BELLE VERNON, Pa..— After his breakout season as a sophomore helped Belle Vernon get to the WPIAL Championship, you started to see the national attention shining on Quinton Martin. The offers began to come in heaps as the star athlete was getting ready for his junior season.
With Laurel Highlands’ four-star recruit and West Virginia commit Rodney Gallagher across from him to open the season, fans, scouts and media had all eyes on how Martin could respond to his breakout campaign. While the first week of the season only gave us a glimpse of what Martin is in store for this year, it is fair to say that the small peak is presenting something that could be special.
It is funny to say that Martin just gave us a small glimpse of what he can do when you see the headline that he led the team with three touchdowns in a 41-20 win. However, Martin sat out almost the entirety of the second half with cramps.
“It was very bad cramping,” admitted Martin after the game. “I was cramping in my calf, my quad, my hamstring, and my forearm so it was severe cramping, and I am definitely going to have to fix that.”
To be fair to Martin, he was not the only Leopard player that was dealing with cramps. It appeared as though the whole team struggled to get loose after going into the locker room for halftime. Martin left the field after the first play and a half dozen other Leopard starters moved in and out as the game continued.
“When we got to that second half, we just had guys going out right and left,” said head coach Matt Humbert. “Midway through the second half, we had four or five starting guys out.”
Fortunately for Martin, he was able to showcase his talents in the first half, and fortunately for Belle Vernon, his three TDs in the first half remained the difference in the game, as the two teams tied 20-20 in the second half.
It did not take long for the first view of the star athlete. On the first play of the game, BVA targeted him out of the backfield on a wheel route. He ran by his man, but an errant pass led to second down. On second down, they handed the football to Martin, who made one counter cut and burst into the open field. Martin breezed into the end zone with ease for a 23-yard touchdown.
“It is very cool, that feeling going into the endzone early into the game,” said Martin. “It felt like we were picking up where we left off.”
The team began to move Martin all-around and get him into different alignments on the ensuing drives. First, he lined up in the slot. The team ran a fade to him, but his most impactful slot snaps came as he would motion across the line of scrimmage.
Martin took a jet sweep into the endzone from nine yards out from this alignment. His presence flowing across the ball at the snap also took the attention of the defense and helped the run game with his teammate Jake Gedekoh.
“We try to utilize him in different ways, and find the mismatches that we have,” said Humbert of his usage.
Martin spent plenty of snaps outside as well, but his third and final touchdown came in a different way. For his third act, he lined up in the wildcat. This was his only snap in the formation and the defense was not expecting it. He utilized the zone read fake, and then took the football himself on a dash to the endzone from 13 yards out.
“I see myself as an athlete,” said Martin of his position versatility. “Coach (Humbert) can put me anywhere, and I will go anywhere the team needs to me go.”
Martin finished with just nine rushes for 49 yards and three touchdowns. He was targeted four times, but none connected. Still, he was easily the star player of the game, and his nine touches obviously impacted the outcome.
Beyond impacting the game in the box score, and beyond taking the attention of the defense, there were small things on top of his big plays that make you believe in what Martin can become as a football talent.
Martin lines where the coaches ask him to, and when they tell him it is time to do the dirty work, he is ready and willing. Multiple times in the game you saw Martin blocking in pass protection, or as a lead blocker on a screen. He picked up a blitz that bought his quarterback time to find a wide-open Chase Ruokonen down the field for a 15-yard gain.
“It’s the little things, little things create big plays,” Martin stated proudly when discussing the merits of his team-first attitude.
Multiple times, the Leopards asked Martin to chip block off of the edge to buy his quarterback an extra second. During the second half, Martin would come in for a snap or two that looked like he was a decoy. However, they did go to his side of the field on one play when he was lined up out wide. BVA ran a screen to Ruokonen, and it had Martin as the lead blocker. Martin drove his man downfield, Ruokonen beat his man one-on-one, and now he was moving the chains for another game of over 10 yards.
“If you play receiver for us, the first thing we do is blocking,” Humber stated firmly. “If there are younger kids coming up the ranks and say that they want to play receiver, well there is dirty work you have to do playing here, and Quinton is the same way. When Quinton is called to do his job, he does his job, it might not be catching the ball or running the ball, it might be blocking for someone else. He is solid in every phase.”
His last impact beyond the box score came because of his play at cornerback. Martin is listed at 6’3″, which is tall for NFL cornerbacks, so he certainly does look towering on the high school field. Martin uses his size to his benefit, as he plays tight to the line of scrimmage, pressing his opposing wide receiver. From there, he uses his length to get his hands on the wideout.
“I like to press and be aggressive with (receivers) on the line,” said Martin with a big smile on his face. “However long you keep them on the line you can disrupt their route very much and disrupt the whole play.”
Martin was not tested often, and it was easy to understand why as he often engulfed the player across from him by the time the snap was made. During the second half, Martin returned from his cramps for a red zone snap. Rodney Gallagher was at quarterback and decided to test the corner who had eyes on Gallagher during a busted play.
Gallagher tried to throw the ball over the head of Martin, who was creeping up as he watched the QB. However, as Gallagher lobbed the ball over his hand you saw Martin change direction, backpedal, and use his frame to block away the ball in the endzone. Unfortunately, that effort also left him limping off of the field to get more fluid, but the effort and talent were remarkable.
For someone who only played about a half of football, there sure was plenty to see from Martin and plenty of reasons to understand why the attention will only shine brighter on this young athlete. Week one of his junior season saw Martin score three touchdowns, make a defensive highlight in the endzone, prove himself as a blocker, and lineup in four different offensive spots. If that was just a glimpse, the whole picture is going to be something for all to see.