MIDDLETON — There was once a time when Gaard Memmelaar couldn’t play football.
The Middleton High School offensive lineman was too big. Opposing defenses are probably wishing that were still the case. The 6-foot-5, 297-pound senior hasn’t allowed a sack this season — or ever during his high school career.
The University of Washington commit has Middleton on the verge of qualifying for its sixth straight postseason appearance. Memmelaar and the Vikings (4-2 overall, 3-2 4A Southern Idaho Conference) look to move one step closer to doing just that when they host No. 2 Nampa (5-1, 4-1) at 7 p.m. Friday in 4A SIC play.
“He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever met and he works for everything that he has,” senior linebacker Jake Beitia said. “That’s what I think people kind of misconstrue about him. He’s so talented that they think, ‘Oh, he doesn’t work hard or anything like that.’ But those people are wrong. It’s the opposite of that. He has to work twice as hard. And that’s why Gaard has gone so far.”
Memmelaar, 17, was already about 6-foot and 180 pounds by the fourth grade. So he exceeded Nampa Optimist Football’s weight limit by 20 pounds.
He inherited the size from his dad’s side, especially from his great uncle, Dale Memmelaar — a guard and a tackle in the NFL for nine seasons (1959-67). Dale played for six teams, including the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Colts, where he blocked for the likes of Pro Football Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Johnny Unitas.
“I remember that name,” Middleton coach Bill Brock said during an interview. “I didn’t even put that together.”
So Gaard Memmelaar had to play soccer instead.
“It was tough because I hated soccer,” Memmelaar said while laughing.
But Memmelaar kept himself involved with football in other ways. When he wasn’t throwing hay or building fences at his aunt’s 120-acre ranch in North Powder, Oregon, Memmelaar was doing the ladder drill by taping it out on the hardwood floor and flipping tires at his family’s farm. He also played a lot of one-handed catch with his father Matt and personally worked out at East Valley Middle School in Nampa.
Brock is a teacher at Middleton Middle School, so Memmelaar quickly got his attention.
When Memmelaar was in sixth grade, Brock invited him to work out in Middleton’s weight room with the varsity team. Not by coincidence, the College of Idaho football team was there at the same time during its zero year in 2013. Memmelaar was doing movement and overhead squats when Brock leaned over to one of the C of I assistant coaches.
“I said ‘Look at that kid over there. That’s a pretty good looking young kid,’” Brock said. “He said ‘That’s a great looking freshman.’ I go ‘He’s a sixth grader.’ He says, ‘That’s a D1 kid’ and I said ‘Exactly.’
“We knew a long time ago.”
Memmelaar finally played tackle football in the seventh and eighth grades before joining Brock’s program as a freshman. Brock said Memmelaar was “physically ready” to play on varsity. But with him being only 13 at the time, Brock made the decision to keep him on the freshman team.
But there was no keeping him off varsity the following year.
Despite starting in every offensive snap at left tackle for the Vikings and never allowing a single sack in more than 300 pass attempts, which helped Darin Post pass for more than 3,000 yards and 35 touchdowns, Memmelaar, surprisingly, didn’t make any of the three All-SIC teams that season. But college scouts and coaches didn’t care once the tape on him was out.
Memmelaar attended LSU’s spring game in 2018. He was scheduled to make trips to Boise State, Washington State, Utah and Utah State later that summer, but another school, one whose coach he had closely followed over the years being a hometown kid, gave him his first official offer.
University of Washington and former Boise State coach Chris Petersen signed off on offering him the first scholarship of his 2020 recruitment class. It came after he saw Memmelaar earn MVP honors at their Dirt Dawg Camp — a camp for offensive and defensive linemen. Kaleb McGary, a first-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons this year, was his tour guide. A week later, another former Boise State coach, offensive line coach Scott Huff, called him up with the offer.
Memmelaar accepted right away on June 13, 2018.
He’s the most high-profiled player for Brock since Kory Hall, a Super Bowl winner with the Green Bay Packers, played for him at Glenns Ferry.
“To put it in Coach Huff’s words, ‘There’s only so many truly amazing people that walk the face of the Earth, and there happens to be one in Middleton,’” Brock said. “He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever coached. It’s not just the physical capability, but the mental makeup and the character. He’s the whole package.”
The rest of the league and the country, for that matter, took notice.
Memmelaar was a shoe-in All-SIC first-team selection at offensive line last season. 247Sports has him listed as a three-star prospect and the No. 1 recruit in Idaho. The site also has Memmelaar as the fourth-ranked guard — even though he plays left tackle — on the West Coast, and the 38th overall.
“It’s still kind of a shock because I never would have expected that,” Memmelaar said. “I didn’t think I was that good. I didn’t think I had that talent, so it’s just really humbling.”
He is graduating in December so he can enroll early at Washington. Memmelaar took three online classes over the summer just to be able to do that. He will begin college classes in January and be with the Huskies during spring ball.
“That’s what people don’t see,” Brock said. “They just see a big kid. They don’t see how focused he is and how driven he is. That’s what separates him from everyone else.”
But before he leaves, Memmelaar wants to deliver Middleton the first state championship in program history. With a pancake block on “every other play,” he has the Vikings, who have played in two state championship, four semifinals and seven quarterfinal games since 2011, right in the thick of things again this season.
“We should probably keep track of that stat (pancake blocks),” Brock said while laughing. “I’d be curious to know how many he really has.”
There’s even been talk of Memmelaar getting more involved with the offense.
“Gaard probably has some of the best hands on our team,” Brock said. “There’s always banter going back and forth about the tackle reverse pass. Maybe one of these days.”
But until then, Memmelaar is more than happy with his role in the 4A classification’s top offense at 46.2 points per game after hanging 80 points against Ridgevue last week. The 80 points are the second-most points a team has scored in a single game in Idaho this season. Prairie has the most in its 88-6 win over Genesee on Sept. 27.
The Vikings’ only hiccups are a pair of single-digit road losses to two of the top-3 teams in the state. Middleton fell 34-28 to No. 1 Kuna in its season opener. The Vikings then lost to Bishop Kelly 24-23 on Sept. 27 on a made point-after try with 35 seconds left.
So as long as Memmelaar is actually playing, they always have a chance.
“The only thing I ever wanted to do was play this game,” Memmelaar said. “So everything else that’s come with that has just been gravy.”