In the midst of the two greatest seasons in Robbinsville High football history, there has been an unsung hero.
Unsung to casual observers, that is, but very “sung” to his coaches and teammates.
After not playing football since third grade, Shane Martin came into the program as a sophomore and has been an impact performer and team leader ever since.
“He doesn’t come off the field,” coach Andrew Patterson said. “He’s a receiver who started as a running back/receiver; he’s on special teams; he’s on defense. He was a defensive back last year, this year we moved him down in the box as one of our overhang linebackers. He catches balls and intercepts balls and he’s had two pick sixes for us this year.
“I don’t want to be corny and say he’s Mr. Robbinsville. But I’ll be corny and call him Mr. Team. He knows what everybody on the field should be doing on offense and defense and special teams, and if they’re doing it wrong he has no problem correcting them, but in a leadership type of way. He’s always positive. I’ve never seen the kid negative once in his three years with us.”
It’s a pretty amazing story for a guy who played no football between the third and 10th grades.
After playing in the West Jersey Youth Football League, Martin stepped away from the sport for a pretty good reason.
“I was really undersized and a small kid,” said Martin, who even now only stands 5-11, 155. “For the majority of my life I was on the smaller end until I got to high school. I was playing some kids much bigger than me and getting just beat around. I also played two other sports so I decided to focus on those instead of getting constantly beat up.”
He played baseball and ice hockey upon arriving at RHS but, understandably, Martin’s mom was a little apprehensive about him getting on the gridiron. But as he talked to his 9th-grade buddies who raved about the fun of freshman football—even as the varsity went 0-9—Martin and his dad finally talked mom into letting him come out.
“I was also impressed with the upperclassmen at the time,” he said. “They said it was enjoyable. Even though it’s rough going through those (winless) times, the practices and the memories you get, that’s what they played for. So I really wanted to be part of that.”
He actually became an integral part of it from the start.
“When he came in he was very good right away,” Patterson said. “He had to work on learning the actual schemes, but attitude wise he was ready from day one.”
After six years away from the sport, Martin caught 19 passes for 205 yards that season, rushed for 50 yards and had two interceptions while seeing regular time. His effort helped the Ravens to an improved 4-6 campaign.
“At that time it was great,” Martin said. “Coming off an 0-9 season there were a lot of kids that were hungry and wanted to win. We didn’t win every game but you saw us coming together. Having that chemistry and drive to work together toward the same goal, we saw that there was an opportunity to be successful if we stick with that.”
As a physical hockey player, Martin found that he was able to absorb the hard hits easier than when he was a kid. He just needed to get some football savvy.
“I look back on film and I really wasn’t that good the start of my sophomore year,” he said. “I was still learning but throughout the whole year I improved. The coaches and upperclassmen helped me a lot. I had very good leaders showing me how to lead. They taught me a lot my first year.”
In Robbinsville’s record-setting 9-1 season in 2019, Martin caught 13 passes for 142 yards, while collecting 26 tackles and four interceptions.
“We had a team of all juniors my sophomore year and we learned from that, and last year was great,” he said. “Every week we would just say ‘Let’s go get the next one.’”
But while the school celebrated, the naysayers scoffed and felt that Robbinsville’s schedule was too soft. Even if it was, all the Ravens could do was play what was dealt.
This year, however, with larger schools on the slate, RHS was determined to prove it was not a one-year wonder. Heading into their season finale at New Egypt, the Ravens were 5-1.
“The younger kids saw what we did last year and they wanted to be part of it,” Martin said. “It funneled down each year with a lot of younger kids wanting to step up and take the leadership role. They all want to keep that momentum, keep that name because we never had the type of respect we have now. We want to keep it that way for the future.
“Each year we gain more numbers. That’s what I love to see, that we get more kids coming out and actually wanting to be part of something that’s great.”
As the Ravens proved themselves again, Martin had his best statistical season. Through the first seven games in a COVID-condensed season, he caught 18 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns, had 34 tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and three interceptions. Two of his picks were retuned for touchdowns.
He also provided the leadership that so impressed his coach.
“He’s a natural leader, kids just gravitate to him,” Patterson said. “If he’s on the field and the game’s on the line, you might not win every time, but you know things are gonna be OK. He has that calming presence.”
It’s not surprising, since Martin has served as captain on his hockey teams at pretty much every level.
“My parents helped me learn that,” he said. “My dad drove me when I was young to be a coachable player. I see how things should be and I want to be a certain way. Once I got in that mindset in high school I just ran with it. That gave me the opportunity to become captain. I want to win and I’ll do anything to win. If I see something wrong I’ll try to help my teammates change it.”
One thing that could change next year is Martin may be done playing interscholastic sports. He would love to play college athletics, but has decided to focus on becoming a physician’s assistant and feels that may be too time consuming. He credited Ravens trainer Tiffany Strauss for helping him in that aspect and at one point thought about being an athletic trainer.
But Martin, who sports a 3.9 grade point average and also works part-time as a busboy, is already thinking like an adult as he prepares for adulthood.
“I’ve been injured a lot and I always wanted to help give back,” he said. “I started to realize how hands on an athletic trainer has to be and how much time you really need to take part of that. Looking down the line, I want to have a family and support them, and being an athletic trainer might be a little tough to have all that. So I just switched to a different type of occupation.”
Whatever Martin ends up doing, if athletics is any indication, rest assured he will bring a strong work and leadership ability to the job.