It might seem like Eastern Washington University took a big gamble on Matt Martin, considering the Eagles’ senior tight end never played a down of 11-man football during his four years as a starter at perennial B-8 power Lacrosse-Washtucna High School.
But Eastern’s third-year head coach Beau Baldwin insists that was not the case.
“We always knew Matt could play at this level,” said Baldwin, who was the Eagles offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Paul Wulff back in the fall of 2005 when he first saw the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Martin returning punts – and doing just about everything else – for his high school team. “I remember thinking not many kids that big return punts, even in eight-man football.
“Plus, we knew about his heart, we knew about his character and work ethic, and we knew he was a winner. I mean, the guy never lost in high school.”
During his four years at Lacrosse-Washtucna, where his father, Glenn serves as principal, Martin played tight end, running back, wide receiver, defense end, cornerback and safety, while also returning punts and kickoffs on a team that went 48-0 and won four consecutive State B-8 championships.
But it wasn’t until he played in the 2A-1A-B Washington Coaches All-State Game following his senior year in high school that he discovered how crowded a football field can get when you play 11 on 11.
“It was a little bit weird at first,” Martin admitted, “because there wasn’t any room out there. I’d catch the ball, and there would be guys all around me. I wasn’t used to that.
“And then when I got here and started playing, there was even less room, because everybody was so much faster.”
Still, Martin adapted quickly to the college game and carved out a solid career with the Eagles, who will honor him and 13 other seniors prior to Saturday afternoon’s Big Sky Conference and regular-season finale against Idaho State that kicks off at 1:05 at Roos Field.
A three-year letterwinner who spent his first three seasons as a backup to Nate Overbay, the durable Martin has played in 46 consecutive games, starting all 10 so far this fall. And while his career numbers – 35 catches for 304 yards and three touchdowns – won’t drop many jaws, his contributions have not gone unappreciated.
“He’s played a lot and contributed for four years here,” Baldwin said of Martin, a three-time Big Sky All-Academic honoree. “And three of those teams (counting this year’s) are playoff teams.
“He played behind Overbay, so his numbers aren’t great. But he’s incredibly smart, and a great leader. He was the top vote-getter among our offensive captains this year, which speaks to what kind of person he is, and how much he’s respected and loved by his teammates.”
Martin admits it was a little strange playing in Overbay’s shadow, especially after being at the center of nearly everything his high school did.
“I was on the field a lot when Nate was here, because we run a lot of two-tight end stuff,” he said. “But not being the guy seemed a little bit weird.”
And even though Martin is now the guy at tight end, he is still only the third or fourth option in Eastern’s passing game – which doesn’t bother him at all.
“I’ve always been more of a blocking tight end; a glorified offensive lineman, really,” Martin explained. “I’ve kind of known all along that would be my role here. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to take a slant 70 for a touchdown. I’m just not that kind of huge-play guy, and I’m fine with that.
“I like being the guy who brings his hardhat and goes to work every day.”