HIGHLAND — Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke saw something special in Mack Waldman back when he was a pint-sized grade-schooler in summer camp.
"Honestly, I remember telling my wife this. I remember saying, 'He's going to be something special when he gets a little older,''' Warnecke said. "Saying that back then, he was 5-foot-nothing and maybe 120 pounds soaking wet. I really did feel that he was going to be a good one. Me being a former quarterback, I have some insight into that, and I really did feel back then that he was going to be a good quarterback.''
Now a 6-foot-1, 183-pound senior, Waldman is the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, who are 7-0 and ranked eighth among Class 5A teams in the state.
"He's everything we need right now,'' Warnecke said of Waldman, who earned Belleville News-Democrat's Player of the Week honors after completing 12 of 16 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-17 win over Waterloo last Friday. "He's the complete package the way I look at it.''
Warnecke said Waldman's attitude made him stand out despite his small physical stature in grade school.
"He always had the demeanor about him, just that determination that he wanted to be very good,'' Warnecke said. "He had a good delivery. He had the mechanics that he needed. He was very football smart and he picked up on things real well. He was very coachable, I guess you could say.''
Waldman ended up going to Mater Dei High School. He spent three seasons with the Knights before transferring to Highland High School midway through his junior year.
"I played football with all these guys up to eighth grade, and I just wanted to come back and finish what we started,'' Waldman said. "They all talked me into it. Things didn't really work out at Mater Dei the way I planned, and it was just the right opportunity for me to comeback. I'm sure glad I did.''
For the season, Waldman has completed 66 of 94 passes (70 percent) for 1,209 yards with 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
"I knew that I was going to have to come in and work hard to get in the swing of things,'' Waldman said of adjusting to playing for a new school. "Coach Warnecke made it easy on me running the offense because it was mostly what we ran over there at Mater Dei, too. It wasn't too big of a change. There are just some little things that were different.''
Waldman has put up those big passing numbers despite the Bulldogs being more of a running team.
"You see some of these offenses these days and a lot of them are winging it around,'' Warnecke said. "That's not what we feel we are about. With what we have up front, it's pretty hard justifying doing that. I think if Mack was on any of these teams that did do that, he would have just ridiculous numbers.''
The Bulldogs have a huge offensive line that would make some small colleges jealous.
The line is anchored by tackles Tanner Farmer and Nick Czar. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Farmer has given a verbal commitment to Nebraska and the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Czar has committed to Army.
"It's awesome,'' Waldman said of playing behind the Bulldogs' offensive line. "When I drop back, I don't even think about getting pressure.''
The Bulldogs also have a powerful running attack led by Andrew Winning (712 rushing yards and nine touchdowns) and Gage Geiger (643 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns).
Waldman has contributed 34 carries for 311 yards to the running game.
"That was the thing coming in that I was unsure about,'' Warnecke said. "I knew he would be good in the pocket. I knew he had a real strong arm. We do a lot of that read-option stuff, and what he has done keeping the ball and with his maneuverability in the pocket, I am just blown away by it.''
Bulking up has given Waldman confidence as a ball carrier.
"I actually like getting hit rather than running out of bounds,'' Waldman said. "I feel like a sissy if I run out of bounds. That's just my mind-set, I guess.''
Waldman packed on almost 25 extra pounds during the offseason through a training regimen that included two or three trips to X-Factor Fitness in Highland in addition to the Bulldogs' offseason workout program.
"His body matured so much this last offseason,'' Warnecke said. "Some of it is maturity, but he has a crazy work ethic, too. He would go to workouts with us four days a week and he was getting extra lessons whether it was agility training, speed training and additional strength training twice a week on top of that.''
Waldman, 17, is the son of Monique and Wayne Waldman, of Highland. His father played football for Nashville High School.
Warnecke said Waldman has received some recruiting interest from several Division I-AA schools.
Waldman said he plans to wait until the Bulldogs' season is over to ramp up his recruiting efforts.
"I think he is going to be a good one for whoever gets him,'' Waldman said. "I think he has all the potential to get at least to that D1-AA level.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.