MERIDEN — One is so versatile he was considered the Swiss Army knife of Maloney football. The other is so strong he set a Maloney weightlifting record by squatting 600 pounds.
Combined, Eli Henderson and Dan Roldan will carry the Spartans banner to Division III. The pair recently finalized their college commitments — Henderson with Western Connecticut State, Roldan with Hartwick College.
At Maloney, Henderson and Roldan were part of a football family that went 29-7 over the past three seasons and made program history by qualifying for the postseason in all three.
In their own families, Henderson and Roldan will break new ground as well. When Henderson heads to Danbury and Roldan departs for Oneonta, N.Y. later this year, they’ll become the first males on their paternal side to attend college.
Henderson will study computer science. Roldan will pursue a degree in business.
By staying on the gridiron, they raise the number of 2020 Maloney grads going on to play college football to three — and counting. Trevor Santiago, the All-State lineman, has signed with Division I Central Connecticut. All-State wide receiver Kamron Moreno and All-Conference defensive back Sergio Muniz are expecting to put in prep years. So is lineman Sitorius White.
Head coach Kevin Frederick described Roldan and Henderson as commited program players.
“Dan’s a kid who’s come a long, long ways,” Frederick said Friday. “He bought into the process of getting better each year and did that, and got a significant amount of playing time his senior year.”
Of Henderson, Frederick said, “He was kind of our utility defensive guy. We could put him anywhere we needed to. During a hectic football season, where there are some injuries and different offenses you’re planning against, he was a guy who we could plug and he did a good job for us.
“He just bought into what we needed to do. We need those guys like Eli to be successful.”
Roldan and Henderson both invested considerable time into their college search. They went on numerous visits. Both checked out Norwich University in Vermont. Henderson’s short list included Plymouth State.
Ultimately, they went with schools that, well, just felt right.
“I really looked at my options. I really enjoyed Hartwick out of all of them,” Roldan said. “They were very welcoming and I really enjoyed the visit.”
“I fell in love with the campus; I fell in love with the vibe,” Henderson said of Western. “I love how the coaches handled themselves and I love the way they form their defense. I feel I can really improve their team.”
While Roldan and Henderson were primarily defensive players at Maloney. Roldan was an interior llineman effective against the run. Henderson lined up wherever needed, from end to inside linebacker. He was also on special teams.
Both played significant roles in one of Maloney’s most crucial wins of 2019: the 18-14 victory over North Haven on Sept. 27 at Falcon Field.
“We stuck Dan in our D-line, especially against some of those run-heavy teams like North Haven,” Frederick said. “Dan was huge, plugging gaps and doing his job. He plays low to the ground, good strength, could shed blockers well, with just a great effort to the football.”
Roldan, at 5-foot-8, seemed small, by Maloney standards, standing alongside teammates like Santiago (6-6), Damian Vargas (6-3) and Ethan Hicks (6-2). But Roldan does weigh 275 pounds and can lift considerably more.
The school-record 600 in the squat came late last summer during a team lifting session. Watching other players hit their target weights got Roldan fired up. When his turn came, Roldan first did 500.
It matched his previous best. On this day, though, 500 felt, as Roldan put it, “light.” So he did 525. Then 550.
The program record was 560. Roldan called for 600.
“I was nervous, but I had the whole team motivating me, in the back screaming my name, and I felt like I could do it,” he recounted. “I went for it and I completed it.”
The record lift was reward for training that Roldan, driven to get on college radar screens, had invested on his own.
“I’m a smaller person and I really wanted to get scouted from colleges,” Roldan said. “I knew it wasn’t going to happen through regular workouts, so I had to put extra work in.”
In a similar vein, Henderson put in extra work not only in the weight room, but in learning multiple positions. Horizons first began to broaden in practice.
“Last year, when I was on scout team a lot, I played a little bit of tight end, outside linebacker — I think they even played me as an up-front safety coming off the edge,” Henderson said. “I played everywhere on scout team.”
That transferred to the playing field. Assistant coach Aidan Lynch helped Henderson fine-tune his skills on the D-line. Frederick was comfortable deploying Henderson wherever he was needed.
“Coach Lynch and Coach Fred really helped me be versatile,” Henderson said. “Coach Fred used me in so many different schemes. I even played a little bit of guard last year. Where they need me, that’s where I’ll go.”
That attitude helped the Spartans and, ultimately, helped Henderson as he sent out game film to college coaches and started scheduling campus visits.
“If you’re a college coach and you’re recruiting, those factors are critical,” Frederick said. “You look at a kid and his whole body of work: Where can I plug this kid in on offense or defense?
“When you have a kid who can do a couple different things, it just gives flexibility. If one area doesn’t work out in college, you can fall back on playing a different position. He’s got the capability to do that.”
Henderson was listed at 5-10, 180 on Maloney’s 2019 postseason roster. Those dimensions, Frederick said, are likely to expand at the next level.
“He’s got a lot of area to put some good muscle on and I think the college coaches see that,” Frederick said. “His best days are ahead.
“I think the other big piece the colleges look at is your dedication to the game,” the Maloney coach added. “He was a guy who dedicated himself. He was always looking for ways to get better. He spent the whole offseason in the weight room training, summertime included.”
Henderson transferred to Maloney after a freshman year at Lyman Hall. He blossomed as a Spartan.
“My grades have improved tremendously, my athletic ability has improved tremendously, my work ethic,” Henderson said. “My mom has always considered me the workhorse of the family.”
Likewise Roldan, who is itching to get back on the iron horse.
“600 is my record for now,” he said on Friday. “I haven’t been able to hit the squat racks since this pandemic’s been going on. After this over, I’m going right back to the gym.”