No shortage of desire

Key running back Brad Martz wouldn't let acute appendicitis in August spoil his season


November 05, 2006|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Just how important is football to Francis Scott Key junior Brad Martz? Physicians at Gettysburg Hospital found out in early August when Martz came to them suffering from acute appendicitis, urgently in need of surgery.

"The doctor said, `You might miss one or two games.' He said, `Well, then I don't want the operation,' " recalled Brad's father, Darin, holding back a chuckle. "The doctor looked at us and laughed. He said, `Well, Brad, you can either get operated on tonight, or you will be back to see me.' "

Martz did have surgery to remove his appendix that night. Though it cost him the preseason, he returned to become one of the area's top running backs.

After gaining a little more than 500 yards while sharing carries a year ago, Martz has had a breakout season, rushing for a Piedmont Conference-high 940 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns through his first eight games to lead the 13th-ranked Eagles to a 6-2 start.

He had his defining game two weeks ago against South Carroll, running for a career-high 229 yards on 29 carries in a 32-14 win.

"He has a lot of natural, God-given speed, plus he's a tough kid," Key offensive coordinator Mike Quealy said. "A lot of high school backs may decelerate at impact, but Brad ... you'll actually see him pick up another gear when he sees a kid coming at him."

Said Eagles quarterback Chris Colb: "He has the speed to get to the outside, and when the line gives him a hole he hits it hard and fast."

Few in the area are faster than Martz, who captured a Carroll County championship last spring in the 100-meter dash. Over the summer, he spent countless hours in Key's weight room packing on muscle in an effort to add an element of power to his game.

It was in the weight room that his health problem was known.

"Some of us were lifting, and I was having pains in my stomach," Martz recalled. "I thought I was sick, so I was just laying in there. I came home ... and I couldn't really walk, so they took me [to the hospital]."

Tests revealed that fluid from his appendix was leaking into his abdomen. Doctors said that after surgery he would need to take a month off.

To Martz, who was set to become the team's featured back after the graduation of Matt Angell, the timing couldn't have been worse. Football practice was scheduled to start later that week.

"The first thing I started doing was trying to count up the weeks, trying to see when my first game was," Martz said. "One doctor said that I could either go four weeks with no contact or run through stuff and miss six weeks. It was tough. I didn't know what to do."

He chose to avoid contact for a month, though he still attended practice with his teammates at 7 every morning. Finally, one day before the season opener against North Carroll, he was able to return to the field.

The next day, 20 pounds lighter than before his surgery and sporting a protective flak jacket, Martz started and rushed for 120 yards in a 13-7 win over the Panthers.

"My first run I was a little nervous, but after I had the first contact it felt good, so I just went along with it," Martz said. "I had a lot of energy. I was ready to go."

One of the goals of Key's coaching staff has been to harness some of that energy, getting him to outmaneuver would-be tacklers instead of trying to outrun them.

"I said, `Look, son, you've been outrunning people since you were 8 years old. You're not going to outrun them at the varsity level. You've got to learn to use your vision -- to set people up,' " Quealy said.

And more and more this season, that's just what the junior has done. Since shedding the protective gear after two games, he has excelled on offense and defense, where he plays linebacker and safety.

Martz thinks his best chance to play in college could be as a defender. Key head coach Bill Hyson believes he possesses the size and speed to warrant looks from Division I-A programs, and he has had more than his share. This season, Syracuse University invited him to a home game, and he's also received letters of interest from such schools as Alabama, Utah and Texas Christian.

In the meantime, he's worked hard to regain some of the bulk he lost after surgery. He's 5 feet 11, 185 pounds -- about 5 pounds less than his preferred playing weight.

Even so, coaches say that his improvement from a year ago is undeniable.

"I think last year you could really see him starting to gain some confidence in himself," Hyson said. "I think this year, he's had some goals."

His most important one was getting back onto the field. These days, it's getting back to full strength.

"Right now, I'm still in the process of gaining it all back," Martz said. "The hardest thing has just been getting back in the feel of the game after missing all that practice."

It's a feeling he can't do without.

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