By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Nick Martin was younger, he didn’t have to look far to find the inspiration needed to become a top-flight high school football player. The current North Arlington High School standout junior tight end/linebacker was fortunate enough to come from a family of gridiron greats. Nick’s older brother, Glenn, was a fine center and linebacker during his playing days with the Vikings six years ago. Their cousin, Ryan Kenny, was a fine quarterback who was a teammate of Glenn Martin.
“Growing up, Glenn and I were six years apart, so it was easy for me to look up to him,” Nick Martin said. “I saw him as a big-time North Arlington football player and when I saw how good of a player he became, I wanted to be as good as him. Glenn definitely pushed me. I went to all of his games throughout high school and he was a great inspiration.”
North Arlington head football coach Anthony Marck coached both players.
“Glenn was one of the top five or six players I ever coached,” Marck said. “Because Glenn is a little older, he took on the tutor role. Glenn absolutely loved the game of football and I think that definitely carried over to Nick.”
A year ago, Nick Martin earned his spot on the Vikings’ roster as a sophomore, but he thought he could become a much better player.
“I knew I wasn’t the biggest threat out there,” Martin said. “I wasn’t as big as the others and I didn’t have experience. There was a tremendous leap from JV (junior varsity) to varsity. I just didn’t see myself as a threat.”
So Nick received some private tutoring from the best teacher he could find.
“Glenn knows so much that he’s like an assistant coach,” Nick Martin said. “When Coach Marck gives me a game film, Glenn and I break it down together. We watch films together every Thursday night. It helps me a lot, especially on the defensive side. We both have experience at middle linebacker, so he tells me what to watch and what to look for.”
Apparently, the football lessons learned at home have been a tremendous assistance to Nick Martin, who is enjoying a spectacular junior year for the Vikings.
As a tight end, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Martin has caught 34 passes from talented quarterback A.J. Nocciolo, good for 550 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively, Martin is the team’s leading tackler with 43 tackles. He’s also had one interception.
Last Friday night, Martin had perhaps his best allaround game of the season, catching four passes for 72 yards and an 11-yard touchdown from Nocciolo. He also had nine solo tackles and a sack, leading the Vikings to a 41-8 victory over Harrison.
For his efforts, Martin has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Marck cannot say enough superlatives about his talented junior.
“I can’t wait to hand out transcripts and tapes of this kid to the colleges, because he has it all,” Marck said. “He makes all the calls on defense and has the best set of hands I’ve ever seen catching the ball. The other day, I was talking to my assistants about Nick’s hands. They’re so soft, the best pair of soft hands ever. We thought about it and realized that Nick has never dropped a single ball that was thrown to him, in practice, in a game, anywhere. Against Harrison, he caught one pass and was carrying defenders on his back as he ran. He’s just a great kid, a great student and a great player.”
Martin put on significant body weight from last year to this, going from 215 pounds to a solid 240 now.
“I really did work hard over the offseason, pushing myself every day,” Martin said. “I play basketball as well, but even during the basketball season, I was in the weight room five or six times a week. I worked with a personal trainer once a week to work on my speed and agility. I knew that I needed to be quicker and more flexible. As a tight end, I just didn’t want to get out into the open field and get caught.”
Martin recalled a play last year against Wallington where he took a pass and thought he was gone. “But I got caught at the 8-yard line and didn’t get the score,” Martin said. “That stuck with me. I made sure I wasn’t going to get caught this year.” Sure enough, Martin’s test came against Waldwick, when he had a 62-yard touchdown reception.
“That was my sign that the hard work paid off,” Martin said.
Martin said that he has a great working relationship with Nocciolo, that the two are on the same page.
“A.J. is a great quarterback,” Martin said. “With my new speed, I am getting the ball in the open field more. I think A.J. looks to me a lot, because he knows I’m going to catch the ball if he throws it to me. Plus, I don’t go down easily. I’m a quick target with my short routes and screens.” Although he’s a standout on defense and will more than likely be a linebacker on the college level, Martin feels he’s better on offense.
“I feel like I’m a better tight end,” Martin said. “There’s no comparison how much harder it is on the defensive side. I think I’m better offensively because of A.J. He makes it easier.”
Marck believes that Martin’s biggest asset is his brain.
“He’s an outstanding young man,” Marck said. “He is extremely coachable and is very helpful with his knowledge of the game. There are times that I’ve made a call and Nick will look to the sideline, telling me that we can’t run that play, that it won’t work. He’s tremendous like that. He knows what will work in the blocking scheme, because he is so knowledgeable.”
Martin is also an excellent student in the classroom. He’s ranked among the top 10 in the North Arlington junior class, carrying a 4.1 grade point average. Martin said that he would much rather be recognized for his classroom prowess than his football abilities.
“I honestly would like to get a scholarship based on my grades,” Martin said. “That’s been my main goal. I think people in my life would appreciate that more of me if I was accepted for my brains.”
Martin likes the way the Vikings are closing out the 2012 season.
“Coach Marck told us before the Queen of Peace game that it was the beginning of a three-game season,” Martin said. “He told us that we could make it a successful season if we won the last three games. We really don’t want to let the coaches down. We want to end the year with three wins and that would give us some confidence going into next year.”
No question, Martin will be one of the leaders for the Vikings in 2013.
“He’s definitely going to be one of our captains,” Marck said. “He’s a physically gifted kid with a great brain. He’s the kind of kid you want in your program, both on and off the field.”
Marck said that he is thinking about moving Martin to fullback for next season, so he can get more touches.
“I would welcome that,” Martin said of the position change. “I think losing A.J. will give me more of a chance to get the ball and that’s easier out of the backfield.”
“Nick has a good chance to be right there with his brother as our best players ever,” Marck said. “There’s no doubt he can play on the college level.”
How Nick Martin gets to college is another story, but he certainly has a very bright future, both as an athlete and a young man.