for goodness' sake. The NCAA doesn't keep such records, but it says Roseberry may be the oldest player in the history of college football.

He is living out a dream he thought ended on Thanksgiving in 1965, when he walked off the field after his final game for Warren Hills High School in Washington, N.J.

That was before he went to Vietnam, before his career as a corrections officer, before three failed marriages, before Desert Storm and Gulf War Syndrome, before he had ever heard of dyslexia.

Roseberry hasn't played a down for the Division II school of 7,800 students nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania Dutch country. He has done no more than practice each week and line up for the national anthem on Saturdays. But he has made it this far _ further than he ever thought he could _ and that has to count for something.

Al Leonzi took over the Kutztown football program last year. The Golden Bears went 2-9. This year he basically opened spring practice to anyone. When the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Roseberry showed up to ask for a tryout, "I asked him for some tape of his high school games," Leonzi said. "He said he didn't have any. I said, "How about some film?' He said, "Coach, you don't understand. When I went to high school, we didn't have that stuff. When I was in school, we didn't lift weights. We lifted rocks. Like the Flintstones.' "

When Roseberry made his first appearance at spring practice, most players assumed he was an assistant coach. When he pulled on pads and a jersey, cleats and a helmet, they figured it was some kind of gag. "And when I lined up against them," he said, "they decided, "Let's pound the c--- out of this guy, get rid of him, make him walk.' They knocked me down, but I knocked them down, too. They pounded me, but I didn't walk."

He survived spring practice, running the hills next to University Field during conditioning drills, screaming at his teammates, "Are you going to let a 46-year-old man beat you?" He worked out all summer. Finally, Leonzi called Roseberry into his office. "I figured it was all over. He told me I'd made the team." Roseberry cried as he pulled on his No. 72 jersey for the team photo.

Once practice ends, Roseberry and his teammates go their separate ways. For one thing, some resent the national attention this third-team walk-on is attracting. Besides, Roseberry lives about 15 miles off campus and has a circle of friends his own age. "A lot of these kids left home to get away from their parents," he said. "Why would they want to hang around with me? I could be their father!"

"Trying the best I could'

That he is even in college this year is a matter of serendipity. That he wasn't in college for so many years he thought was a matter of stupidity.

He graduated from Washington High in 1966. He'd been a pretty good linebacker, end and center. But he was a troublemaker, scuffling with schoolmates, once even elbowing the principal. And academically he was, he admitted, a mess. Miami recruited him. So did UCLA, Kansas and Texas. Then they saw his transcripts.

"Any of my teachers who gave me a C, basically they were just doing me a favor," he said. "I knew I wasn't going anywhere and it'd break my heart, listening to my teammates talking about what college they'd be going to, who they'd be playing for. I wanted to do that more than anything."

Roseberry didn't have the grades. He wasn't applying himself, his teachers said. "They told us he was having a problem reading," his mother, Eleanor, said from Washington, N.J. "If we'd thought there was something wrong, we'd have had something done. But we thought he was a slow learner. We'd say, "You've got to work harder.' He would get very discouraged and frustrated."

"I was trying the best I could," Roseberry said, "and it just wasn't coming. I figured I was just born stupid."

Roseberry joined the Navy and served during the Vietnam War aboard the carrier USS Forrestal. He returned to New Jersey, became a police officer, then moved to Pennsylvania and became a Lehigh County corrections officer.

In 1990 he joined the Army Reserve, hoping to make some money just in case he could go to college. "I thought, "I'm not going to join the National Guard. They get called up for everything. The only way the reserve gets activated is if there's a war going on.'

" One year later he was in a bunker in Saudi Arabia, listening all night to the bombing raids of Desert Storm.

"You start having conversations with your buddies about what you could've done and should've done," Roseberry said. "I was saying I wished I could've read some decent literature, could've conquered algebra, but that I was so darned stupid. This guy says to me, "What are you talking about?'

"I told him how I was always reversing numbers and letters, how I couldn't spell properly," Roseberry said. "He told me, "You're dyslexic.' I said, "What's that?' He said, "It's a learning disability. You're not stupid. Didn't anyone ever tell you about this?' Jeez, in the '50s and '60s, nobody'd even heard of dyslexia."

He returned from the war and underwent tests. Roseberry was, indeed, dyslexic. "That," he said, "took an enormous weight off my shoulders. Before that I'd just been a dysfunctional guy living a dysfunctional life."

Potential inspiration

When he returned from the Middle East, Roseberry brought with him Gulf War Syndrome _ fiery lungs, painful joints and a distended stomach _ and returned to a third marriage which, like the two before it, was in ashes. He has three estranged daughters, all married. He rarely sees his four grandchildren.

"My self-esteem had always been so low," he said, "that I kept getting mixed up with dysfunctional people. When your self-esteem is low, what makes you feel good? Finding someone to rescue. If you save them they'll love you forever, right? It's not that way at all. "When I came home, I had to face the fact that there was something wrong with me. I could point fingers everywhere else, but I was the one who kept choosing disastrous relationships."

Roseberry experienced a spiritual rebirth. He got into therapy, joined support groups. He also joined a health club and met Abbie Klapac, 42, an aerobics instructor and personal trainer. She encouraged him to give college a try.

Roseberry was accepted last January at Kutztown. He would walk by the football field every day. He began thinking: would've could've should've. "I figured, "I'm going to be here four years. What if I don't give it a shot? What will I think four years from now? The worst thing that happens is the coach says no.' "

He tried out at linebacker but had lost too much speed. Leonzi moved him to defensive tackle. What the coach saw in Roseberry wasn't just a man with graying hair, a bit of a paunch and chronic tendinitis in his knees (they are packed in ice after each practice, hence his nickname). What Leonzi saw was potential inspiration.

"I didn't need a 46-year-old guy to rebuild the football program," Leonzi said. "But I thought, "With what I'm trying to do here, he can be an example.' When you have a guy doing the things he's doing and maintaining academic excellence, you say to your younger players, "He's doing it; you can do it, too.' "

Abbie Klapac and Chuck Roseberry are engaged. She reads his textbooks into a cassette recorder; he listens to them and tries to read along. Roseberry has a 3.0 grade-point average. He is a psychology major, carrying 12 credits this semester _ abnormal psychology, cultural anthropology, history of civilization and theater. He expects to graduate in 1997 and hopes to work with dyslexic kids.

"I don't want a joke'

All that remains this season is for Roseberry to get into a game.

"I could put him in on a kickoff and he could run down the field and I'd say, "Well, he played,' " Leonzi said, "but I don't want this to be a joke. At the same time, I'm not going to jeopardize a game and this program just to accommodate one player, any player.

"When the appropriate time comes, we're going to get Chuck in there. Maybe it sounds like I'm saying, "When we're far enough ahead or behind so he doesn't do any harm.' But with all the time he's put in, I want him to be able to really play, to feel he has contributed to the game."

Kutztown's final two games are on the road. Roseberry's last chance to play at home will be Saturday against Shippensburg.

He wants to prove that he is more than just an anachronism, not merely a gimmick. "I want to play because I deserve to play," he said. "But even if I don't get into a game this year, I'll know that I put on a uniform and gave it a shot. I won't be able to say I had the chance and didn't take it.

"Besides," Roseberry added with a laugh, "there's always next year."

Player profile

Name: Chuck Roseberry

Position: Defensive tackle

School: Kutztown U

Age: 46

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