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Muskegon quarterback Cameron Martinez named 2019’s STATE CHAMPS! Mr. Football

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, December 5, 2019, 10:49 am

MUSKEGON — Muskegon High School has been the cradle of prolific quarterbacks over the years — from William “Wild Bill” McCall in the 1920s, to Paul Soper in the 1930s, to Earl Morrall in the 1950s, to DeShaun Thrower, Kalil Pimpleton and La’Darius Jefferson in the 2010s — and now it’s becoming the haven for Mr. Football winners.

For the second time in three seasons, a Big Reds quarterback takes home the award, as senior Cameron Martinez was named the 12th winner of the STATE CHAMPS! Mr. Football award, joining Jefferson (2017) among the award’s alumni. 

“It’s a dream come true. I remember at a young age, when I knew what Mr. Football was, it’s crazy to think about my name going on that,” Martinez said Thursday morning, when he was surprised with the award in the middle of English class. “But it shows all the hard work has paid off, and all the supporting staff I’ve had, it’s all been worth it.”

After setting the Muskegon single-season rushing record with 2,526 yards and 38 touchdowns as a junior, the Ohio State-bound Martinez finished with 2,124 yards rushing as a senior, with 36 touchdowns, adding 1,258 yards and 11 touchdowns on 64-for-109 passing. He even returned a kick 90 yards for a touchdown in the early-season win over Detroit King, a rematch of the 2018 D3 championship contest.

Where does he fit on Muskegon’s Mt. Rushmore, the list of Big Reds stars? 

“Right at the top. It speaks for itself. It’s hard to say, because we have some really great players. One of our players, Kalil, who was in this role a few years ago, was just named all-conference in the MAC, and doing great things. So when you sit there and say that Cameron’s at the top, that’s a heck of an accomplishment and an achievement,” Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield said. “But what makes it so special is the type of kid he is — so deserving, so caring. Does so much. People just know what he does on the football field, but if you really got to know Cameron, you’d understand this is the guy you’d want representing your program, Muskegon football, and also Mr. Football.”

A transfer to Muskegon from Muskegon Catholic Central after his sophomore season, Martinez’s record as a full-time starting quarterback (he split time as a freshman, playing all over the field as MCC won the 2016 D8 title, with Martinez rushing for 154 yards and a score) is 34-4 after Saturday’s D3 title game loss to River Rouge. Overall, Martinez’s teams went 48-4 with him in uniform. 

When he came over to Muskegon, though, most of what Fairfield knew about the junior was through working with his stepfather, Big Reds AD and boys basketball coach Keith Guy, since 2012.

“I knew I was getting an amazing kid and an amazing family. I’ve worked with his father since 2012, and he’s a championship-mentality guy, does everything right. So I knew that brand, that stamp was coming with Cam. That championship mentality has been around since he’s been in the gym,” Fairfield said. “But then on the football field, he wowed me almost every single game. It was like we didn’t think he could do anything more, and it was like ‘Wow, he did it again.’”

That wow factor started in Martinez’s first game in a Big Reds uniform, when he ripped off 290 yards and five scores in a 36-21 win over defending Division 2 champ Warren De La Salle in the 2018 Prep Kickoff Classic. 

“It wasn’t all athletic ability and football knowledge. It was how quickly he caught on to everything, how quickly he caught on to the coverages, the assignments, the system. It was lights out when he stepped on to the field against De La Salle, on the big stage, and I think he had a little something to prove. They doubted him. That’s the same thing that drives him, going to Ohio State. It’s one of the top programs in the country. People say ‘You’re not going to play there.’ They said he wasn’t going to play here. He was a small-school football guy, and then he came here, and I think that’s what drives him. I think that’s the motivator in him. We’re not done hearing about Cam Martinez,” Fairfield said.

“It’s crazy. It’s hard to explain, because I don’t even think we got the full package, because he can do so much — he can play so many more downs on defense, he can catch the football, he can run the football, punt returner, kick returner. We put him at punt returner in the playoffs, but no one would kick to him, so you didn’t get to see that.”

Martinez won a state title with an unbeaten MCC as a freshman, and led the Big Reds to the D3 title game in back-to-back seasons as a junior and senior. His only regular-season loss was a 34-10 Week 9 setback to Montague at the end of his sophomore season with the Crusaders.

You can credit a lot of that to his leadership, as well as his athletic skills. 

“I take it back to when KP was here — he didn’t have to threaten anyone, he didn’t have to intimidate anyone, but his teammates just had so much respect for him, they didn’t want to mess up,” said Fairfield of Martinez’s leadership abilities. “That’s the best kind of leadership.”

There were plenty of plays to fill the highlight reels, and nights that stick out in Fairfield’s mind when thinking of his quarterback’s stellar two seasons in the program. There was a 500-yard, six-touchdown night against rival Mona Shores as a junior, and seven touchdowns in the first half of this year’s playoff opener against Marquette.

But it will probably be his toughness that stands out as much as anything.

“The tougher the games, like the game against EGR, when there’s five minutes left in the game, we’re up 28-21, they knew he was going to have the football, and we had to drive and kill the clock. We went the length of the field. It just showed his warrior-ness,” Fairfield said. “He’s smooth. People know he’s an athlete, he can make people miss. But he’s so tough. He showed the toughness with the tough yards, staying in bounds. There’s a lot of times you tell a guy like that, ‘Go out of bounds; don’t take the big hit.’ Well, when you’re trying to run out the clock, you’ve gotta stay inbounds, and he’d lower his shoulder. Throughout the games, someone would get a good shot on him, and he’d come to the sidelines and nudge you, and say ‘Well, he smoked me on that one.’”

The Ohio State commit’s name is going to end up littered all over the MHSAA record book, as well. 

Martinez came into the finals with 6,235 career rushing yards, the 12th most in state history, and ran for 108 yards and a score in the 30-7 loss to River Rouge, allowing him to leapfrog past Saginaw Nouvel’s Keath Bartynski (6,336) into 11th on the all-time rushing list. With 6,343 career rush yards, Martinez finished 262 yards shy of jumping past Whittemore-Prescott’s Tom Tyson (6,605) into the top 10.

The only quarterback in state history to run for more yards than Martinez was Saugatuck’s Blake Dunn, who had 6,954 yards in 41 games from 2013-16.

Martinez also ranks in the top eight in career rushing touchdowns scored, and in the top 30 in career points scored. 

“I’d say it was a blessing. Definitely memories I’m going to remember, that will last a lifetime for me. It truly made me better as a person, and as a player, making this move. I’ve just been thankful for everyone that’s been along the way, and the whole supporting staff that I’ve had, and it’s definitely put me in the position I am in today,” Martinez said. “I think it all just started from the offseason. In both football and basketball, our coaching staff does a good job of putting us in positions to just make make those moments easy for us. They’re in practice, pushing us, and it makes the games really easy. The games are what we live for. We thrive in the big contests.”

The love of football started early on, part of the competitive atmosphere in his household.

“I would say at a young age. It was something I was really good at from the start. It just kind of came naturally to me. As I got older, I started to appreciate the game more, and love it more. … I come from a competitive family. You’re good at something, and you want to be good at something, and you want to win at it, that kind of drives you,” Martinez said, remembering his first football experience. 

“I was on the line. I played end. I actually ran the ball. It was a little end-around play they had for me. It just sort of took off from there. I’ve been running the ball ever since.”

His mom, Kiesha Guy, remembered that day a bit differently.

“He was afraid his first experience. I remember him walking through, and saying ‘Mom, pray with me. I’m scared.’ So it’s amazing to see how he’s evolved into that,” she said. “Extremely proud, and really honored that others have thought of him in the way that we have. … He’s put his heart and soul into this.”

The other finalists were: East Lansing junior wideout Andrel Anthony (winner of the fan vote), West Bloomfield junior running back Donovan Edwards and Walled Lake Western wide receiver Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen. 

Martinez was the only player with a team still alive for the finals, but Muskegon finished as runner-up for the sixth time in eighth seasons. 

Martinez was judged the best by the STATE CHAMPS! panel of experts and contributors, using the formula of performance throughout the season (30 percent), level of competition (20), online vote (20), big-game performance (15), team success (10) and highly recruited athlete (5).

After initially being ruled ineligible to play this season, then granted a reprieve when the MHSAA reversed its ruling, Yaseen took full advantage, putting up a season for the record books — literally. His 86 catches are tied for ninth in a single season in state history, his 1,646 yards rank seventh on the all-time single-season list, while his 20 touchdowns were tied for ninth (with six other players) in the MHSAA record book.

Anthony finished his junior season with school records for most receiving yards in a game (183), most receiving yards in a season (954), most receiving yards per game (106.0 in nine games) and tied for the school single-season record for receiving TDs (9).

Edwards came back from the leg injury that shortened his sophomore season, rushing for 1,568 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Martinez moves on to Ohio State, where position coaches are already fighting over his services. He could play either slot receiver or defensive back, but will probably start out returning kicks. 

Either way, he’ll miss quarterback some. 

And the Big Reds will certainly miss him. But Fairfield’s not sad.

“No, I’m not sad at all. Not sad,” the coach said. “I’m excited. It’s going to be hard to replace him, but I’m excited to see his next chapter, and when I see him do something on film, I can say ‘Hey, I had a part of it.’ That’s why we’re so fortunate to do the job that we do.”

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Previous Mr. Football winners:

2008 — Torsten Boss, WR, Lowell

2009 — Jason Fracasa, QB, Sterling Heights Stevenson High School

2010 — Tommy Vento, QB/S, Farmington Hills Harrison

2011 — Prescott Line, RB, Oxford

2012 — Mark Chapman, QB/DB/KR, Port Huron

2013 — Travis Smith, QB, Ithaca

2014 — Alex Malzone, QB, Birmingham Brother Rice

2015 — Donnie Corley, WR, Detroit Martin Luther King

2016 — Cody White, WR, Walled Lake Western

2017 — La’Darius Jefferson, QB, Muskegon

2018 — Dequan Finn, QB, Detroit Martin Luther King