To most Highland High School football fans, a 28-7 loss to Metamora in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs a year ago was a disappointing way to end an excellent season.
For quarterback Garrett Marti and other returning players, it was just more competitive fuel for 2017.
“I remember feeling disappointed after the Metamora playoff game last year, but I couldn’t wait to get started this year because I thought we had a chance to do something pretty good,” Marti said. “I think we all felt that way.”
With Marti passing for more than 3,300 yards and school-record 42 touchdown passes, Highland advanced to the state semifinals for the second time in school history and first time since losing to Morris in 1989.
While the dream of a 4A state championship ended on a cold November night with a 31-14 loss at eventual champion Rochester, it doesn’t diminish Marti’s staggering performance.
Since assuming the starting job as a sophomore, the 6-foot, 190-pounder has completed 391-of-625 attempts for 6,213 yards and 67 touchdowns. Marti also has rushed for 2,600 yards and scored 35 touchdowns.
Marti also has been a winner. Counting his freshman season, Marti was part of Bulldogs teams that won 38 games and lost just seven. Highland is 19-1 in Mississippi Valley Conference games during that span and captured three league championships.
But of all the numbers put up by Marti, the one that most impresses coach Jim Warnecke is the 42 touchdown passes in 2017.
“To have 42 touchdown passes and three interceptions in one year? I don’t know what to tell you except that I’ve never seen anything like it,” Warnecke said. “Garrett had a lot weapons and I’m sure he’ll be the first to tell you that. But the job he did in finding the open guys, the job he did in preparing for the opponent that week through film study, and the way he stepped up his his game for his senior year were a huge part of his success and our success as a football team.
“He was just locked in each week.”
The end of the line
A season that saw his selection as the Belleville News-Democrat Small School Offensive Player of the Year may be Marti’s last.
Some college recruiters have come calling, but Marti says he’s ready to put football behind him.
“There are multiple reasons for it,” he said. “For one, I’ve had concussion problems in the past and just wanting to be done with it is another reason. I guess that maybe I’m a little burned out. I don’t want to go to a school then be tired of it when I start.”
Marti was open about his waning interest in football even before the start of his senior season, which kept some of the big schools away. Warnecke said they may never know what opportunities awaited Marti in football, but supports whatever decision he believes is right for him.
“To the average fan who sees the numbers that he has put up in the last four years, I can see where they would be surprised that Garrett is not going to play college football,” Warnecke said. “To those of us who really know him, I can’t say we’re overly surprised that he has decided not to go to college and/or play football at the next level.
“He has aspirations in different areas and that’s fine. Garrett is a unique individual and I have no doubt that he will be successful in whatever he chooses to do in life.”
In the Bulldogs system
Marti has actually been learning the Bulldogs offense for the past six years. As a middle school player, Marti worked with former all-state quarterback and Highland assistant Brendan Delaney even longer.
“Brendan started working with Garrett in the seventh grade and they’re very close,’’ Warnecke said. “I think some of the success has to do with the process. Being the starting quarterback in our system for a third year in a row and actually being in our system for four years in all, that helps.”
To have 42 touchdown passes and three interceptions in one year? I don’t know what to tell you except that I’ve never seen anything like it.
Jimmy Warnecke, Highland football coach on QB Garrett Marti
What also helps is having good athletes around him. Marti grew up in football with other all-area picks including running back Brady Feldman and wide receivers Jack Etter, Jacob Willis and all-stater Sam LaPorta.
“I’ve known those guys for most of my life and played football with with in junior leagues, middle school and now high school,” Marti said. “I know what they can do and what good athletes they all are. It’s a nice feeling to know that I can throw it and I had teammates who can go catch it.
“I also had a great offensive line. I think I only got sacked three times all year. Those guys all did a great job of blocking.”
Highland’s 12-1 record matched the school’s best record that was set in 1989. Despite falling short of their 14-0 goal and state title, Marti says the season will be no less memorable, even the semifinal loss to Rochester.
“I thought we were more prepared this season than we had been in the past because for one reason, we upgraded out non-conference schedule and played Belleville East and Alton,” Marti said. “I thought it helped us to play teams with more speed and had more athletes.
“We were ready to play Rochester. It was windy and cold but it was still a fun day. We had never played before that many people before and that was a great experience.”
Warnecke says Marti and the Bulldogs did the city proud.
“It was a magical season,” Warnecke said. “I’m from Highland, born and raised. ... The way the members of this football team represented the city makes me just so proud to be an alum. These are great kids. They are humble and they put their teammates before themselves.
“Garrett is an excellent example of the type of kids we have on this football team.”