Havre Daily News Sports
For the first time in over a decade, a Havre High School football player will play football at the University of Montana. HHS senior Marc Mariani recently announced his intentions to play football for head coach Bobby Hauck and the Montana Grizzlies this fall in Missoula.
Mariani will initially be a walk-on at UM and will redshirt at wide receiver next fall.
After a phenomenal junior season, and an even better senior year, in which he helped guide Havre High to a Class A state championship, Mariani's decision about where to attend college was made much more difficult.
Mariani was highly sought after by most Frontier Conference schools as well as other schools in the region. He was also asked to walk-on at Montana State University in Bozeman. In the end, he chose UM over both Carroll College and MSU.
"When it came down to those three schools the decision was really difficult," Mariani said. "All three programs were really equal and they are all very good schools.
"But I just think the Griz have an amazing program right nown and they have been good for a long time," he added. "Also as a receiver, they are pretty young and there is definitely an opportunity for me to eventually be in the rotation."
As is the case with many successful student athletes, higher education also played a prominent role in Mariani's decision to attend UM. He currently carries a 3.4 GPA at Havre High and intends on pursuing a degree in physical therapy.
"I have always wanted to go into physical therapy," Mariani said. "And Montana has one of the best programs in the country and they have the graduate program so that made a big difference as well."
Despite earning a myriad of accolades as a defensive back during his junior season, playing Division I football may not have seemed possible a year ago. Mariani was a first team all-state safety in 2003 and he earned a spot on the Tribune Super State team at that position. But in his senior season, he made huge strides as wide receiver in Troy Purcell's wide open passing game.
Mariani set the school record for receiving yards in a single season with more than 1,200 yards, including a scintillating 220 yards, and the game-winning 81-yard touchdown in the state championship game against Billings Central.
Those numbers earned him first-team all-conference and all-state honors at wide receiver, as well as the same honors at defensive back. He was also named to the Tribune Super State Team for the second time, this time at wide receiver - giving him that honor at two different positions.
This coming summer Mariani will play in both the Montana Shrine Bowl and the Montana/North Dakota Badlands Bowl. Those accolades, along with his talent and speed made him one of the two most sought after wide receivers in the Class of 2005, along with Missoula Big Sky wide receiver Jace Palmer, who will also become a Griz next fall.
"One of things that impresses me most about Marc is what he does after the catch," said HHS head coach Troy Purcell. "Aside from his flat out speed, he makes great cuts and he uses his blockers extremely well.
"But Marc does everything really well," he added. "He catches the ball exceptionally well and he blocks down field really well. He is just one of those special players who has the complete package."
Having the complete package is what led Mariani to UM and to take the chance of turning down scholarship offers at the NAIA or Division II level in order to play I-AA football for one of the most successful football programs in the history of I-AA and the Big Sky Conference.
"I just really wanted to give D-I football a shot," Mariani said. "I know as a walk-on the odds are somewhat stacked against me. But I wanted to take the chance to play football at this level because I knew that if I didn't, I would always regret it."
Of course, being a diehard Griz football fan from an early age didn't hurt in Mariani's decision. But he said that the Cat/Griz rivalry had nothing to do with his decision to choose Missoula over Bozeman.
"It was hard to throw the Cat/Griz factor out in making this decision," he said. "But in the end it wasn't a factor. The Grizzlies contend for a national championship every year. They have a great tradition of winning football and they do it year after year and I wanted to be a part of that.
"In the end, I just had to pick not only the best football program, but the school that would fit me best and UM was it for me."
Mariani will join a UM program that is coming off of a remarkable season in which it fell just short of winning the school's third national championship, losing to James Madison in the national title game in Chattanooga, Tenn. last December.
Aside from his football prowess, Mariani will also leave HHS a three year letter winner in basketball. As a junior, he was a second team all-state player at point guard, and this past season he earned first team-all conference and all-state honors. In the fall, he was name MVP of the football team and was also named MVP of the HHS basketball team at the end of this season.
Marc is also currently in his fourth year as part of the Blue Pony tennis team which has won state championships in each of his three years on the team.
As a sophomore, he and doubles partner, Gary Wagner, finished second at the state tournament and last season the duo captured the Class A state doubles title. Later this spring he and Wagner will try to be the first HHS duo to repeat as doubles champions.
"I am really looking forward to going to school next year," Mariani said. "I know that it will take a lot of hard work, and it is going to be very hard. But, I think I am really well prepared for the challenge."
Marc is the son of Steve and Julie Mariani.
NOTE: University of Montana head coach Bobby Hauck was unable to comment on Mariani due to NCAA regulations regarding walk-ons.