Mariotti and Arnett: Two special players who don’t fit the formula

The Pulaski County defense has played with great inspiration this season. It is a unit that gang tackles, gold hats to the football. It is quick and aggressive. The Cougar defense does not defend, it attacks. It’s fun to watch.

The Cougar defense is also too small. It is also a relatively young unit. But it also appears like this group loves to play football. It is also well coached. You never have to worry if the PCHS defense is going to be fired up, ready to go. It is, it always is. They love to make big plays, and it appears those kids are having fun.

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There have been some standouts. Noah O’Dell and Luke Russell have made a lot of quarterback sacks. Austin Gallimore and Russell lead the team in tackles. Gage Mannon is a tough tackler and makes big ​plays. E.J.Horton makes big plays. It’s a complete unit thing.

But then you come to two seniors, Camden Mariotti and Ben Arnett. If you passed Cam and Ben on the street you wouldn’t even assume they were football players. These days people spend a lot of time talking about 40 times, vertical leaps, how tall, how big, and not enough talking about one other thing. Are you a football player? Mariotti and Arnett are too small, yet at 5-11, 200, and 5-11, 195 they play defensive tackle for the Cougars. Too small, too short. A lot of people who think they know and

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understand football will tell you they cannot do that. But Cam and Ben do exactly that. Down in the pits, the trenches, among the largest players on the field. They turn nothing down, and if you have to block them all night, be ready a tough evening. It’ll seem like going to work in the sawmill.

What they are is quick and aggressive. They are also perfect examples of what weight training and off-season physical conditioning can mean to a football player, even ones too small. They never missed weight training, never missed a workout. They showed up early. They were leaders in the fieldhouse, helpful to their teammates. Well-groomed and ready to work every single day. Always alert, never grumpy, happy to be there. Without saying a word, both are team leaders, and they don’t say much. They’re just football players, good football players. They are also great examples that being smart helps you to be a better football player too. Both are members of the National Honor Society. A coaches dream, just the kind of young men you would want to coach.

Pulaski County head coach Stephen James is glad to say he got to coach both of them, and expresses their value to the 2018 Cougar team. “Those two guys grade out as two of our highest performing players each week. The things they do are invaluable to our defense. They are so active and have great motors that make people (opponents) have to account for them. This allows our linebackers to be able to run free a lot of times and make tackles.”

Nope, they will not be out front in the 40-yard sprint, and they wouldn’t make good running backs or play in the secondary, but down in the pits, they are razor quick, far stronger than you would think, and aggressive. Team players. They do their job.

Ben and Cam do not care if they get their name in the paper. They do not care who gets the credit. They seek no glory other than team accomplishment. They are seniors, and things haven’t gone so great in their earlier years, but this season is different, and they are two of the big reasons why. They see opportunity, and you can be certain these two will not have an off-game. They will be ready to meet the challenge at the first snap. They will not let up for even one second. They will sell out every play. They don’t get tired. They are in great physical condition. They have smiled a lot this season. Their senior season is going to be a fond memory.

Cam and Ben are the kind of players, particularly in high school, that make your team, fill out your squad. The best player seldom determines how good your team is, it’s how good are the rest of the players? How do they fit? That makes your team. Mariotti and Arnett, close friends, make Pulaski County’s football team what is it. They fit.

It’s high school football. Much of the time you hear about recruiting, and who does this, and who does that. How many touchdowns did you score, passes you caught and so forth. But something like 98 percent of high school football players are never seriously recruited by the big schools you see on television on Saturday. That means nothing to Mariotti and Arnett. They are very intelligent. They know such things are not in their future, but they will remember their high school careers all their lives, and they should remember how they went out with a great deal of pride.

Arnett and Mariotti are what playing high school football is all about. I don’t know why they care so much, but they do. I don’t know why they prepared and worked so hard for the season, but they did. The important thing is they care enough about their program, their school, and all the other right things to want to, and are proof there is a lot in the simple fact of wanting to.

You do not have to be the biggest or most talented to excel in high school football. Sometimes you just need to want to bad enough. Arnett and Mariotti do. Their families, their school, their teammates, and their coaches should be very proud. Coaching them and playing alongside of them, has to be a pleasure. The Cougars play at rival Salem Friday. These two will be ready to go.

I don’t care how many games you win, or lose, and I hope the Cougars win them all, but if you always have players like Mariotti and Arnett, you would enjoy the experience. Both will be successful in life because even as teenagers, they have already demonstrated they know that hard work equals success. I have enjoyed watching and knowing them. I will miss them both.

By DAN CALLAHAN, The Patriot