It was a long year for G.W. Carver linebacker Justin Martin.
Martin, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior was an integral part of the Wolverines during his freshman and sophomore seasons. But grade and behavior issues forced coach Billy Gresham to suspend one of his starting defenders for the season last year, leaving Martin in the student section.
“I watched every game,” Martin said. “It’s just a hard feeling when you’re watching your boys doing hard work, and you’re in the stands watching. But if you make a choice, you’ve got to deal with it.”
After Martin and his parents met with Gresham once a month during his suspension, Martin was allowed to rejoin the team in January for the offseason weight training program. Since then, he has been a model student and teammate.
“We told him that we were going to take it one step at a time,” Gresham said. “We’re really proud of him. Last year, he’s a guy that would have been a starter for us. He’s almost like a hidden gem here. If he wasn’t suspended, he’d probably be a big-time prospect right with those other guys, because he’s very talented, maybe the most talented kid we have on this team.”
Martin has certainly made his presence felt in his return. In four games, he is third on the team in tackles and has two interceptions.
“I learned a lot,” Martin said. “You’ve got to grow up at a certain point and time. I feel like I grew up into a young man. I’ve been looking forward to coming back and giving my all this year, making my coach proud of me.”
Martin will have his next chance to make plays when the Wolverines travel to East Point, Ga., to take on Tri-Cities on Friday. Gresham said he likes to schedule out of state opponents to get his team ready for postseason play. Last season, Carver rolled past Tri-Cities 51-14 at Cramton Bowl.
Before the Wolverines take the field, Gresham said the team will soak in the sites and tour Atlanta, a fun addition to the trip to build camaraderie.
“It’ll be a great bonding experience and a good educational experience for them,” Gresham said. “We’re going to take them around to the Martin Luther King monument and show them the Atlanta that’s not on TV. We’re going to show them the historical part of it and the great colleges they have in the area and catch them up to speed on not the highlights and entertainment part of it but some the educational things that are going on in that city and then get ready to play some football.
“We’re just going to enjoy it. Our job is to provide lifelong memories for these guys, and we just hopefully enjoy it and come back to Montgomery with a win, because we need a win right now.”
Carver hopes to bounce back from a deflating 20-7 loss to Opelika last week. Gresham said he has seen his team respond positively in this week’s practice, and junior quarterback Mike McKenny said Carver has nothing to worry about.
“Nothing has changed, we’re just working on ourselves,” McKenny said. “Honestly, nobody can beat us but Carver. If we don’t beat ourselves, we can beat anybody in the state I believe. But we’ve just got to keep pushing and working hard.”