Written by Corbett Smith
Spring football report: Can Arlington Martin continue its climb to the top?
Team: Arlington Martin
How the 2011 season ended: Martin made its deepest run in school history, making the Class 5A Region I Division I final. On a rainy night at SMU's Ford Stadium, Martin turned the ball over three times in a 31-14 loss to eventual champ Southlake Carroll.
Key returning starters: Even though coach Bob Wager lost 27 lettermen, including six FBS signees, he said this is the most talented group he has coached in his tenure at Martin. Wager's team will rely on Texas commit Kyle Hicks, who rushed for 1,682 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. Wager is contemplating moving Hicks to become an option-read quarterback; right now, Hicks and last year's leading receiver Eric Hughes are sharing the quarterback role. Wager said he's thrilled with Hicks' dedication after committing to the Longhorns. "Sometimes when you have early commits, there's a little bit of worry in your mind. ..." Wager said. "But not this guy. It's inspired him to work harder." On defense, the linebacking corps and secondary return loads of experience. Jordan Avery is a three-year starter at linebacker, as is free safety and leading tackler Matt Waller. Junior-to-be Cedric Fernandes saw time as a nickel cornerback last year. All-state kicker Ben Grogan is back for his senior season (35-35 on PAT, 10 of 14 on FG, including a long of 52).
Biggest questions facing team: Will a solid offensive line solidify in the spring? Wager said his biggest question was stability on his offensive line. Only one full-time starter returns: guard Ian Gamble. While there are many options to fill the remaining spots, including senior Alex Riley (6-3, 350) and junior Brandon Nickerson (5-9, 265), Wager hasn't seen as much separation between contenders for the starting spots as he would like. Martin graduated its two tackles last season, both moving on to play collegiately: Connor Trussell (North Texas) and Steven Baggett (Boise State).
Can Martin continue its climb to the top? If Wager seems optimistic, he has good reason. He has won 107 career games, and in his seven seasons at Martin, his program has made steady improvement each year. Martin has made the third round or further in the past three seasons. In 2011, Martin got over its biggest hurdle to date: Euless Trinity. But it's a tall order to do that on a regular basis and make the final leap as the best team in a loaded Class 5A Region I. Wager will need to find enough of a passing game with Hicks and Hughes to keep defenses honest, the defense will have to find a replacement for all-area defensive end Devonte Fields, and Hicks will have to stay healthy if Martin has a chance to repeat its successes.
Notables: Finding a replacement for the ultra-athletic Fields might not be as hard as it would seem. Wager pointed to his two likely starters at defensive end -- Miles Garrett (6-4, 230) and Chris Odom (6-3, 230) -- as potential difference makers. Garrett, a junior-to-be, could be a star. His older sister, Brea Garrett, won the 2011 5A titles in hurdles and shot put for Martin. She's now on the Texas A&M track team. ... Michael Wilson (6-3, 190) is one of several good-sized receivers, something Martin hasn't had in year's past, Wager said.
He said it: "Every class that I've had since we've been here has accepted the responsibility of taking the program to the next level. And we have every confidence that this group will do the same." -- Wager
Spring football game info: 6 p.m., Thursday, May 24 at Cravens Field
Season opener: vs. DeSoto on Aug. 31
Full regular season schedule:
Aug. 31: DeSoto at 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7: at Skyline at 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14: South Grand Prairie at 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28: Arlington* (Cravens) at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5: Weatherford* at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12: at Fort Worth Paschal* at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19: North Crowley* at 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26: Arlington Lamar* (Cravens) at 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2: Arlington Sam Houston* (Cravens) at 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 9: Arlington Bowie* (Wilemon) at 7:30 p.m.
* - district game