Robert Martin started out this football season facing some questions about how he’d fare at his new position at defensive end.
Now, the only question the Phillipsburg senior co-captain faces is where to line up on defense to cause the most havoc.
“Robert has been more than I thought he would be at defensive end,” Stateliner head coach Frank Duffy said. “We’re putting him in different positions based on our evaluation of other teams’ tackles to see what Robert can do and take advantage of any weakness opponents may have.”
Where Martin lines up is just one of the many challenges visiting Wayne Valley will have to face Friday night (7) when the No. 5-seeded Indians (8-2) visit top-seeded Phillipsburg (8-1) in a NJSIAA North 2 Group 4 semifinal.
“As the season has gone on, I have gotten so much more comfortable with what I am doing at defensive end,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound Lopatcong resident. “We watch a tremendous amount of film to see the matchups that stand out. If the coaches see guys they know I can beat they are going to match me up with them. They have the confidence in me let me go out and try and make plays. As the season has gone along, I have more confidence in myself and the coaches have more confidence in me.”
Duffy has confidence lining Martin up anywhere and everywhere on the field. He’s on most special teams units and plays tight end on offense.
The result is impressive statistical lines, like Martin’s in last week’s 62-26 defeat of Morris Hills in a G2 N4 quarterfinal -- 2 catches for 67 yards and 1 touchdown; a blocked punt; 2 sacks; 6 tackles.
“Robert had a great overall game,” Duffy said. “Offense, defense, special teams -- great all-around.”
Duffy puts a lot of stress on special teams and it shows.
“Special teams are just as important as any other part of the game,” Martin said. “They are not just another play; we kind of have fun on special teams and I love to fly around on special teams. We always emphasize special teams -- you can score on them and stop the other team from scoring. Special teams start with the first play of the game.”
Duffy loves to see just what Martin delivered on specials against Morris Hills -- a blocked punt,. The Stateliner coach believes his team will win almost every game in which they block a punt and history bears him out.
While the Stateliners were set to block a punt last week, it wasn’t really supposed to be Martin.
“After watching the film of their punter we designed a play for a block to happen; I was supposed to hold up blockers and other guys were to get through to block it. But I rushed and found my way to the punter.”
Martin said there’s a certain technique to blocking a punt even amid the chaos of the play.
“Special teams coach (Rich) Guman tells us to make a diamond with our hands when we get to the kicker’s foot.”
That little detail makes the difference between emphatically blocking the kick so it goes nowhere, or backwards, and just merely deflecting, perhaps the difference between a score and not a score.
It’s something to consider, though fans might wonder that a punt blocker might worry more about getting kicked in the face, or elsewhere, say.
“You don’t really think about it,” Martin said. “Your adrenaline is pumping and you are going 100 percent after the ball.”
Martin takes the same approach on every special teams unit.
“Special teams can change games and we have seen it happen, both in good ways and bad ways for us,” he said. “We want to make our special teams as explosive as possible. We take a tremendous amount of pride in special teams and we take it 110 percent. If we don’t, we’re going to get ripped by the coaches.”On offense, Martin has filled in well for the injured Ray Poremba.
“Before Ray went down I wasn’t much of a weapon in the passing game,” Martin said. “But think I have made a lot of progress at tight end. I like doing the blocking or whatever I can do for the team but the coaches asked me to take on more responsibility in the passing game.”
Duffy saw Martin was ready for the receiving work.
“Robert has been a very good blocker at tight end and we saw what he was capable of in the passing game,” Duffy said. “He runs good routes and gets off the line really well.”
Actually Martin has been subbing at spots on the interior line as well as needed as the Stateliners weather some injuries -- is there anything he can’t do?
“Robert has done as much as any player I have ever had as head coach,” Duffy said.
And wait, there’s more! The guy waving the ‘DIG” (the team motto) flag before home games in front of the student section?
“I have done before every home game,” Martin said. “The guys in the student section came up with the idea. It gets them pumped up and gets my adrenaline going.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.