Knights' Martin speeds up at right time Receiver runs best when watch is off

October 04, 1992|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Staff Writer

North County's Damon Martin possesses what his footbal coach calls "functional speed." It doesn't show when he's being timed with a stopwatch, but, then again, stopwatches aren't trying to knock him to the ground.

"He's much faster when he's playing," said Chuck Markiewicz, whose run-and-shoot offense is ignited in large part by the senior slotback. "He's a 4.6-and-change 40-yard --, which is not impressive, but when you watch him run. . . "

No one in the program recalls a time when Martin has been caught from behind on one of his electrifying sprints to the end zone.

"When I'm being timed, I get this nervous feeling," he said. "I'm trying to get a good start without jumping the gun. But when I have a football, it's just natural ability taking over."

Which usually leads to Martin taking over a game.

Called "the most prolific pass receiver in Anne Arundel County history" by Markiewicz, Martin, 5 feet 11, is rewriting the area's record books. His 54 catches last year were the most by a county player in a single season, and his three-year total of 124 also is unprecedented. During that time, he has accumulated 1,681 yards in receptions.

All this from a young man who was happy just to make the varsity team as a sophomore, and even more grateful to be playing the position of his choice.

When Martin first heard that Markiewicz was implementing the pass-oriented offense, which uses four receivers and the entire field, he no longer wanted to be grouped with the running backs. "I figured I could contribute more to the team as a receiver. I didn't even anticipate being a starter," he said.

Getting Markiewicz and his staff to consent to the move was one obstacle. Persuading his mother, Christine Pinkney, to allow him to continue playing after a preseason hip injury was another.

"She thought it was much worse than it really was," Martin said. "I kept telling her it was no big deal and that it would heal in a week. But she insisted that I quit the team."

Markiewicz said, "We had to send [assistant coach] Al Pindell to his house to tell his mom, 'Please, please let him play.' "

She relented, and the rest is pass-catching history.

"Even to this day, even though I'm used to it, every time someone goes down I wonder if it's him," she said.

She saw plenty of bodies strewn across North County's field in the season opener against Oakland Mills. But the only injuries were the opponent's wounded pride.

With North County on its 6-yard line late in the third period, quarterback Eric Howard dropped back and connected with Martin on a short flood pattern to the right side. Martin cut upfield, picked up a few blocks, and turned a short gainer into a game-breaking 94-yard touchdown.

"You throw it in the air and he can usually catch anything. And then, you watch him run," said Howard, whose team defeated the Scorpions, 22-2. "It's unbelievable, the things he does."

Especially with Martin still nursing a sore ankle. His 29 receptions tie him with teammate Mike Quarles for the metro area's lead.

"We double-teamed No. 9 [Martin], we were that fearful of him," said Arundel coach Bill Zucco, after watching Martin grab 10 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns in North County's 39-6 victory over the Wildcats on Sept. 12.

College coaches have taken notice. Martin is receiving letters from various schools, including Tennessee, Miami and Boston College, and his grades and Scholastic Aptitude Test score are sufficient for immediate entrance.

"I would love to see him go to Maryland," Markiewicz said. "I don't know if that's going to happen or not, but I'll tell you one thing, I coached in the Big 33 [high school all-star] game when [Maryland freshman] Jermaine Lewis was on the squad, and I'll tell you right now, Jermaine Lewis may be faster than Damon, but he's not a better receiver. And Lewis is playing.

"Damon's a perfect inside receiver in the run-and-shoot."

With his athleticism -- he has played basketball and run outdoor track at North County -- Martin could assume just about any position. He was called on to throw long passes in North County's final two plays of a 20-19 loss to Annapolis on Sept. 18, and he made three conversions in his kicking debut in Monday's 27-12 win over Queen Anne's.

"Damon probably could be our ace-back," Markiewicz said, "and he could probably be our quarterback."

But not without a fuss. Not after his struggle just to get the chance to line up as a receiver.

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