The next time the power goes out in Phillipsburg, the electric company should just plug Robert Martin into the grid.
“Robert is a really high-energy kid,” said Stateliners football coach Frank Duffy of his senior tight end/defensive end and co-captain. “He plays with a lot of enthusiasm. He really brings a lot of juice to everything he does every single day.”
High energy levels come with Phillipsburg football players like onions on a cheesesteak -- a natural match. So for Duffy to use a superlative in speaking of a player’s intensity and high motor, Martin must be one live wire.
That turns out to be an understatement. Within, say, 30 seconds of starting a conversation with Martin the listener feels almost as excited about the Stateliners’ upcoming season that opens Sept. 6 at Warren Hills as Martin is. The player’s enthusiasm for his team, his school and his town is contagious.
“We’re part of a culture that will stay with us for the rest of our lives,” Martin said. “It’s a job. It’s not just football. We go out and have fun but we know we have eyes on us and everything we do reflects on our team and our school. We’re playing the greatest sport in the world in the greatest town in the world. Playing football is one of the toughest things you can do in Phillipsburg. It’s hard, but it builds you as a person. It builds everybody.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound Martin has been building up on the football field since he was in elementary school, first in the Lopatcong youth program and then with the Little Liners. Now, he’s reached the top for a Stateliner -- one of the captains and a two-way starter.
“Being elected a captain was something I hoped for, not something I was waiting for,” Martin said. “I wanted to be a leader whether I was captain or not but I was very excited to be elected. Being elected captain was one of the best things to happen to me in my life. It feels great that the guys have the confidence in me to lead.”
But with leadership comes responsibility.
“The players have confidence in me to do the right thing,” Martin said. “I know I can’t make mistakes or make a (bad example) of myself. I have to go out and have as much fun as I can. I have to make big plays, go crazy out there, keep everyone positive.”
If Martin is a role model, one reason why might be that he picked his well.
“As far as a role model on defense I’d say (2018 P’burg graduate) Mark Zgoda,” Martin said. “When he was on the field he did everything he could to make the team better.”
Duffy said that Martin is doing just what a Stateliners captain needs to.
“Robert is really well respected for his work ethic and the attitude he plays with,” Duffy said.
Martin, who also plays third base and outfield for the P’burg baseball team, is taking that attitude and work ethic to a new spot on defense. As a junior he played outside linebacker, but he is moving to defensive end this fall.
“It helps the team because we’re not as strong at defensive line as we are at linebacker,” Martin said. “Playing defensive end is a lot more physical than linebacker. I will have a lot of fun playing there.”
The challenge for Martin is to handle the demands of the new spot.
“Robert is tough and you have to be tough when you have your hand in the dirt every play,” Duffy said. “He’s very physical and he’s able to get off blocks. It isn’t that different than playing outside linebacker. The way we sell it is that we need to get our best players on the field.”
Martin welcomes the new challenge.
“I have to concentrate on my technique because I am a little undersized to play defensive end,” he said. “There are a lot of guys bigger than me to go up against. But the coaches are teaching me the right way to play and I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
Offensively, Martin offers lots of options.
“Robert can play tight end or wide receiver, like Ray Poremba does,” Duffy said. “He can give us what we need at tight end. He runs great routes. We can put him at guard if we had to. He’ll manage it.”
Martin said there’s a lot to take in on offense.
“I have to learn the playbook as much as possible and watch a lot of film,” he said. “I have to run all the correct routes, and I want to make the blocks that turn 30-yard runs into 70-yard touchdown runs.”
Speaking of touchdowns…
“I haven’t scored a varsity touchdown,” Martin said. “If I did it would be an awesome feeling and very exciting but if it makes more sense for others to score and the team is better off, that’s fine. I want to do everything I can to make the team better.”
That may be Martin’s main challenge. Phillipsburg lost a boatload of talent from last year’s 10-3 North 2 Group 4 sectional champions. The Stateliners have won 10 games in each of the last two seasons but that may be a tough streak to keep going. Martin and his teammates, though, aren’t worried about preseason perceptions.
“Coach Duffy says all the time to just ignore the noise,” Martin said. “That’s the 'I’ in our “DIG” philosophy. If we do our things and give 100 percent all the time, we’ll be fine. We’re not worried about what the media says. We have great seniors, good underclassmen; we know we can do it. We have to play hard every single play and go all out.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.