As pre-game rituals go, Rancho Verde High School's (Moreno Valley, CA) Eric Martin has his own style
If it's a home game the middle linebacker will walk to the middle of the field where the opponent is practicing and "mingle", if you want to call it that. If it's an away-game, Martin is even a little more brash as he walks to the opponent's sideline and starts talking to the opposing head coach. Following that Martin says that he likes to give the enemy a noticeable but silent statement as to just what's in store for them that evening. "I maddog them. I just walk down the sideline and just stare at them and maybe talk if they start talking to me," Martin said.
The irony comes when the actual game starts.
Sure, Martin is about as intense as you'll see, but even he admits he can't help but smile and laugh throughout the contest, because this is what he truly loves to be. "Yeah, I'm intense, but this is football, and I am just having fun out there," he said. "I'm just trying to make sure it's not that fun for the other guy."
Martin proved that his junior year, amassing approximately 120 tackles and nine sacks through the first 10 games of the season. But again, Martin would tell you that this number doesn't reflect the number of hits.
Not even close, in fact.
"I hit everyone on every play. I don't care if they have the ball or not," Martin said with a laugh. "I play the middle and that's my area. If you come in there, you could end up on a highlight film."
His highlight film, actually.
A person that prides themselves on not just hitting people, but destroying them, Martin talks about hitting opponents as part art, part ferocity. There's a science to it, perhaps, but Eric is a little more down-to-earth about just why he approaches the game the way he does. "If you come across the middle and end up losing your helmet, you'll think twice about coming across again," he said. "I want them all to focus on me, because that means they aren't thinking about what they should be doing."
The focus on him is the easy part, but that goes for his own team as well as the opponent. His zeal for the game often has his own team rejoicing, but sometimes has his own coaches cringing when his unit gets on the field. "They call me "headache" sometimes," Martin said chuckling referring to some of the colorful names he's been given by his own coaches. "I mean, I am going to hit someone whether they have the ball or not. Sometimes that gets me flagged."
It's a style which if you read his comments, you are thinking that Martin is a loose cannon, out of control and not thinking about what he should be doing. But that's where Martin would show you you're wrong, because he's just as technical about his job as he is fanatical in regard to the style in which it's executed. "I practice drills on staying low, because if you get a bigger tight end, that doesn't mean anything to me, because they play high and I don't," he said. "Besides, the bigger they are the harder they are going to fall.
"And we always work on the three "R"s, which is Read, Recognize and React," he continued. "You can play crazy, but you still have to know where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to do, because you can't do the team much good if you are over here and the play is across the field."
At just under 6-2, weighing close to 225 pounds, Martin is feeling more like a middle linebacker than he ever has. He's still got the same speed, which is estimated to be in the 4.5 to 4.6-range. But when he hits now, it has more impact, literally and even mentally. "Our running back is just a little guy, maybe 5-9 and 180 pounds, and we are in Spring ball and he hates getting hit by me now," Martin said. "I mean, he didn't like it before, but I'm hitting harder than ever. You aren't going to want to get hit by me."
It's not often you are going to combine the responsibility of being the quarterback of the defense with this half-crazed mentality that tells you to slaughter everything in sight. But Martin does, and one of the byproducts to that melding of mind-sets is the attention he's received. First came an offer from the Huskers. Then one from Arizona. And the attention continues to pour in.
Martin likes the attention, of course, but he summarizes his favorites or what it takes to be one of his favorites, simply. "If you are interested in me, you are one of my favorites," he said. "If I have offers from those schools, I'm liking them. I don't know a lot about Nebraska, but I know they got a tradition there, and I know what their head coach (Bo Pelini) did at LSU."
Pelini's style or his defensive style, that is, is basically a strategy to get to the quarterback and disrupt what the offense is doing before it can really even begin. That means blitzing, and often, that means linebackers blitzing, which is something that brings a smile to Martin's face. "We got a center, he's about 6-5, 290 or something like that, and he can't stand blocking me," Martin said. "He can get off the ball pretty quick, but he can't stop me. I think he's gotten me a couple of times, but I usually get around him. It's about skills, and I got those for sure."
The confidence Martin has in himself and his game is obvious. He's sometimes as brash as he is brutal out there on the field. But all the while, just when you think that this is a crazed dog who only gets satisfaction out of your torment as the opposition, you get a look at Martin's face during the game. "I'm always laughing. I am always having fun out there. If it ‘s not fun, don't do it," he said. "I'm intense, but I have more fun than anyone out there.
When it comes to the recruiting side, Martin has no plans for unofficial visits, and doesn't list any teams as any favorite, whether it's the ones showing him interest or the teams he grew up watching. It's about what fits him best and also, and perhaps surprisingly, which school has the best program for the occupation which he plans on taking up after college is done.
"I want to go to a school that teaches culinary arts. I love to cook," he said. "I can't cook like my mom, but nobody cooks like their mom. But that's what I want to take, so I'll be looking at schools which offer that."
There has to be some irony there, but we'll leave it to you, the reader, to figure out just what that is. As for Martin, he isn't trying to figure anything out right now. He's working out three days a week, thinking about the future and even when it comes to visits and his ultimate decision, he says time is definitely on his side. "I will probably take my visits after the season, because the last thing I want to do is visit a school after I am all banged up from a game," he said. "And this is my last year of high school and I want to make this my best year of football yet. Recruiting can wait until that's done."
Asked if Martin plans on adjusting his style any this up-coming season if only to lessen the penalties, with a quick laugh he just says "That's not me. That's not the way I play. It's all-out-nuts, but smart," he said. "I play to the edge and sometimes beyond, but I know how to make plays. You have to be able to make plays.
"I can do that. I can definitely do that."