MISSOULA — Marc Mariani has long been one to exceed expectations.
The Havre native went from a walk-on to an All-American with the Montana Grizzlies under head coach Bobby Hauck. He then made it to the NFL, where he was a seventh-round selection of the Tennessee Titans in the 2010 NFL Draft and went on to become a Pro Bowl player.
Mariani added another honor this past week, being named to ESPN's AFC South all-decade team for the 2010s, which was voted on by ESPN's NFL Nation reporters who cover the AFC South. He was also recently ranked as the No. 9 Montana-born NFL player by 406mtsports.com.
Mariani, who made his mark in the pros with the AFC South's Tennessee Titans, landed on the all-decade team as a kick returner and punt returner. He played for the Titans from 2010-13 and in 2016, spending the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the Chicago Bears in the NFC North.
Mariani's best pro season came as a rookie in 2010 with the Titans, earning a spot in the Pro Bowl and landing on the NFL All-Rookie Team. He returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown, a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and set the franchise record for most total special teams return yards with 1,859.
Mariani added a 79-yard punt return score in 2011, his final special teams touchdown. He finished in the top 10 in the league for yards per kick return three times and once in yards per punt return.
A broken leg on a punt return in a preseason game in 2012 forced Mariani to miss the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but he returned to play three more years after that. His best season as a wide receiver came in 2015, when he caught 22 passes for 300 yards with the Bears while starting five games, his only starts on offense in his 70-game career. He had 27 catches for 324 yards in his career.
Mariani earned his shot in the NFL by putting together an All-American career with the Montana Grizzlies. That came after playing at Havre High School, where he was a three-sport standout who earned 10 total letters in football, basketball and tennis, and was a two-way all-state player on the gridiron.
Once at Montana, Mariani had to work his way through the ranks, not earning a regular starting spot on offense until his junior season, his first of two consecutive years earning All-American honors. His 3,018 career receiving yards was a school record until Jamaal Jones broke that in 2015, and his 1,479 receiving yards in 2009 topped the school's single-season record book until Samori Toure broke that in 2019.
Mariani also made his mark in the special teams game while at Montana. He tied the school record with three punt returns for touchdowns, a mark he shares with Levander Segars and Jerry Louie-McGee, the latter of whom matched that record during the 2019 season.
Mariani was unable to get a free agent deal ahead of the 2017 season and became a real estate agent in Nashville along with his wife, Carly. He officially announced he was retiring from the NFL in 2018.
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.
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