ZACH ROSEBERRY is not a tattoo type of guy. But he does have one, which you can't help noticing, on the ripped upper part of his right arm. And it means the world to him. The Delaware Valley University senior got it on his 16th birthday as a tribute to his older brother Trey, who had died in a car accident two years earlier. Zack didn't just lose his only sibling that tragic night. Trey was also his best friend, mentor and inspiration. So Zach decided to honor him forever, in a way for everyone to see.
"I still can't believe my parents let me do it," said Roseberry, the top-ranked heavyweight wrestler in Division III and the defending NCAA champion. "It was just something I had to do. It's a cross that has his birthday, the day of his death and all that. I've added some Hawaiian flowers and a palm tree, like a beach scene. It says, 'Rest in Paradise.' We had a lot of our best memories at the beaches in North Carolina. That's kind of why I wanted it to look like it does.
"I have his class ring, and a medal he got from wrestling. The ring's on a chain. I don't wear it, but I have it with me."
Trey, who was six years older, is the one who got him into wrestling. Zach mostly played football growing up in the small rural community of Nokesville, Va., which is about an hour's drive southwest of the nation's capital. By the time he reached middle school, Trey convinced him that wrestling would help him get better in football. So he gave it a shot.
"It's funny," Roseberry recalled. "My parents didn't think I'd actually make it. They told me years later they didn't think I was tough enough. I guess I proved them wrong. But it really is funny now . . .
"I mean, we were like classic brothers. We'd fight all the time. He beat me up. I never got the best of him. But it helped. I got tougher. Our football team wasn't very good. I played mostly defense, on the line. I wonder about it all the time, how my life could have been different without him."
And then Trey was gone, far too soon.
"He and a friend were coming home one night and went around a curve," Roseberry recalled. "My brother was in the passenger seat. They hit a tree on his side. It happened right down the road (from their house). I was asleep. It was late. I woke up and I could hear my parents talking about something, that Trey was in the hospital. But I fell back to sleep. When I got up in the morning, I kind of found out. I went to school anyway because I had a big test that day, but they (eventually) pulled me out of class. I didn't know what to do.
"For me, it was something that just turned into a motivation. I wanted to do something to make my family proud, bring something good to them. He taught me plenty. When you go through something like that, you learn how to cope with stuff. You try to do the right things, put in the work. You learn about what you should value . . . There's not a day goes by I don't think about it, or him. He's probably saying something like, 'You still can't beat me,' things like that. He's probably telling all his friends about it. This would be a big deal to him.
"At first it was pretty tough, because just everything reminds you of it. He knew the same people I knew. So you're still reliving it, all the time. It didn't even subside until I was a junior in high school. It really was a long time for me, thinking back on it. I look at it more as it happened for a reason. At the time, I didn't look at it like that. It was, 'Why did it have to be our family? Why did it have to be him?' "
Roseberry, who was involved with the Future Farmers of America at Brentsville High School, is an agribusiness major. He didn't know anything about Del Val until he competed in a tournament at Council Rock South. It's obviously worked out.
"My mom fell in love with the place," he said. "It's only four hours away. I came up on a visit and walked in a room and saw all these All-America plaques. I was like, 'Holy crap, this is beautiful.' And (Doylestown) is very nice. It's like the place I came from."
He finished fourth at the nationals as a freshman and third the following March, when he thought he should have won. Last year he did, defeating the defending champion by a point in the final match. He's gone 45-0 since November 2015, and his 118 career wins are 11 shy of the program record.
"I really didn't have many goals when I came here," he said. "I was just coming for school. But I started getting it. I figured out what I wanted to do and got very focused. Still, if you'd told me I'd be a national champion, I would have said you were crazy. I would never have believed that. My sophomore year, I was pretty disappointed I didn't win. I lost to a kid I shouldn't have lost to. That's when I really stepped it up.
"When it (finally) happens, you can't even fathom the feeling. All that time you gave to it pays off . . . Every athlete dwells on a bad loss. You can't let go of it. I'm like that. But then you realize you've been through a lot worse. You start asking questions, but you just have to bear down. Keep on trucking."
His coach, Steve Cantrell, is in his sixth season at Del Val after serving in the Marine Corps for nearly a quarter-century. He believes there's a chance Roseberry could get into one of USA Wrestling's regional training centers for Olympic hopefuls.
"He found us," Cantrell said. "When we first saw him, he was wrestling at 195. He told us he never had to cut weight. But over the summer he grew about 40 pounds. So he's a fast heavyweight, and that's to his advantage. He's more athletic. We'll do some long runs and he's always at the front of the pack. You don't normally see that from your big guy. He's one of those guys that doesn't complain, no matter what. He sets the bar, yet he never seeks attention. Two years ago he broke his hand at nationals, but you wouldn't have known it. The year before that, he busted his knee up pretty good. But you have to pull him out. His brother is very central to who he is.
"He never really gets stressed out. His freshman year, he's going up against the No. 3 guy in the country and he's sitting there as relaxed as possible, joking with us, and the match is about to start. But he was talking about something else. He keeps his emotions in check. It's hard to wrestle aggressively, when you have everything to lose. You're going to be vulnerable. That's what he's dealing with. When he really opens up and shows what his ability is, well, he just beat the No. 5 guy, 10-0."
The picture of Roseberry raising his arms in triumph after winning the title is powerful. And the tattoo is a prominent part of that image. No matter what he does or where he goes, that will never change. It's as much a part of him as his DNA.
"All he ever wanted me to do was my best," Roseberry remembered. "Pretty simple, right? There's a lot of pressure, but I'm trying not to let it get to me. I'm just trying to take care of business, one at a time. That's what I did last year. I'm not trying to defend anything. It's a new year. I just really want to show them why I'm No. 1.
"To win again would be icing at the end of a great four years. Last year, coach hugged me and I was crying. Not sobbing. Those were streams of joy running down my face. I didn't say too much. A lot of things were just going through my head.
"(Trey) was there, I think."
He always has been. And always will. It makes for quite a team.