By Cara Cooper
The end of a recent Martinsville football practice featured skill position players from both the JV and varsity squads lining up, arm-in-arm, all the way down the practice field. Coaches would tell certain players to fall forward, some drop back, or lean to one side, all while making sure the arm chain stayed intact. Some coaches would even try to lightly push players to try to force a break in the chain.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” first year head coach Bobby Martin could be heard saying to his players as they struggled to stay locked in tight next to one another.
Family. Teamwork. Togetherness. Those have become the pillars on which Martin is trying to build this year’s Bulldogs squad. And the players are able to buy into the family aspect of the game because they see it from the people who are coaching them.
When Martin accepted the head coaching job at Martinsville back in the spring, he immediately brought in his son, G.W.-Danville and Virginia Tech graduate Bobby Martin Jr. (B.J. for short) as one of his assistants. B.J. was with his dad at his introduction to the team.
“It’s an honor to have your son, I try not to cry when I talk about it, but as a father that’s all you want is your son to respect you and want to be around you,” Bobby Martin said.
While the elder Martin admits not every day is perfect with him and his son, he loves every opportunity he gets to coach alongside him.
“We’ve had some tough times too but we still love each other,” Bobby Martin said. “Not only is he around me, he lives with me, he grew up with me, we work together and we coach together… And as a father that’s all you want is your kids to look up to you and respect you.”
Also joining the coaching staff is a close friend of B.J. Martin’s, Keon Mabin, a former standout at Magna Vista who went on to play at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. Both Mabin and the younger Martin graduated from high school in 2013, and have been close friends since elementary school. Bobby Martin said having the former Warrior is “like having two sons on the staff.”
The elder Martin said his hope is that the players see how close-knit the coaching staff is and learns to emulate that on the field. More than just football game play, he’s been coaching the players on working together on and off the field, and doing the right things, whether that’s in the classroom, the weightroom, the football field, or out with friends and family.
“Hard work, stick together and look out for my brother. That’s what I’m looking for,” Bobby Martin said.
“I like him a lot,” Senior quarterback Jeremiah Law said of the Bulldogs new head coach. “He pushes us to our limits to be the best we can on and off the field, and having manners, saying, ‘Yes ma’am, no ma’am, yes sir, no sir.’ I think it’ll help us later on in life too.”
“He’s just been getting us straight, for real,” added senior safety and receiver Jevontae Manns. “Making sure we make it to class on time and teaching us about not just football but life and all that.”
Law added that having two coaches on the staff who are not much older than the players and have been to college and played football at the next level has been helpful too because he said they see coaches who have been to where most of the team wants to go.
Leading by example is big for Bobby Martin, and he hopes that his players see the way he interacts with his son, his family, and his coaches and emulate that on the field.
“That’s what I think they see. Some of the guys have been coming to church with my son, some have been coming with me. And they’re seeing me, my son, my wife, my daughter, we go to church together, we go out to lunch together,” Bobby Martin said. “What I tell them on the field they see it in my life. So it’s easier for them to understand, ‘That’s what he lives.’ And I hope if they can see it they understand, it’s true. I’m not just talking about it for football, it’s what we do.”
After the Bulldogs chain exercise, the players gathered in a final huddle with their coach, and ended practice with a prayer. They’ve taken to breaking out of huddles by yelling either “Together,” or “Family.”
Family means a bit more to on the Martinsville sidelines this season, and for the Martins the hope is that their family grows with the players.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.