Each Saturday Zach Martinez takes to the field for the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties ready to do battle. The 6-1, 220 pound linebacker has established himself as a relentless force on the field, who will take his tenacity and push himself to the limit to make tackles. He is one who epitomizes an attitude of a “junkyard dog.” Martinez is a young man who has a take no prisoners attitude with opponents, but with his teammates he is all about being part of a brotherhood that preaches 11 men battling as one for each other and for their college.
Martinez plays for a very experienced group, laden with seniors. He is one of the few juniors seeing regular snaps, but has earned his place as an everyday starter. His Coach, Peter Haugen, calls Martinez a “fearless and relentless player who always seems to be in on the play.” His teammates agree.
“Zach is just fearless,” senior safety Jake Forcier tells of his teammate. “He will battle and keep battling. The guy just doesn’t quit.”
Senior safety Xavier Fust agrees. “He is all heart, and he just swarms to the ball. You can tell that he just loves to get in on plays and hit people.”
Hitting the opponent’s ball carrier is what Martinez does best. The junior ranks first on his team in tackles with 72, which ranks him third overall in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). That number is especially impressive when you consider that 41 of those tackles have been solo ones, ranked fifth in the conference. He gets involved in plays, and has no problem being the first one to make contact. Once he does he knows how to take down a ball carrier with the best of them.
Martinez strives to be the guy who has no quit in him. Double-team him, triple-team him, he is still coming after you. He has no off switch during games, and one word sums up the way he likes to play defense: “Junkyard dog.” “I love hitting quarterbacks, I love hitting running backs. I love playing fast and physical and I want to be a ball-hawk. I want to be a guy that others describe as a junkyard dog. I want to just get after the opponent and bring him down, that is what I want to be remembered for. Just a junkyard dog.”
Martinez has been that and a lot more. He plays with incredible passion and tenacity, yet there is a lot of discipline in the way in which he plays. He understands his coach’s defensive schemes and follows that plan to a T. Most junkyard dogs go after whatever catches their attention; this one knows to play within the confines of the plan. “Being disciplined makes you a success. If you want to reach the goals you have for yourself or your team you have to understand what will make you a success, and then be disciplined to follow that plan. That means when it is time to get up early to study film you do. It means when you see the quarterback scramble, but you have coverage you stay with your guy.”
It is that kind of discipline that has helped the linebacker to become one of the most feared defensive players in the MIAC. However, there is a great deal more to the junior then just chasing down quarterbacks and making bone-crushing hits. This is a young man who loves his teammates, and sees his fellow defensive players as brothers. “I love flying around and making plays, but there is nothing better than celebrating with your teammates. I mean, what can be better than going out with your friends and doing something you love doing together? These are my best friends and we are a brotherhood out there. That is what it is all about.”
Martinez is the kind of junkyard dog defender that most defensive coordinators would love to have. He plays smart, he plays fast and he plays physical. He is the kind of game changing force who can turn around a contest in one play.
His skill comes from hard work. His passion comes from one source – his mom. “My mom is the biggest supporter of my brother (Luke, the Gusties starting tailback) and me. She comes to all the games, drives from Kansas City, brings my grandma and my aunt. She calls before every game to get us fired up, and she always has a great thing to say to us to keep us feeling good. Sometimes I will just be down, but she knows the right thing to say to make me see the positive in everything.”
While Martinez gives a great deal of the credit for his success to his mother, he didn’t want anyone to think is father didn’t play a key role as well. “My dad constantly sends my brother and I texts, and makes sure we are focused on what we need to do as men. He pushes us to remain competitive.”
While on opposite sides of the ball, Zach and Luke Martinez are helping to establish a legacy at Gustavus Adolphus. That is something that Zach cherishes very much. “The atmosphere around the school has changed a whole lot. We have helped to change the culture of the school, and I am very proud of that. I think the students, faculty and alumni understand the magnitude of what we are doing here under Coach Haugen, and I am very proud to be a part of that.”
The Gusties started out 6-0, but have dropped their last three, and this weekend travel to St. Thomas. This will be a very difficult challenge for Gustavus Adolphus, especially for their defense considering the Tommies just dropped 83 on Carleton. It is going to take all the Gusties have defensively to keep the Tommies offense in check. Fortunately for them, they have a junkyard dog leading the charge, and trust me, his bite is even more dangerous than his bark.
Follow Rob Pannier’s stories on the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties football team leading up to this week’s game against St. Thomas. The game will be the MIAC Featured Game of the Week on the Minor League Sports Report, and Rob will be running stories on DL Andrew Lonneman on Thursday, Xavier Fust and Jake Forcier on Friday, and a preview of the game on Thursday as well.
By Robert Pannier