By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The high school football preseason wasn’t exactly going as planned for the Vikings of North Arlington High School. Just two weeks before the season opener, the Vikings’ premier player, senior Nick Martin, suffered a seriously sprained ankle that put his availability for the first game in serious jeopardy.
“I was very concerned,” North Arlington head coach Anthony Marck said. “It was a bad ankle sprain. When he went down, you could see he was in agony and Nick is never one to complain. It was our main concern. The swelling was pretty bad for a while. We didn’t have him do anything before the first game.”
Martin didn’t know what to think.
“I was really worried,” Martin said. “It was getting down close to the opening week and I couldn’t do anything with it. I didn’t want to have lingering issues with it. But it was tough.”
Martin went daily to receive treatment from local chiropractor Jim Sanfilippo, who was a standout athlete during his high school days at Kearny High.
“He got me through it,” Martin said of Sanfilippo. “He coached me through therapy to strengthen my ankle.”
Martin returned to action in time for the season opener against Elmwood Park, playing a new position. In order to get more opportunities for Martin to touch the ball, Marck decided to move Martin from tight end, where he played last year, to fullback.
“We needed to revamp our offense to become more of a downfield offense, so we put Nicky in the backfield,” Marck said. “He was going to be the lead blocker for our tailbacks while getting a few carries himself.”
However, after the loss to Elmwood Park, the Vikings found themselves in a bit of a quandary. The Vikings’ two top tailbacks, Mike Brazzel and Adrian Foote, both suffered injuries, leaving them unavailable to face Wallington in the second game.
“So we moved Nick to tailback,” Marck said. “We knew he could carry the load.”
How sure was Marck about the shift?
“I asked Nick if there was ever a point in the game where he didn’t want the ball, that he should let me know,” Marck said. “I said, `You know how much I trust you.’ He just said, `Put me at tail. I can do it.’ I told him that maybe he should also wear the headphones and call the plays.”
Martin didn’t know how well he would do as the featured back.
“I understood the responsibility, but not having experience at the position, I worried a bit,” Martin said.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Martin saw his fears disappear after his first carry of the game.
“The line did a great job and I went through the hole untouched to the end zone,” Martin said.
As it turned out, the makeshift tailback had the best rushing game in the history of the school. Martin carried the ball 26 times for an astounding 296 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Vikings to a 62-39 victory. Martin’s 296- yard performance set a new single game rushing record.
For his efforts, Martin has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the last week.
Martin also received the honor in November 2012.
Martin had no idea that he was just four yards shy of collecting 300 yards.
“I knew I was getting up there,” Martin said. “But I never thought 300 yards would be a number I could approach. When I realized I had five touchdowns, I knew it was an incredible night, because I never even had more than one touchdown in a game before. It was a completely different feeling, running with the ball. I really like being in the backfield. It’s easier for me to get the ball.”
Added Martin, “With the ball in my hands, I can do so much more. But to have a game like this? I couldn’t believe it.”
Marck said that Martin impressed a lot of people with his breakaway ability.
“People said to me that they didn’t know how fast Nick was,” Marck said. “But I see that burst every day. It’s just with the ankle and him being so big that people don’t think he can run. I didn’t believe he had as many yards as he had. I knew he was over 200, but I went back and watched the tape and it was legitimate. I wish I knew he was that close to 300, because I would have given him the chance to get the other four yards. It would have been nice.”
Martin was also honored as the Athlete of the Week by the Bergen Record, the first North Arlington football player to be recognized since Danny Sandowick, a current North Arlington police officer, was honored in 1982.
“It’s just fabulous,” Marck said. “Nick really sets the tone for everyone else. When other kids have a bump or a bruise, they might ask out for a play or so. But Nick played with that ankle and a bad hand and I think that, in itself, shows leadership. It’s a pleasure to have him.”
While Martin’s explosion might have drawn attention from college recruiters, Martin is actually considering not playing in college.
“I’m not too sure I want to play in college,” Martin said. “I’m leaning toward not playing. I think it might get in the way of my studies. I need sufficient time to keep my grades up and my academics always come first.”
Martin is an excellent student, with a 4.2 grade point average and a Scholastic Aptitude Test score of 1710. He is being sought after by the Ivy and Patriot League schools.
Martin didn’t just receive the Athlete of the Week honors.
“My coach said that he never gives out a game ball, but after the game, he said he had to,” Martin said. “Going into the game, I had no idea that would be the outcome.”
But now, Martin’s impromptu performance as a tailback has permanently placed him in the school record books forever – or until someone goes for 300 yards in one game.