Finding his stride: Senior reflects on football career

Luke Wienecke, Sports Editor

It all starts with the same field: 120 yards long, endzone to endzone, and 160 feet wide, from sideline to sideline. Grass, sometimes freshly trimmed and sometimes, a little thicker. Between the goal lines lies a swath of territory to be won, first downs to be gained, 3rd and longs to be stopped, quarterback sweeps to be swung out towards the strong side. Here, on a field, lies both endless opportunity, and endless possibilities. This never changes. But what happens right around this blank canvas, does. 

From a young age, senior Luke Tarman has played quarterback. Starting in third grade, his dad, Ben, who was his little league coach, always pushed him towards that position. And with Tarman’s natural speed, he ran circles around defenses from the start. Hailing from a true football family, Ben Tarman was a successful running back at Deer Creek and Luke’s younger brother Paul was a key part of the receivers corps before fracturing his ankle earlier this season.

Moving on from little league and into the 7th and 8th grade Irish football program, Tarman continued to dominate. His offensive coordinator in middle school always said that football was a game of reading butts, meaning that reading blockers and judging the angles of pursuing defenders was most vital to any ball carrier. And Tarman, sometimes high stepping to let his blocking fully develop, started to bring that saying to life.

 “The ball carrying is just so natural for him. That’s one of the most impressive things,” Quarterback coach and now offensive coordinator Ryan Stringer said. “It’s one of those things you can’t coach, but he’s had it since middle school.” 

By the end of his junior Irish career, Tarman, with his robust box score and winning pedigree, had former Head Coach Justin Jones and his staff officially on notice.

Transitioning from Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton to high school, Tarman began to work out with the team in the spring of his eighth grade year. As his freshman year approached, it was obvious that the 2017 varsity team was stacked. Having met Carl Albert in the 5A championship in 2016, returning quarterback Brennan Mullins and now Oklahoma State running back Dominic Richardson had the offense firing on all cylinders. Defensively, the Jones led unit was stout, and they were poised for another state run. Meanwhile, Tarman was leading the freshman team to an unprecedented season, going 10-0 and knocking off rival Carl Albert in the final game. 

After developing chemistry with freshman receivers Carter Stone and Cole Limber, the quarterback began to shift into a more balanced playmaker. But when the freshman season ended,  plenty of football was left to be played, and the coaching staff began to use the freshman’s skill wherever they could. Tarman became a key part of the playoff journey, getting plugged in at cornerback, safety, slot receiver, and returner.

“I was a backup for all those positions. It was honestly so much fun,” Tarman said.

If his freshman year was the most fun he had on the football field, his sophomore year had to be the least. Tarman, who was engaged in a position battle with Evan Ille, was told just one week before the opener that he would be starting. It was far from the perfect debut. Though the matchup was against 6A Del City, the performance was undoubtedly ugly, with the visiting Irish suffering an almost 40-point defeat. In what may have been the first major let down of his career, Tarman admitted that he was embarrassed the next week at school. To add to the stress, the coaching staff, now led by Coach Bryan Pierce, had been particularly hard on him. 

“There was a lot more pressure. Everything was in transition after Jones left, and Nic Nic (Dominic Richardson) was battling back from injury,” Stringer said. “There was a lot working against us that year.”

Tarman was no longer the freshman with nothing to lose, but instead the leader of an offense with high expectations. Amid this mounting pressure and criticism of his throwing ability, Tarman even contemplated walking away.

“I wanted to quit at times sophomore year,” Tarman said. “It was so frustrating, a really tough season.”

The rest of the year saw Tarman sharing his time at quarterback with Ille, which seemed to prevent the offense from developing any rhythm that didn’t just involve ground and pound from star running back Richardson. The season ended in a second round defeat at the hands of rival Bishop Kelley, and the future of the program was no longer clear.

2019 was a different story. As the team eased into the season, after achieving major developments in the offseason, strategies, roles, and positioning fell into place. Tarman was the quarterback. His arm and throwing vision had improved, and Ille had found his spot at inside linebacker (eventually achieving All-State at that position). 

“His throwing ability has improved quite a bit, and his reads. He sees it way better than he did sophomore year,” senior captain Adam Wheeler said. 

Tarman’s friend and former teammate Brynden Walker emerged as perhaps the best player and certainly the most coveted by colleges, spending time wreaking havoc from defensive end while also displaying key blocking and carrying at McGuinness’s tight end/fullback position. As D-1 offers for Walker rolled in, so did the wins. Tarman began to establish himself as the true second offensive option for the team as Richardson drew most of the opposing defensive focus. The bread and butter of the offensive attack was evident: the read option. Tarman would get the snap out of the shotgun and then would read edge defenders before making the decision to hand Richardson the ball, or fake the movement and tuck it and run himself. 

“When you put the ball in those two guys hands, you know 40 to 50 times, they’re gonna make enough plays to win the game and keep the defense honest, where they couldn’t overplay,” Stringer said.

With a streamlined offense, the Irish returned to their former glory, plowing their way through the playoffs before, for the third time in four years, suffering defeat at the hands of Carl Albert in the ever-elusive state championship game. 

Now, it is Tarman’s turn. In his senior year, he is the clear first option for the Irish. Putting up big numbers so far this year, the Irish are 3-1, even defeating two 6A teams, despite the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. 

 But lest you think Tarman’s natural athleticism has been the main catalyst for his success this year, his work ethic might even be more impressive than that raw elusiveness and strong arm. 

“He’s one of the hardest working kids we’ve ever had,” Stringer said. 

Interestingly enough, the long months of quarantine provided a rare opportunity for Tarman. His daily schedule completely revolved around strength and conditioning. He would wake up, eat four to six pieces of peanut butter toast, then head for the gym where he lifted for two hours before returning home to protein shakes, and any other food he could stuff down. Then came the running. After his snack he would simply jog around his neighborhood with no particular measurement on his mind, just jogging. After that, a little break. He would do some homework and then head out for more running. Tarman would meet his cousin at a public track, where they did have a set goal in mind for the trek: run until you puke. Later in the evening, he’d hit the gym again to supplement his lifting, and stretch out so he could do the same thing the next day. All of this discipline and commitment, gave way to serious results, with him adding 25 pounds of muscle over the five month spring break.

“His work ethic is unmatched,” starting receiver senior Cole Limber said.

The team’s focus this year, even after graduating four D-1 players, is to win the state championship, but Tarman also has sights set on the future. His goal? To get as many Division I offers as he can possibly muster. 

That field remains the same size: 120 yards long, 160 feet wide. That canvas of possibility, of blood and sweat, of hard work come to fruition, has not gotten larger. But what happens around the field has, and it may just be what reflects this quarterback’s goals. In little league, he played in front of dozens, lawn chairs pitched on the thick grass, his dad coaching from the sideline. In junior high, the stadium grew, and though it was mostly empty, it’s possible that a hundred people or so watched him play. Under the Friday night lights, his audience multiplied, and in big games stretched well up into the hundreds. Next year, though that field will stay the same, he hopes to play in front of thousands.