Ft. Recovery quarterback Caleb Martin returns in the fall with a state title in his pocket, a solid returning cast, and the confidence of knowing he’s already proven he’s the best quarterback in the MAC. Still, he takes nothing for granted.
There’s an adage shared about gunfighters in the Old West – about how the first man you kill is always the hardest. It comes easy after that!
Caleb Martin can’t wait to find out for himself. Not that he’s packing a single-action Colt; not that he’s out to threaten anyone in the manner of Jesse James.
But after a breakout season in 2015 in which he led the Ft. Recovery Indians to the Division VII state title, there are those who ask the question: With one in the book, their first, will 2016 come even easier for the 6’4” Martin and the Indians?
The quarterbacking part of it does seem to come easy for Martin, already committed to play college football at the University of Toledo. Tested on the biggest stage, he delivered an eye-popping performance as a junior in last December’s Division VII championship game, throwing for 385 yards and five touchdowns against Mogadore High School. He made it look…EASY.
Now, brimming with confidence and buoyed by a big, physical offensive line that returns intact, he lifts, he throws and he waits for the next challenge that he happily anticipates.
“He gets all of this from a big-picture standpoint now,” says Recovery head coach Brent Niekamp, beginning his 12th year as the Indians’ coach. “He thinks like a coach and he’s a lot of fun to work with. He gets it on so many levels and he’s settling into a role right now. I know he’s ready to lead us in 2016.”
Three weeks into summer vacation, Martin finished a morning workout this week with pace and that same sense of mission displayed in the crushing title win seven months ago against Mogadore. Older, bigger, and more experienced, he can’t wait to see if he can orchestrate an encore with something old, and a few new, come September.
“I’ve been ready for a long time,” said Martin after his 7 am routine. “It started with our first senior meeting back in February, watching film, lifting, and throwing outside three or four days a week. I think everybody’s ready to get back, to compete for another state championship…and a MAC championship, too.”
If indeed winning for the first time is the toughest, Caleb Martin concedes that he expects nothing different as he prepares for another (and his final) high school season…anything. He’s been well-schooled, indoctrinated with the message of football that nothing, absolutely nothing, comes easy.
Physically, he could not look better. Leaner, stronger, and a year more mature, he stands out in the weight room and in the huddle. In their morning workouts, junior high kids and high schoolers alike quite obviously look upon him as the leader, and the image, of Ft. Recovery football. 385 yards and five touchdowns in Ohio Stadium cannot be taken for granted, or soon forgotten.
“Actually, I expect it to be even tougher to repeat because mentally we know now what it’s going to take to get back to Columbus,” he shares. “We probably have to prepare twice as much because now we’re the team with the target on our backs. A lot of people will think we were lucky, that we were a one-and-done team. But we have the people in the program to come back and do it again.
“Confidence-wise, yes, we have more confidence. But it’s still tougher because is a different year and we haven’t won a game with this team yet. Until we play our first game we know we can be really good…but we don’t know how good.”
Graduation is a fact of life in high school football and significant losses in the huddle gives Martin subject to pause. Gone is leading receiver Wes Wenning, and lineman Adam LeFevre, replaced by those eager to assume their roles…enthusiastic, willing, but untried under fire.
If addition by subtraction actually works, while Recovery’s skill corps did take a hit, a veteran offensive line and junior scatback Will Homan return to build around.
“You miss all the seniors from a team like that,” says Martin. “But statistically, you miss Wes and Adam because they produced so much. Adam did so much for us on the defensive line and Wes caught a lot of balls for a ton of yards and touchdowns. But we’ve got some young guys we hope can take over for Wes, and some linemen who learned a lot from playing around Adam. You hope they’re ready to take his spot.”
Every coach is cautious in June to weigh his strengths and weakness, much less the ease with which an upcoming season can be calculated. Brent Niemeyer is no different.
“We lost a lot in our skill positions,” he says. “And we lost a lot in our secondary. You talk about Wes Wenning as a receiver, because he was so physical, but I also think he was very underrated as a safety on defense. We lost a really good corner in Brandon Schoen because he was kind of our lock-down guy last year. Offensively, we’ll have some different people and we’re talking about how we can create different matchups with those guys.
“And hopefully, our defensive line steps up and takes some pressure off those guys in the secondary. But it’s never one guy. None of that stuff happens in a vacuum.”
Which is exactly why Caleb Martin says it won’t be easy to do what will now be expected, even with the confidence and experience of having been there, of making it look easy against the likes of the postseason gauntlet of “Ms”…Minster, McComb, and especially, Mogadore.
“We did that because we were really well prepared and we bought into what he said,” adds Martin, nodding toward his head coach. “Mogadore was a really good team, and they played hard, but we were able to take advantage of some matchups…to do some things different from what they had prepared for. He (Niekamp) told us this is the biggest stage of your life, take nothing for granted, make the most of it and go out and play your hearts out. We went out there without any fear, we had some guys who made plays early, and the rest just happened.”
Ironic, because Brent Niekamp had never been there before, either. Like Martin, Wenning, Homan, and the rest, he was on the biggest stage of his life, as well. So why believe?
“Because I’ve trusted him for the last three years of my life,” says Martin. “He’s said some things that have been true. He just told us to go out there and play our game, play our hearts out and we’d be fine. He made us calm, cool, and collected. That was our thing going into that week.”
He says all the right words now in respect to a new season and a new challenge. Nothing is ever easy in football.
But one look at Toledo-bound Martin leads one to believe that his life for the next twelve months is pretty much in order.
He chose Toledo because he likes the school and he has a plan. UT has an excellent of business and that will be his course of study.
Whatever comes with his senior season at Ft. Recovery…he also has a plan. He carries the title of state champion modestly as he combines experience with the unknowns of a new team still to come together. If the first time is the toughest, who’s naive enough to think that anything is gonna’ come easier against Minster, Marion, St. Henry, and Coldwater.
Not Caleb Martin.