High schooler remains optimistic despite dwindling options

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Santa Ana high schooler struggles to realize his D1 football dreams.

Photo of high school football player Roman Marchetti in a photo story by Yannick Peterhans.

In the urban sprawl of eastern Santa Ana, a high schooler’s dreams wither away as he traverses a turbulent final season of sports, a recruitment process marred with disappointment and the prospect of college looming over his head.

Roman Marchetti is a senior at Foothill High School, where he boasts a 4.73 cumulative GPA and is a two-sport athlete on the football and lacrosse teams. Lacrosse is his offseason sport, where he sports a mullet and a cowboy hat to home and away games. In just six months, Marchetti played two of the biggest games of his life, a CIF lacrosse championship in June and a CIF football quarterfinal game in November. He now looks to play Division 1 football, but no one has returned his calls.

Division 1 (D1) college football is the highest level of football within the NCAA, and Marchetti has dreamt of playing at this level for as long as he can remember. He has played the game since he was eight, growing up with his teammates in Pop Warner football leagues. Marchetti described the end-of-season football banquet as his happiest moment in the last 12 months. “It was bittersweet…being with everyone again,” Marchetti said.

Photo of high school football player Roman Marchetti in a photo story by Yannick Peterhans.

“You can be the hardest working kid in the locker room, the hardest working kid in the classroom, and it still doesn’t happen. Because someone doesn’t see it on film and doesn’t see what your potential is,” recalled his dad, Mike Marchetti.

The father-son duo had worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing his training as football was no longer being played. The two would go to Foothill on Saturday mornings and work on extra agility and strength training.

Marchetti has now spent the last eight months attempting to correct the path the pandemic had sent his football prospects. Before the pandemic, Marchetti was a 6′1″, 165-pound, 15-year-old entering his sophomore year of high school. Now going into his final semester, the 17-year-old linebacker weighs 205 pounds at 6′2.”

Photo of high school football player Roman Marchetti in a photo story by Yannick Peterhans.

Over the summer, he attended a handful of football camps, trying to meet coaches, but did not gain the leverage he had hoped. He speaks of having a hard time getting them to notice his Twitter DMs and emails, predicting this was due to the D1 coaches, both the most skilled and highest-paid football coaches on the college level, not knowing who he was.

“Recruiting, it was pretty frustrating and slow. Covid, it was hard, it interfered sophomore and junior year, that gap. It was then hard reaching out to coaches, getting film to them because that’s what you need. You need to show them your highlights,” Marchetti said in an interview at his kitchen table.

The senior now sits with one acceptance letter from the University of Iowa and is waiting to hear back from the half dozen other universities where he applied. He plans to walk on wherever he ends up going, an extremely difficult process at any D1 program. Walk-ons do not receive scholarships, and for a program like USC, fill in the remaining 39 spots on the team after the 85 allotted scholarships are handed out.

Photo of high school football player Roman Marchetti in a photo story by Yannick Peterhans.

His mother, Kajsa Marchetti, spoke hesitantly on the prospect of college ball.

“Part of me doesn’t want him to play beyond high school because football scares the crap out of me. The injuries, the head trauma, all that scares the crap out of me. But then I know, I know how much he loves the game. He’s loved it since he was eight years old,” his mother says.

The injuries are something Mr. Marchetti is equally familiar with. Having also played football at Foothill, he now coaches his son as an assistant coach. Before the season started, he asked his cousin, a linebacker coach at the University of Utah, what his son needs to do to get noticed by D1 coaches.

“He needs to split heads open. He needs to absolutely destroy guys,” Marchetti’s first cousin advised.

It’s unclear if this advice was directly relayed to Marchetti, but the senior seemingly took the sentiment and ran with it. In his senior season, he collected 150 tackles and was awarded the defensive player of the year. Marchetti’s dominance on the defense helped elevate the program from Orange County obscurity to prominence.

Photo of high school football player Roman Marchetti in a photo story by Yannick Peterhans.

“We’ve never been a powerhouse,” fellow teammate and captain Paddy Hawkins said in an interview conducted in his Santa Ana home. But beginning in their sophomore year, the team went 11-1 in Division 9 play. In their senior year, the team went 10-2 in Division 3 play, losing in the CIF quarterfinal playoff game to Junipero Serra High School. In the fall, Hawkins will be attending the University of Pennsylvania on a football scholarship.

Now excited, nervous and eager about the next chapter of his life, the seemingly ever-optimistic Marchetti says he looks forward regardless of scholarships or recruiting opportunities. Playing D1 football continues to be a major motivator in his life, and walking onto a team remains his only option.

Photo of high school football player Roman Marchetti in a photo story by Yannick Peterhans.

“Effort and attitude,” Marchetti emphasized. “Put forth your best effort and have a good attitude about it. That’s all you can really ask for yourself.”

Now mullet-less and cowboy hat in hand, Marchetti enters the final months of high school with that sentiment. He said he hopes to study kinesiology and work as an athletic trainer, helping athletes on the collegiate and professional levels on the biggest games of their life.