When Matt Barna snaps the football for Phillipsburg this fall, he has every confidence good things will happen immediately afterwards.
“I am really excited to play with (senior quarterback) Matt Garatty,” Barna said. “He has a great arm and great feet. He can take over the team on the field and off the field. He’s very smart, very quick feet, and I know he will make a lot of plays for us.”
Garatty will make his first varsity start for the Stateliners Friday night when Phillipsburg travels to Stewart Field in Raritan Township to take on old rival Hunterdon Central in a Big Central Conference Division 4 game (7 p.m.) in the season opener for both teams.
Any Phillipsburg quarterback, by definition one of the leaders of one of the state’s most legendary football programs, immediately becomes the center of attention of one of the region’s most enthusiastic and dedicated fan bases, and the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Garatty is no exception.
Ask Stateliner head coach Frank Duffy for keys to a successful season for his team, and Garatty comes to mind quickly.
“(We need) leadership from our quarterback position,” Duffy said.
Garatty, one of the four P’burg co-captains, stands ready to step in.
“I’ve pretty much played quarterback my whole life,” Garatty said.
Well, not quite his whole life.
“I played tight end in first grade; I was really young, and we had an older bunch of quarterbacks,” he said. “But by the second year of flag football, I was playing quarterback.”
Garatty, like several recent Stateliner quarterbacks, grew up playing football in Lopatcong for the Panthers.
“I had a lot of good youth coaches.” he said. “We had a great program, but sometimes our line struggled with blocking and we needed a quarterback who can make plays and keep plays alive, and I got in the habit of doing that kind of thing. You learn to trust the process and let the plays come to you.”
While watching football growing up, Garatty developed special respect for two high-achieving but very different quarterbacks.
“My two favorites were Tim Tebow and Matt Ryan,” Garatty said. “I liked Ryan because he got known for fourth quarter comebacks; they called him ‘Matty Ice’. He’s a quarterback the other guys trust at the end of the game. My dad and I loved Tebow, a great athlete on and off the field, we liked that he played baseball too. I liked that he was such a nice guy, a good leader, and how hard-working he was.”
Duffy, meanwhile, likes to compare Garatty to two fellows you may have heard from.
“Matt’s a playmaker; like a Brett Favre, a Pat Mahomes, he can make things happen with his feet,” his coach.
Garatty started on the freshman team at quarterback, rotated with Ben Reis as a sophomore on JV, and led the junior varsity as a junior with Reis in command of the varsity.
But Garatty managed to get varsity time anyway -- at an unusual spot for an erstwhile quarterback on special teams. Quarterbacks are often holders; they can also be punters, sometimes and occasionally even kickers.
Garatty was none of those.
“I was the varsity long-snapper,” he said. “I had done it on the freshman team. Then one practice as a sophomore I long-snapped and that turned out pretty well. I always want to do whatever is best for the team.”
The highlight of 2019, though, for Garatty came on junior varsity.
“We lost two JV games but we did beat Easton,” he said. “Our team played really well -- it was our best game all-around.”
Stepping up to varsity is, of course, a whole different level, but Garatty sounds ready; he has that assurance in his voice that makes believers out of people he talks with.
“The coaches feel comfortable with me from a leadership standpoint and having a positive attitude toward everything,” Garatty said. “Coming into my senior year, I knew I wanted to put on more muscle and work on putting some weight.” And, indeed, he did get about 15 pounds or so bigger.
Speaking of coaches, Garatty said he’s getting worked by one of the best.
“(Stateliner QB coach) Rich Price definitely does not let me get lazy,” he said. “He’s very strict.”
Talking with Phillipsburg players about Garatty, they all mention how his mobility can be a game-changer.
“You stick with the play but if it doesn’t work, you don’t get down,” Garatty said. “I want to let the game come to me, and I trust the calls. I feel confident I can run if I have to and do something good with the football.”
Just like football has been something good for Garatty.
“I felt really honored to be picked as a captain,” he said. “I hope I can live up to all the expectations of the players, coaches, and staff in being a leader. Having success will come down to who you are, doing your job, coming together with your team, and who wants it more on every play.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.