By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsemail@example.com
If this were the NFL, this trio of best friends would have T-shirts with their caricatures and a corny nickname after a movie. You know, like "The Three Musketeers," or "The Three Amigos" or maybe even "The Three Stooges."
Besides being friends, they are teammates, exceptionally gifted athletes, great football players and certainly very different individuals.
The numbers simply don't lie. Havre High seniors Marc Mariani, Gary Wagner and Coda Tchida have been three of the most dominating offensive football players in Class A this season.
On Saturday, they will be part of one machine that will try to win this town a coveted state championship in football, which is something that Havreites have been craving long before any of them were ever born.
Wagner, who has quarterbacked the Ponies the last two seasons, is 21-2 as a starter for Havre High. This season he has thrown for 2,573 yards and 33 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He is also a member of the HHS basketball team and an integral part of the three-time state champion Blue Pony tennis team. In his junior year, he and Mariani captured their first state doubles title.
Tchida is a two-year two-way starter for the HHS and was an all-state selection at cornerback last year. This season he has shined on offense as well, racking up more than 1,000 yards receiving and hauling in 16 touchdowns. Like his counterparts, he too is part of the HHS basketball and tennis teams.
Mariani is also a returning all-state playe, and as a junior was named to the prestigious Great Falls Tribune Super State team at defensive back. This season he too has blossomed as a wide receiver, catching 42 balls for 1,009 yards and 14 TD's.
On the eve of making their biggest dream to date come true, they sat down to talk about football, friendship and even themselves.
When it comes to winning a state football championship, perhaps no group of seniors has been working at it longer than this year's HHS players. The trio of Wagner, Mariani and Tchida have been playing football together since the seventh grade and this past season has been one they will never forget. Still, they'll be the first ones to tell you that the mission won't be complete until they hoist the state championship trophy in front of hometown fans on Saturday at Blue Pony Stadium.
"It has been an unbelievable ride this year," Mariani said. "We had very high expectations coming into the season and I think so far we have lived up to them. Not winning a state championship in our senior year isn't an option for us. We have to finish this off."
Said Wagner: "This season has been so much fun to be a part of because of how close we all are. We have all been playing football together for six years and to watch all of these guys play so well this year has just been awesome. My offensive line has been awesome, our defense, everything."
Being an undefeated football team on the verge of winning a school's first state championship in 34 years isn't all about fun. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on this team to finish what it has started.
"It seems like our school has been cursed when it comes to winning a football state championship," Tchida said. "In the past, teams have gotten to this point and something bad always seems to happen. That puts a lot of pressure on us because of the season we have had so far and how badly everybody wants us to win. But it makes us want to win this championship that much more."
While the pressure is certainly there, these three love a challenge, and having the hopes of 10,000 people resting on their shoulders is something they relish.
"It is unbelievable how much excitement and hype there is around town right now," Mariani said. "Everywhere I go, people are talking about this game. It is amazing."
"There is definitely a buzz around town and it seems like everyone is so excited about our football team," Wagner added. "It is a pretty amazing experience to have an entire town behind you. We definitely want to win this game for our school and the whole town of Havre."
Of course expectations and excitement are only part of winning a championship in football. In high school football, there is much deeper and integral parts of playing the game. You play the game for fun, for love of competition and most of all for friendship and camaraderie. They know the meaning of all three.
"That is what makes our team so special," Tchida said. "We have all been friends for so long and we have been working towards the same goal forever. We support each other and we have so many talented players on this team who contribute to our success on the field. We are definitely a team."
"We are all so close as a team and as friends," Wagner said. "We hang out together and we have fun together. I think what sets us apart is that we are a football team all the time. Even during the off-season and in the summer, we were still a team. We have all been working hard towards winning a state championship, and that is why we play so well together."
While chemistry and friendship will take a team far, you can't ignore talent and skill. These three players have had those two attributes since they were playing youth sports on fields and in gyms around Havre. They are three of the most highly competitive people you will ever meet and they aren't afraid to let you know about it either. Even in a season when the word "team" is all that matters, these three aren't afraid to critique each other at any given time.
"We make Gary look pretty good out there," Mariani jokingly said. "But the stats he has put up this season are incredible. He throws a great ball and it us usually right where it supposed to be."
"His numbers are not only a credit to how great of a quarterback he is, but to how great of a team we have," he added. "He'll be the first one to step up and say how great his receivers and running backs are and what his offensive line has done for him this season. He is a great leader and is pretty unselfish when it comes to our football team."
"Gary has thrown 33 touchdowns for a reason," Tchida added. "He always seems to make the right throw and the fact that he has only thrown four interceptions this year pretty much says it all. He has had a great season and he is a great athlete. But we do make him look pretty good."
Like a true quarterback, Wagner wants to praise everyone around him, starting with his offensive line, then his receivers and backs. He understands that his success is dependent on great coaching, great teammates and great timing. But in the end, he still has to throw the ball and no one else can do it for him. While he does have a confidence that borders on cockiness, it's an attitude that all great QBs must have. Yet, he still appreciates everything that has happened to him on the field, especially the fact that he gets to throw the ball to his two best friends every day.
"Those two are like my brothers and I truly believe in my heart that they are the two best receivers in the state," Wagner said of Mariani and Tchida. "They do make me look pretty good because sometimes I am just hoping to get eight yards on a slant route and they take it to the house for 80 yards. They both have great hands and they are both big play guys. It has been so much fun to play football with those two all of my life."
But Wagner didn't just walk onto the field and starting throwing touchdowns. It has been a progression.
"I worked a lot harder this summer in the weight room and on my quarterback skills," he said. "Coach Purcell took the time to show me a lot and I have learned so much from him. All of that work is paying off now. But everyone worked hard this year because we knew that if we did, we could do the things we're doing now."
Both Mariani and Tchida had the same type of commitment.
"Winning a state championship was my motivation this past summer," Mariani said. "I wanted to get back here so bad that I knew I had to put a lot of time in. I also wanted to make sure I would be able to back up what I did last season so people wouldn't say it was a fluke. I wanted to make sure that I would be at my best this season so that I could help our team achieve all of our goals that we have worked so hard for."
Said Tchida: "I definitely went into this year with something to prove because some people doubted that I could be a good receiver. But the main goal was to win a state championship. Everyone worked hard and everyone put in the time. The whole team deserves what is happening to us right now."
It is strange because this threesome agrees an almost everything. They understand destiny and how important this occasion is for their school and their community. Most of all, they believe in four little letters that spell the word t-e-a-m, whether it's Wagner constantly praising his offensive line, Mariani thanking the coaches or Tchida lauding the play of his other teammates.
About the only thing they won't agree on is: Who is the fastest?
"I am definitely the fastest and they know it," Wagner said. "I ran a 4.5 at football camp and they both ran 4.55. They just get to show off their speed more because they run in the open field."
"I am definitely faster than both of them," Tchida added. "We have raced plenty of times and I beat them both."
Said Mariani: "I think I am definitely the fastest out of the three of us. It is no contest in a race."
Finally, something they don't see eye-to-eye on. Maybe they are normal teenagers after all. Regardless of who is faster than whom, if they and their teammates are fast enough on Saturday, then maybe all their dreams will finally come true.