Posted: Jun 3, 2013 12:23 PM by Derek Buerkle - MTN Sports
MISSOULA - Marc Mariani became Montana's all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie kick returner in the NFL, but the act of simply stepping back on a practice field this past week might have topped all of his other accomplishments.
Mariani entered preseason play last August as the Tennessee Titans top return specialist, and in the running to see more time at wide receiver. But in their third preseason game, a teammate rolled onto his lower leg, breaking two bones and ending his season.
He made his triumphant return to the Titans just last week, practicing for the first time in over nine months.
"I hadn't pushed it that hard since August. So it made it through. I wouldn't say it was 100% or anything like that. But I got through. Like I said, I didn't think I was going to be here, so I'm jacked," Mariani said.
He admitted that after the gruesome injury, he had doubts he would ever play again. The first few months were brutal, not only for the pain and effort of rehab, but because of the season he was missing. And he struggles now to pace himself.
"It's been a roller coaster. I've had a lot of ups. I mean, like I said, but putting a helmet on and getting back out there has been huge. But there's also frustration, you know, not being able to do everything I want to do," Mariani told us.
Mariani was always a fan favorite in Missoula, and he's now become the same in Nashville. Titans supporters and players are rooting for the former walk-on from Havre.
"I think a lot of people really enjoy watching him play, or are a fan of his here in the city. And so to be able to see him come back and be doing so well, recover so well from a pretty brutal injury, it's encouraging. And you're happy for him. He's a good guy. He works hard. And you know, he deserves that opportunity," Titans quarterback Jake Locker observed.
"It's been hard to get to this point. But I'm excited to be here and optimistic about the future. And so I know there's work to be done. But I'm not worried about it. I'm going to push through. And I think hopefully before we know it I'll be back to where I was," Mariani told us.
Mariani's real work might begin now as he's facing a difficult battle to make the Tennessee roster. The Titans added more depth at wide receiver, and his replacement punt and kick returner did very well last season.