■ Former Husky plays in Shrine Bowl, Legion baseball on back-to-back days
Aurora Cooperative Red first baseman Ryan Marlatt showed up to Mitchell Field Sunday a little worse for wear.
Sore and banged up from Saturday’s Shrine Bowl, the 2020 Aurora grad played all seven innings at first base anyway, helping the AC Red team to an 8-4 win and a 3-1 lead in the Aurora Legion COVID Series.
He played the entire game with a smile on his face, enjoying his final ride through high school athletics. Just 24 hours prior, Marlatt was playing in the nation’s first football game since the COVID-19 shutdown.
After a grueling day of football in typical mid-July summer heat, there was no question whether or not to play baseball the next day.
“I told coach (Bodie) Moeller that I’d be playing so I have to keep my word on that, but it will be tough,” Marlatt said through a tired grin under a shade tree at UNK’s Cope Stadium.
Just minutes before meeting his family on the northeast side of UNK’s field, Marlatt and his South teammates were celebrating a 30-6 Shrine Bowl victory over the North team and showing America how the game of football could look through a pandemic.
“The 90 of us guys that got to strap it up today -- that’s a pretty cool feeling,” Marlatt said.
The entire Shrine Bowl week was special for Marlatt, despite its differences from what’s considered to be “normal.” Even though there was no hospital trip this year, the meaning of the game still came through for him.
Getting to play one last high school football game with the state’s best athletes was humbling for Marlatt and he cherished the opportunity. “I knew some names of kids that were coming here,
“I knew some names of kids that were coming here, obviously my cousin (Tyler) and kids I played against, but there were a lot of unknowns,” Marlatt said. “I had no idea I’d even play center. Through the week, I contribute our success to how close we got together as a team.
“We grew together as a family and I made some lifelong friends this week,” he continued. “For my last football game, it’s one heck of a way to go out.”
Marlatt happened to be one of the only lineman selected to the game with any previous center and snapping experience. As he pointed out, even that wasn’t extensive.
As one of Aurora’s biggest bodies on the field, he was moved to different parts of the offensive line over the years, particularly offensive tackle in later years. He hadn’t even played center since his sophomore year.
Despite all of that, Marlatt was nearly flawless on every snap Saturday. While he admitted a few may have been “iffy” at times, not one skated across the turf or flew overhead in the backfield.
Couple that with the opportunity to wear the classic white Aurora helmet with a bevy of scratches on the front, it was all worth it.
“I love Aurora and representing Aurora means a lot to me,” Marlatt explained. “It was great to strap the helmet on one more time.”
One of several late additions to the Shrine Bowl roster had particular close ties to Marlatt. Ryan’s cousin, Tyler, joined the South team from Elmwood-Murdock.
On certain offensive series, the Marlatt duo lined up foot to foot from the center and guard spot, sometimes running a combo block upfield totaling upwards of 500 pounds.
If the Shrine Bowl game was any indication, the Marlatt family Thanksgiving game was full of contact and big hits. For Ryan, getting the chance to play alongside his cousin in an organized all-star football game is a lifetime memory.
“It’s great. I have a brother and two cousins and if we had been at the same school together, we would have had one heck of a line like back in the mid-80s with my old man and his brother,” Marlatt pointed out. “It was cool to have that reunion.”
Not only that, but the Marlatt appearance in the Shrine Bowl kickstarts a family tradition.
Ryan’s father, Rob, played in the Shrine Bowl game in 1986 as an Aurora grad. Rob’s brother, Randy, was a teammate on those Aurora teams and those two families came together Saturday to watch Ryan and Tyler join forces on the gridiron.
Playing in the Shrine Bowl game was a goal for Marlatt to have those similar experiences his father garnered 30-plus years ago.
“It’s really cool. It was definitely one of my biggest goals since the time I started playing football to play in this game,” Marlatt said. “It’s really cool to have that come to fruition.”
It hasn’t always been easy for Marlatt athletically. He’s battled through several injuries over the years and surely isn’t quite as limber as he once was.
On opening night of his senior season of football for the Huskies, Marlatt suffered what could have been a season-ending knee injury.
In hard-nosed fashion, Marlatt battled back and returned to the field for the final regular season game -- a Senior Night victory over Central City. After that, he played with the Huskies through a pair of playoff games before being bounced from the postseason.
In what’s almost become a rarity in recent months, Marlatt has the opportunity to experience several “lasts” of his high school life.
The Shrine Bowl game will be his final competitive football game. This abbreviated Legion baseball season will also be his last.
Despite that, he’s soaking up every minute of those experiences, because he knows more than anyone how easily it can be taken away.
“Coach (Ryan) Thompson said it best that we’re not guaranteed anything,” Marlatt noted. “You have to take each play like it’s your last. You really don’t know and that really hits home for me because of what I’ve went through.”
If Marlatt was sore Sunday, he did his best not to show it as he bounced around from his first base position, recording a flawless day with seven of seven putout chances.
At the plate, he was hit by a pitch, something he’s become awkwardly accustomed to. In three of the four games, he’s been hit with three fastballs. During 2019’s Legion season, Marlatt was hit by nine pitches in 21 games. Since 2018, Marlatt has been hit by 20 pitches.
Somehow, he smiles every time.
Pinnacle Bank White coach Jeremy Burgener noted that Marlatt struggled with the fact of missing baseball practice last week, but was proud to see how the weekend unfolded.
“We were excited to see him play in the Shrine Bowl,” Burgener said. “I wondered if he’d be sore today but he looked good and made some good defensive plays. He ran the bases well and got hit by a pitch, like he always does. He’s been hit by more pitches than anyone I’ve coached.”
Aurora Cooperative Red coach Bodie Moeller added that having Marlatt playing for him at first has helped them garner a 3-1 lead thus far in the COVID Series and was happy to see him play so well after suiting up for a football game the day before.
“Big Ry has done everything we’ve asked at first base,” Moeller said. “He’s bailed us out and I tip my hat to him today. He came in tired and sore but he fought the whole game.”
For Marlatt, it’s all in a day’s work. He’s having fun by displaying his big man speed on the basepaths while also enjoying his final football experience.
“I’m going to remember the people more than the game,” Marlatt said. “The O-line became brothers and the experiences we as a team had together. We came to understand why we were here and how it is much more than a game.”
Marlatt will attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the fall, studying actuarial science and joining the Nebraska Business Honors Academy.
‘I love Aurora and representing Aurora means a lot to me. It was great to strap the helmet on one more time.’