Written by Corbett Smith
Five starting sophomores, one freshman make Arlington Martin a surprising fountain of youth at the 5A level
ARLINGTON – A youth movement might pay dividends down the road.
Yet, Arlington Martin coach Bob Wager said he doesn’t think that way, despite starting five sophomores and a freshman on his varsity team. The season is here, and the meritocracy of football demands that his best options are on the field.
“It’s simple – there’s no emotion to it,” Wager said. “They are the best players, and that’s why they are out there.… If they weren’t the best, if we didn’t think they gave us the best chance to win, we wouldn’t have them on the field.”
Starting young players, though, comes with its own set of hurdles – some obvious, others behind-the-scenes.
Of course, young players must adjust to the newness of the experience: the speed of the game, size and strength of their opponents, the heightened expectations. But teams must adjust as well, making sure that everyone – senior to freshman – shares the same sense of urgency and focus, and those who lost their starting roles don’t allow their disappointment turn into resentment.
“The thing as a coach that I think you have to do is just be honest, and share with the guys what it comes down to,” Skyline coach Reginald Samples said. “The bottom line really comes with which guy helps the team.”
Martin cornerback Trey Brown didn’t expect to be a varsity player when he came to the start of fall practice. Yet, in the season opener, the freshman took the field against state championship contender DeSoto.
“It’s was kind of scary at first,” Brown said. “It’s a different level of football.”
Team captain Cedric Fernandes said he saw plenty of wide-eyed looks from Martin’s younger players. It was something he experienced as a sophomore, when he made the varsity roster.
“’After that first play, it’s going to be fine,’” Fernandes told his teammates. “’It’s going to be a blast.’ I tell them just get through it.”
Brown is still feeling his way, but is more comfortable, thanks to his teammates pushing him in practice, showing him what he needs to do.
“We have to show them how it’s done, and how they need to prepare out here – so they can get the feel of it,” Fernandes said. “A couple of weeks in, they should know what’s expected of them.”
For every young starter, however, there’s likely an upperclassman on the sidelines, someone who pined for his time in the lineup – a time that might not happen.
Wager and Samples said it’s one of the most difficult parts of their job – telling “fully invested” players that their roles aren’t going to be what they envisioned.
“I agonize looking at a senior who’s done everything – lifts twice a day, never misses a summer workout, he’s up here on the Fourth of July – and I’m telling him it’s not going to be how he wanted,” Wager said.
Samples said he prepares that discussion like a speech, choosing his words judiciously to ensure the player knows it’s not personal.
“You’ll always add in – in that situation – that it’s imperative that he keep a good attitude,” Samples said. “You never know when the situation will present itself.”
Martin senior Brendan Pollard found his role changed with Brown moving into the starting lineup. He’s now a jack-of-all-trades, subbing in a safety, corner and linebacker, as well as special teams. It’s a difficult adjustment to make; Pollard’s brother, Ryan – now at Rice, starred at Martin, and Brendan hoped for the same.
“I know my opportunity will come, any time now,” Pollard said. “But you’ve got to help the younger guys succeed, get better, as well. Everybody’s fighting for a spot every day.
“You’ve got to be all in, every day. It might be here and there, but you have to do your part.”
For Wager, that’s where the football field can be as instructive about life as any class room.
“Embracing that adversity – finding a way to spin it into a positive – determines the success you’ll have for the rest of your life,” he said. “And here is the training ground. You don’t get that in Algebra class. You don’t get that in Chemistry.”
Martin’s youth movement
Arlington Martin might have the most starting underclassmen for any team ranked in the SportsDayHS Top 20.
Soph. QB Eric Walker
Soph. RB Nic Smith
Soph. WR Tyler Wilson
Soph. WR Kristian Levy
Soph. WLB Dequaylyn Thomas
Fr. DB Trey Brown
Follow Corbett Smith on Twitter @corbettsmithDMN