As a placekicker, Robert Martinez practiced on his own, leading a lonely existence, one that had him contemplating a return to the soccer field as the Woodbridge High School football team opened training camp a year ago.
Martinez, however, opted to remain with the gridiron program and wound up booting a game-winning field goal in the closing minute of the Barrons’ 24-21 Central Group III quarterfinal victory over Burlington Township.
“I will never forget that feeling,” Martinez said, reflecting upon that 34-yard field goal. “It was one of the best feelings in football I ever had. Not a lot of kickers in high school can actually say they won a playoff game by a field goal.”
Martinez, who attended kicking camps over the summer at Rutgers, Duke and Monmouth universities, is glad he stuck with the sport.
The senior is one of at least five quality placekickers in the Greater Middlesex Conference, which has rarely had this much depth at the position in its 24-year history.
“I can’t say that I know whether there have been that many kids that have the potential to be quality kickers in our conference in any one year,” said East Brunswick’s Marcus Borden, who is the league’s longest tenured head coach, entering his 30th season.
“But I can tell you, in the course of 30 years, I’ve seen some tremendous kickers, some being from East Brunswick and other quality programs.”
East Brunswick’s Josh Miller, who was an All-American at the University of Arizona and who enjoyed a 12-year NFL punting career, is the gold standard for GMC placekickers.
Most recently, Tyler Yonchiuk, another East Brunswick product, who helped boot the Bears to the 2009 Central Group IV title, set a single-season school record with 10 field goals.
“From a historical perspective,” Borden said, “a kicker has to have more than six or seven field goals in a year to be considered an outstanding kicker, and some of them had better be in the 40-plus range.”
Martinez led all kickers with 54 points a year ago including four field goals. He likely would have had more attempts to split the uprights, but Woodbridge’s prolific aerial attack was adept at scoring touchdowns.
The conference’s other top scoring placekickers – Chris Mosier of Piscataway (48 points) and Dylan Olsson of South Brunswick (46 points) – joined Martinez in booting more than 40 PATs.
All three return, along with St. Joseph’s Bryan Rafano and Perth Amboy’s Chris Bermeo.
“Bryan is clearly a possible scholarship kid, even as a kicker,” St. Joseph coach Bob Molarz said. “We feel very comfortable in his field goal kicking. He had nine kickoffs into the end zone (in a shortened 2011 campaign due to a concussion).
“He’s got 45-yard range consistently on his field goals and 42 (yard range) on his punts, so we feel very confident that our kicking game will certainly help our field position, which we know offensively and defensively is one of the best things you can have.”
Perth Amboy coach Mike Giordano said he feels comfortable calling upon Bermeo to attempt a field goal from anywhere inside 40 or even 45 yards.
“You put a lot of pressure on the kid, but that’s what kickers are supposed to do,” he said. “It’s good to know that we do have a little weapon with Chris.
“Where other teams might not even think of a field goal, we’ll think of it.”
John Thompson, a volunteer assistant at Piscataway, who has worked with the Chiefs’ placekickers since the early 1990s, said high school programs continue to place a greater emphasis on the kicking game.
“When I started coaching in the (1980s), not very much emphasis was on it,” he said. “You sort of threw in whoever could kick and they were playing some (other position).
“Now you see a lot of schools where guys are specialists in that regard, and they have gotten bigger and stronger. I see kickers we go up against and they are very proficient.”
Piscataway will sorely miss Mosier, who broke his leg in preseason during a wide receiver drill, but is expected to return by November.
Olsson, like Mosier, trains at other positions for South Brunswick, where he plays some quarterback, wide receiver, defensive back and even punts.
“He’s just an unbelievably hard-working player,” said Vikings’ coach Joe Goerge, noting that he might not hesitate to let Olsson attempt a 40-yard field goal.
“I’d have to see the situation. He gets great height on his (kicks), which is something that really helps.”
Martinez no longer leads a lonely existence. He will play other positions this season for Woodbridge – perhaps as a wingback or cornerback.
“He’s a football player, and I’m going to give him every opportunity to play in whatever position he winds up fitting,” Woodbridge coach Bill Nyers said.
“I really like his work ethic so far and I just think he’s a heck of a player, besides being an outstanding kicker.”