Meet Mr. Z

Before teaming up with the Crusaders, Mark Zataveski played football for the University of Notre Dame under legendary head coach Lou Holtz.

Call­ing the shots: Mark Zataveski, known as “Mr. Z,” has been named an of­fens­ive line coach for the Cru­saders’ foot­ball team. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Mark Zataveski is a fairly new fig­ure around the Fath­er Judge com­munity. For some, the name might ring a bell; for oth­ers, he is simply re­cog­nized as one of the biggest men they have ever seen teach­ing or coach­ing at the school. 

Zataveski, oth­er­wise known as “Mr. Z,” has been brought on as an of­fens­ive line coach head­ing in­to the Cru­saders’ 2014 foot­ball cam­paign. To say that Zataveski is qual­i­fied for the po­s­i­tion is an un­der­state­ment, as he played foot­ball for the Uni­versity of Notre Dame, start­ing three sea­sons as an of­fens­ive line­man un­der le­gendary head coach Lou Holtz.

Zataveski gradu­ated from Bish­op McDe­vitt in 1991. While play­ing at McDe­vitt, he at­trac­ted the at­ten­tion of power­house schools like Alabama, Miami, Vir­gin­ia and Penn State, pro­grams con­sidered among the best of the best in the sport. Not too shabby for a self-de­scribed shy kid.

“I was a real shy kid; I think a lot of big guys are,” Zataveski said dur­ing a Fri­day af­ter­noon in­ter­view. “Penn State was look­ing at (McDe­vitt team­mate) De­r­ick Pick­ett, who was a really good of­fens­ive line­man that ended up start­ing for them for three years. He was a seni­or when I was com­ing to be a sopho­more, so when they came to see him, the re­cruit­ers took no­tice of my size and abil­ity.”

Did they ever. Zataveski’s tal­ents sent some of the best re­cruit­ers in col­lege foot­ball in­to a frenzy try­ing to win his ser­vices.

“Penn State is Penn State,” he said. “When you’re from Pennsylvania, every­body wants to go there ini­tially. I liked Joe Pa­ter­no and I liked all the as­sist­ant coaches.”

When asked to com­pare his im­pres­sions of Penn State and Notre Dame, Zataveski said Notre Dame seemed to have a little bit more swag­ger. He says a lot of that came from Holtz, one of the most prom­in­ent coaches in col­lege his­tory.

“Lou was a little bit more cha­ris­mat­ic than Pa­ter­no,” Zataveski said. “He is a great speak­er. Part of his rep­er­toire wasn’t just the ba­sics of foot­ball, but also try­ing to teach you how to mo­tiv­ate your­self. He would give you a little bit of that when he sold you the school. He would also sell a little bit of him­self; he was a really good sales­man.”

Notre Dame was ranked in the top five in the coun­try at the time Zataveski was be­ing re­cruited, hav­ing won the na­tion­al cham­pi­on­ship in 1988 and threat­en­ing to do the same in oth­er years. This fact, along with strong aca­dem­ics and a school that fo­cused on re­li­gion, is what at­trac­ted him to the school.

Zataveski says that the at­ten­tion from Notre Dame wasn’t al­ways con­sist­ent. A two- to three-week peri­od passed where he heard noth­ing at all from the Ir­ish; then, seem­ingly out of the blue, Zataveski re­ceived a phone call and a plane tick­et from Notre Dame on his way home from his of­fi­cial vis­it to Penn State.

“I’m think­ing, ‘Man, these guys are a little for­ward,’ ” Zataveski said. “Notre Dame gets the best of the best re­cruits, so when Lou Holtz came out to see me at my home after my vis­it, I re­cog­nized that they were really in­ter­ested, and if he was go­ing to do that then I felt will­ing to com­mit.”

Zataveski laughed when asked just how com­pet­it­ive Pa­ter­no and Holtz were with each oth­er when it came to re­cruit­ing him.

“While Holtz was at my house, Pa­ter­no called on the tele­phone as he was there try­ing to get me to com­mit,” Zataveski said. “So Joe’s on the phone ask­ing me if Lou was telling me Bible stor­ies and do­ing any ma­gic tricks for me. I al­ways thought it was weird that Joe called while Lou was there.”

Zataveski played at Notre Dame from 1991-95. Dur­ing his time at the school, he played with some of the best and most pop­u­lar play­ers in the sport, in­clud­ing Pitt­s­burgh Steel­ers Hall of Fame run­ning back Jerome Bet­tis.

“Be­ing able to play two years with ‘The Bus’ was def­in­itely a high­light for me. People al­ways ask me, ‘Did you play with Jerome Bet­tis?’ And I’m like, ‘No, he played with me,’ ” Zataveski said with a laugh.

By his seni­or year, things were go­ing great both in school and on the field for Zataveski. He main­tained a 3.5 GPA while double-ma­jor­ing in Amer­ic­an stud­ies and his­tory, help­ing earn him aca­dem­ic All-Amer­ic­an hon­ors. Over the last 25 years, Zataveski is one of four Ir­ish of­fens­ive line­men to achieve that ac­com­plish­ment.

“It meant to me that I got the most out of my time there,” Zataveski said. “I had a shot to be draf­ted in the later rounds and I got in­vited to some of the bet­ter all-star games, in­clud­ing the Seni­or Bowl, which is re­cog­nized as a great plat­form for guys to go on and play pro­fes­sion­ally.”

However, a nerve in­jury in the East-West Shrine Game at the end of his seni­or year ended Zataveski’s hopes of play­ing in the NFL. But on the bright side, the time he spent in col­lege made him in­to the man he is today, and now he hopes to pass on the les­sons learned onto the play­ers he coaches at Judge.

“I’m try­ing to teach some of these guys here that you have to take coach­ing and the in­tens­ity that goes along with it to de­vel­op in­to a great play­er,” he said. “The coach will give you re­spect when you earn it. Even though I star­ted, Lou Holtz was al­ways on me about my foot­work and that I wasn’t fast enough. He al­ways threatened to take me out of the lineup, but at the same time he called me the most in­tense play­er he ever coached, and that was fol­low­ing some great people who played there.”

Second-year head coach Mike McKay is de­lighted to have Zataveski on his staff.

“He played at the Di­vi­sion-I level, so he brings the re­spect that comes with that,” McKay said. “He has the ex­per­i­ence he can give to the kids as they go through the pro­cess of work­ing to­ward reach­ing their po­ten­tial and goals.

“He brings the same ex­per­i­ence and know­ledge to the staff. Hav­ing played the po­s­i­tion and per­formed some of the same tech­niques and schemes we use has been very valu­able to the staff. He’s also giv­en us new and dif­fer­ent tech­niques and ter­min­o­logy to use, which I feel has strengthened our teach­ing pro­cess.”

Zataveski’s jour­ney has taken him full circle to the place where he saw his first high school foot­ball ac­tion in a scrim­mage at McDe­vitt: Fath­er Judge. Be­fore com­ing to Judge to teach, Zataveski re­turned to his alma ma­ter, spend­ing five years at McDe­vitt teach­ing and coach­ing bas­ket­ball. Teach­er cuts ul­ti­mately brought him to Judge as a sub­sti­tute.

“The thing I ad­mire most about Judge guys is the fact that there is a ton of quiet in­teg­rity,” Zataveski said. “People ex­pect great things be­cause they do things right. It amazes me, the con­fid­ence level of a Judge stu­dent, and I think that con­fid­ence is in a prop­er per­spect­ive.

“I say this: Don’t ever back a Judge kid in­to a corner, be­cause you’ll awake a sleep­ing gi­ant. He’ll fight tooth and nail to try to prove that he is bet­ter than you.” ••

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