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.” ••