Marrietta top defender in region: Former River Valley defensive lineman dominates AIA 3A West Region
MOHAVE VALLEY — Former Dust Devils lineman Thomas Marrietta earned the Arizona Interscholastic Association 3A West Region Defensive Player of the Year award following the 2017 season.
“I was pretty excited,” Marrietta said. “All the hardwork had paid off leading into the season.”
It never dawned on Marrietta that he would garner such a prestigious award.
“No, not once have I had the thought of it,” Marrietta said. “Because I played offense most of the time all four years.”
Marrietta acknowledged that he knew where he stood in comparison to his peers during his senior season.
“I was keeping myself updated with the stats,” Marrietta said. “I knew I was leading the conference in tackles.”
Marrietta amassed 156 tackles, 40 unassisted, including 17 tackles for losses during his senior campaign. He scored one touchdown and recorded two 2-point conversions, as well as eight sacks, one blocked punt and recovered a fumble.
Marrietta’s height and weight during his senior season was 6-foot, 3-inches, 240 pounds, as he put on weight — all muscle — after starting out as a 6-0, 220-pound freshman.
By the time Marrietta became a senior, he was more than most linemen could handle. and it didn’t take long for the other teams’ offensive coordinators to change from man-to-man, to double- and — even — triple-team blocking schemes to try to stop Marrietta.
“Yes, I did get teamed up a lot,” Marrietta said. “It made me feel good and confident knowing I was a threat.”
When asked about how he improved his physique and conditioning prior to his senior season, Marrietta said, “Oh yeah, I was in the best shape. I worked out twice a day: Once at school with (former River Valley head) coach (Mark) Ruckle, then in the gym on my own after school. Then practice in the evening.”
Marrietta enjoys playing defense a little bit more than offense.
“Yeah, hitting people was probably my favorite thing because they’d always underestimate me and it’s a lot more fun on defense because you don’t really have too much responsibility besides making the play,” Marrietta said. “On offense, it’s just as (much) fun. You just have to be better than the person across from you.”
Ruckle, who also was the Dust Devils’ strength and conditioning coach, confirmed Marrietta’s improvement.
“Thomas worked his (butt) off in the weight room for me and he really grew into himself,” said Ruckle, who was Marrietta’s head coach during his first three seasons of varsity football. “We started playing him a lot on defense the last year I was there at the end of the season.
“He was strictly an offensive lineman but as he got stronger and quicker, he could then play defense.
“His maturity, his strength and his conditioning in the weight room really helped him to go from just being an offensive lineman to being a heck of a defensive lineman.”
Marrietta is one of an ever-growing list of River Valley players who have earned the region’s defensive player of the year honor.
“We’ve had defensive player of the year for the last four years,” Ruckle said.
Linebacker Jacob Lee earned the award in 2014-15, outside linebacker/defensive end Chance Miller in 2016 and Marrietta in 2017.
Marrietta was a freshman when the Dust Devils won the 2014 AIA Football Division IV Championship, and he remembers going up against several state-championship caliber linemen in practice.
“I went against a lot of the best,” Marrietta said, “like playing scout offense and defense I went against Jacob Lee, Joe Pherrigo, Zack Regan, Shan Lewis, Cody Jaciuk and Parker Gaudry.”
Marrietta did not hesitate when he was asked if the upperclassmen welcomed him to the unit by beating on him when he was a freshman.
“I think Zack Regan gave me a hit that made me realize it’s no joke,” Marrietta said.
Regan, who is a second-year assistant coach at River Valley, remembers those days well.
“One example was he was on prep kickoff return and I’d be on my starting kickoff and he tried to block me and I was on a full head of steam and trucked him and that happened a few times, but it never stopped him from throwing his body in front of me anyway,” Regan said. “He wasn’t full size yet, but he definitely earned our respect through never giving up.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” said Regan about Marrietta’s award. “He trained hard for four years and put in the work. He earned everything he got.”
When he was told that the upperclassmen rang Marrietta’s bell a couple of times, Ruckle laughed and said, “Yes, they did.”
Marrietta expressed his gratitude toward his former teammates and Ruckle for helping him become a better football player — among other things.
“I’ve learned everything I know today from playing with those guys,” Marrietta said. “I definitely learned to not be scared to hit.”
Marrietta added: “Coach Ruckle is my biggest influence at River Valley. The hard work I invested into the class and on the field, both made me who I am at the moment.”
Marrietta moved to Saint George, Utah, in late July in hopes of walking on to the Dixie State University football team.”
Part I of two-part feature. See Sunday’s issue for Part II