EATONTON -- Putnam County was merely rolling along on a rough 2-8 season back in 2008.
A freshman running back saw that his position was pretty much open, so he started working harder, putting to use the advice from some of his football alumni relatives.
Marteze Waller entered the starting lineup for the War Eagles back in the middle of his freshman season, and he never left.
More than 6,000 yards and nearly 60 touchdowns later, Waller is The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia GHSA Football Player of the Year.
Waller ended his career at Putnam County with 6,260 yards, good for 13th on the state’s all-time list, and 123 yards ahead of Herschel Walker.
“I can’t do it without the team, man,” Waller said. “Can’t do it without the team and coaches.”
And he cited six reasons for his career, Putnam County’s offensive linemen and tight end: Damion Wright, Miguel Romero, Tyree Clemons, Trey White, Darrell Farley and Robert Adams.
Waller ran for 2,180 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior, averaging 8.8 yards a carry and a touchdown every 10.8 times he carried the ball.
He hammered Dublin for 249 yards and three touchdowns in the second game, and he mauled Pike County’s defense for 308 yards and two scores. Waller had five touchdowns against Crawford County, and then he rolled through Jefferson County for 320 yards and three scores in the first round of the playoffs, a 49-26 loss.
Not bad for somebody who wasn’t sure if football was his sport and then saw a door open his freshman season with the War Eagles looking for running backs.
“I worked hard enough,” Waller said. “When I first started out, we had a lot of backs. But my coach said, ‘We have no starters, you have to work for it.’ ”
Head coach Ben Reaves saw the potential when Waller was in middle school and paid his dues on junior varsity.
“You could tell he was a step or two ahead of the curve a little bit,” Reaves said of Waller’s middle school days. “We brought him up to high school and put him in situations, let him run scout team, and he’d get hit, and would respond very positively, never said a word. He’d go right back at it.
“Any time you have a kid like that who’s young and doesn’t back down, you know you’ve got someone who can do some good things.”
Waller’s development went hand in hand with progress for the program.
Putnam County improved to 8-3 in 2009, 9-3 in 2010 and 8-3 in 2011. That’s the highest three-year win total at Putnam County since the War Eagles went 26-12 from 1995-97 and highest three-year percentage since a 29-5 stretch from 1971-73.
The 5-foot-11, 203-pounder wasn’t sure in middle school he’d have a football career, but that changed soon enough. He also played baseball -- catcher -- through his junior year, but he will run track this spring instead.
He wants to add speed to his power.
“I can run over you,” Waller said. “I’ll run over you first.”
That goes along with what Waller thinks the scouting report on him is: “He runs hard.”
Perhaps Waller’s success was inevitable, thanks to his genes. He broke uncle Dwayne Mathis’ single-season rushing record at Putnam County last year.
And one team that had success against him was Northeast, coached by Waller’s cousin, Bruce Mullen, a standout player in his high school days. The Raiders held Waller to 73 yards and no touchdowns on 25 carries this season. Morgan County was the only other defense to hold him below 138 yards in 2011, with Waller managing 63 yards on 16 carries.
Waller will play Friday in the North-South All-Star Game in Columbus, a chance for him to show that maybe he can improve on his 4.5 speed, as well as take on defenders from bigger schools like Peachtree Ridge, Southwest DeKalb, Grayson and North Gwinnett.
Waller is still waiting for his future clear up, which will happen when he gets his next ACT score.
He said Georgia Tech remains interested, as is Mississippi State, Indiana and Georgia Southern.
Waller expects to get that score in a few weeks. Until then, it’s hard to say how interested some schools are, and he’s getting pretty anxious.
“All I want for Christmas is that score,” Waller said with a laugh. “That’s all I want. That’s all I think about.”