Martin sets bar at Cleveland

December 16, 2013 

When trying to gauge the legacy of Cleveland High running back Isaac Martin, a lot of numbers come to mind:

•  5,451 career rushing yards in three varsity seasons.

•  81 touchdowns.

•  31 varsity wins for the Rams in Martin’s three years.

•  A 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash.

But here’s another number that helped land Martin a roster spot in the 77th annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas: a 4.3 grade point average.

Martin’s numbers on the field and in the classroom made him an ideal candidate to represent his school and state in the high school football all-star game to be played Dec. 21 in Spartanburg, S.C.

“Ever since middle school, I’ve been on the Principal’s List for some reason,” Martin said with a laugh. “I knew that (doing well in school) was necessary for me to go to the places that I wanted to go. I can pick up on things pretty easily I guess.”

From overlooked to targeted

Picking up things easily was also a strength on the football field, as Martin quickly became the go-to guy for a brand-new program.

As a sophomore, Martin rushed for almost 1,200 yards and helped carry the Rams to the state semifinals in the team’s first year as a varsity program.

“First thing that stands out about Isaac is that he’s a physical specimen,” said Joe Capps, offensive coordinator for the Rams. “Even as a tenth-grader our first varsity year, he was a true varsity player.

“What he did for our program was show everybody this is the level that everybody needs to play at, and that made everyone else try to catch up and play at his level. He helped us get better early because he was so far ahead of everybody.”

It didn’t take long for other teams to take notice of Martin and the upstart Rams, however, and the 5-foot-10, 195-pound running back soon became the primary focus of opposing defenses.

“I don’t think that was a big deal to him,” head coach Marc Morris said of defenses targeting Martin. “I think he understood that he was our go-to guy, and I think he knew it wasn’t just him doing everything. I think he had a great understanding that it was about our team offense in general more than it was just him.”

The extra attention just seemed to help Martin become a better player; he followed his stellar debut season with a pair of 2,100-plus-yard rushing seasons to lead Cleveland into the state playoffs each of the past two years.

The drive

With the power and speed that Martin has, it’s perhaps easy to overlook what might be the senior’s greatest asset: his drive.

“He’s been our back for four years,” Morris said. “He was kind of the guy we built our program around, and fortunately for us, he was a real hard worker.”

And not just in games. His coaches say Martin worked equally hard in the classroom, at practice and in the weight room because he knew the Rams were going to rely heavily on him.

“His work ethic has been inspirational to everybody,” said Capps, the offensive coordinator. “He will work his butt off to accomplish something or to get over something; he’s everything you want to coach.”

Explaining that he couldn’t stand letting his coaches or teammates down, Martin said he focused on getting better every day because he grasped the importance of his time spent at Cleveland.

“I view myself as a leader on the team,” said Martin, the 2013 Two Rivers 3A Conference Offensive Player of the Year. “I try my hardest all the time because I know I’ll look back on this one day and I don’t want to have any regrets about anything that I’ve done.”

The stage

Martin rushed for more than 100 yards eight times this season, and as Capps noted, he always seemed to play best when the stage was the biggest.

The running back had 263 yards and three touchdowns in a thrilling early-season victory over Garner and then 247 yards and three more scores in a pivotal game against Triton that propelled the Rams to the conference championship.

But for Martin, the stage he desires most now is playing this Saturday with some of the best high school players in the Carolinas. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. in Gibbs Stadium on the campus of Wofford College.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it, and I finally get a chance to do my best in front of a big crowd,” Martin said. “I’m just ready to play and show everybody what I’ve got.

“I want to work my tail off along with these other players and make something happen and beat South Carolina.”

Martin will be one of four running backs on the North Carolina roster. The game benefits the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

The legacy

When high school football returns next fall, the Rams will have to look to someone else to be the leader and to become the go-to guy; Martin will graduate in June.

“We’re proud to have coached him for four years and proud to say he helped start the program at Cleveland High School,” Morris said. “More than just as a running back, but to watch him grow as a person and a student athlete has been a pleasure.

“I know he’s going to be successful at the next level no matter what he does.”

Martin has verbally committed to attend Coastal Carolina University. At Cleveland, he has become the bar future Rams will strive to reach.

In terms of legacy, that far exceeds any number on the playing field.

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