ESMs Matt Martins heading to Wagner

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Eastport South Manor’s Matt Martins will be trading in his Sharks football jersey for a Wagner College Seahawks jersey.

The 6-foot, 204-pound linebacker is heading to Wagner this fall after being heavily recruited by the NCAA Division I-AA football school. Mark Collins, the assistant coach and defensive coordinator at Wagner, said they had heard about Martins during his junior year and kept an eye on him during his senior season when Martins set the record for tackles in a season for ESM with 75.

“He did well,” Collins said. “He’s athletic, works hard, a good hitter and aggressive. We know he looked at several different schools and we were lucky enough to get him.”

Many schools, including Stony Brook University, Central Connecticut State, Ithaca, Wesleyan University and Lehigh University, showed interest in Martins, 18, of Manorville. But Wagner was the school that recruited Martins the hardest and Martins has a cousin, Diana Martins, who attended Wagner and told him a lot of good things about the school, he said.

“I always wanted to go to a Division I school,” Martins said. “[Wagner] was looking at me and asked me to come and check out the school. I liked the school, I loved everything about it. The campus is beautiful.”

For doing so well his senior season, Martins was awarded the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame football scholarship which is given to one player at each school on Long Island for doing well in the classroom and impressing people on the field.

Martins, who had a 91 cumulative average, is undecided on his major but does know he would like to go into the medical field whether it be a physician’s assistant or doctor. He is leaning toward a biology major since that will allow him go down many medical roads in the future. Martins does have family members in the medical field, with a few cousins in radiology and urology, and medicine is something he’s always been interested in because he “always likes to help people and make a difference,” he said.

Since starting in the Moriches Police Athletic League in fourth grade, Martins has been playing football every year. In the sixth grade, Martins started playing in the ESM PAL and started playing junior high football in the seventh grade. It was during his 2007 season, his junior year, when Martins said he learned one of his best traits, leadership, from then head coach Don Nelson. Nelson named Martins the only junior captain. The other three were seniors.

“He wanted me to help lead the team,” Martins said. “He inspired me and I just developed a lot of leadership qualities that season.”

So much so that Martins went on to lead in the classroom as well, becoming class president in both his junior and senior years, something he said probably wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for being named team captain his junior season. Nelson, now an assistant coach with the varsity football team at Bellport High School, said it was an easy decision to make Martins, who was second team All-Division his junior and senior seasons, a captain.

“He’s just a great kid, leads by example,” he said. “He was at every practice, never missed a practice, and he gave 100 percent on both sides of the ball. He would give everything he had. I’m sure he’s going to do well at Wagner. Academically he’s a bright kid. In my years at ESM, it was a pleasure coaching Matt Martins. Everything I asked for he gave. I wish him all the best.”

Martins also played lacrosse for the Sharks, but stopped after his junior year to focus more on football. While he said he wasn’t sure which sport to focus on at first, he figured he should stick with football and used the extra time he had from not playing lacrosse to work out for football. Chris Costanza, who is a teacher and the junior varsity baseball coach at ESM, helped Martins train in the offseason.

Costanza, who met Martins when he was taking care of ESM’s after-school weight lifting program, said the two of them had great chemistry together.

“We did the power lifting drills he needed for football,” Costanza said. “He came in every day, worked really hard.”

If there is one thing Martins needs to work on, Costanza said, it’s getting bigger.

“He needs to gain more size and he just needs to continue doing what he’s doing,” he said. “It’ll all come in due time. It’s tough being a freshman on a football team, that’s tough for anyone, but the kid works hard.”

Collins agreed with the fact that Martins needs to get bigger to play at the college level, but he said Wagner is still intent at leaving him at the linebacker position.

“There is certainly a learning curve when you get to college,” Collins explained. “Everyone is bigger, faster and stronger. We’re going to teach him the defense and ask him to get into the weight room to get a little bigger and stronger. When he gets comfortable with what he’s learned, we’ll start with the special teams and then go from there to defense.”

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