By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Although he’s a key player on one of the top high school football teams in New Jersey, Tyler Martino believes that his work in the classroom is far more important.
“I always think academics are far more important than football,” said Martino, a Harrison resident who plays football at St. Peter’s Prep. “I want to make a good living when I’m done playing football. I don’t have the size to play football for a long time. So academics have always come first and foremost. It’s the reason why I went to (St. Peter’s) Prep in the first place, to get a great education.”
Last week, Martino received the ultimate honor as a student/athlete. He was inducted into the National Honor Society, the lone member of the Prep grid team to become a member of the NHS.
“It means a lot to me,” Martino said. “Usually, people say that athletes don’t do well academically. But I’m proud to represent my team, my hometown. I’m the only one from Harrison in my class to go to Prep. It’s a great honor.”
Prep head football coach Rich Hansen had nothing but praise about his undersized senior running back.
“He’s a great kid who works very hard,” Hansen said of Martino. “He makes the most of his ability and is in there every day, grinding it out, making contributions. He definitely helps us be more competitive. He’s one of those players where height and weight don’t matter. It’s not a big distraction. I’ve had other smaller kids who played big roles.
Added Hansen: “Tyler has that competitive fire. He’s a tough minded kid. He’s the kind of kid who you have to find a place on the field for.”
Hansen was asked about Martino’s induction into the National Honor Society.
“That’s what this is all about,” Hansen said. “He has that ultimate balance, the combination of athletics and academics. Every single student is challenged when they come to Prep. It takes a lot of maturity and mental toughness. For him to achieve what he did academically is the pinnacle. It’s what it’s all about.”
Martino stands only 5-foot-2 and weighs only 150 pounds. But that is not a deterrent to him. He runs like the wind – and shows that speed during the indoor track season, running the 55-meter dash.
“When you’re not blessed with size, you have to go harder than most,” Martino said. “I have to give 100% every play. I spend a lot of time in the weight room, so I can have somewhat of an advantage. I get really low and run hard and fast, so teams have a tough time trying to handle me.”
Martino spoke of his academic commitment.
“I have a couple of advanced placement classes, so it’s tough to come home after practice at 8 p.m. and then do my schoolwork,” Martino said. “Once I learned how to manage my time, it got a lot easier.”
Martino is also civic minded.
“I want to give back to Harrison,” Martino said. “I like to go help at the Pop Warner program. I try to stay as close to my community as possible. I love Harrison. We have a really close knit community.”
Despite his size, Martino has been looked at by some colleges.
“I’m being recruited a little,” Martino said. “I think I’ll be able to play somewhere in college.”
Martino is looking at Lehigh, Lafayette, Monmouth and Fordham.
“We’ll see what happens,” Martino said. “I think I’ll get my chance to play.”
Martino said that he’s blessed to be on one of the state’s best football teams.
“It’s awesome,” Martino said. “It’s crazy how good this team has become. We’ve been together for four years and it’s like a brotherhood. We have a really good chance to win a state championship. Everyone is so talented. When you play football at Prep, people want to come up to you and talk to you. It’s a great honor to play for Prep and it’s always been a lot of fun.”
Martino said that he is looking into studying business or engineering in college.
Needless to say, Tyler Martino is enjoying things right now.
“I’m living the life,” Martino said. “It’s great.”