At first it was his doctor who blocked Cole Martin from playing high school football. Somewhere along the line, when he got tacit medical clearance, it was Martin’s mom. She knew her son loved the sport. But she couldn’t forget the words a physician told him back in eighth grade: “And if you decide you want to be a vegetable, go ahead and play football again.”
“With me right there,” Sara Martin said over the phone Friday, taking a break from her job at Cal-Mart in Calistoga. “Forget it.”
But her son, a Maria Carrillo senior, couldn’t forget it. Cole Martin watched some football movies last summer, then saw his classmates starting preseason practice, and he knew that his last chance to suit up was about to disappear.
The Martins live on a ranch off Porter Creek Road. Cole sat down Sara in the barn and pled his case one final time.
“I just broke down,” Cole said. “I was like, ‘I need to play. This is my senior year. I’m never gonna play again.’ ”
Despite all of her trepidation, and all her bad memories, Sara relented. And so Cole is a Puma this season — and a good one. He rotates at wingback and is a backup defensive back. Maria Carrillo is 6-4 and preparing for the playoffs right now, and Martin’s open-field speed is a big reason.
“It’s manifested itself in some really impressive plays on offense where he’s breaking ’em big,” Carrillo coach Jay Higgins said. “When somebody who maybe isn’t as fast is getting 15 yards, he’s getting 50. And then you throw in the special-teams element of returning kicks and punts, he’s really made a big impact on our team.”
Ah, the special teams. In a preseason game against Benicia, Martin had a 70-yard punt return and a 99-yard kickoff return, both for touchdowns. Against Casa Grande he scored on a 98-yard kickoff return.
Give this kid a crease and a head of steam, and he probably isn’t going to be caught. The phrase “extra gear” comes up a lot when discussing Martin.
As a boy he excelled in several sports, but football may have been his favorite. Then came the play that nearly ended his career.
Martin, a Calistoga Junior High student at the time, was playing against Anderson Valley in a Pop Warner game when he zeroed in for a tackle. He knew proper tackling technique; heck, his dad, Taylor, was his coach. But it all went out the window on that tackle. Martin came in high and lowered his head at a 90-degree angle, striking his opponent’s helmet with the crown of his.
The next thing he knew, he was in the back of an ambulance headed to Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa.
“I woke up when they started drawing my blood in the ambulance,” Martin said. “It took about seven tries for them to draw it. Because I hate needles, so that’s probably why it woke me up.”
Martin had suffered a severe concussion and been knocked unconscious. Soon enough, he’d learn that was the least of his problems. The boy had broken a vertebra in his lower back.
Martin would spend a week or more in an Oakland hospital. He was bedridden at home for a month, getting relief only from brief jaunts in a wheelchair. He was home-schooled for two months. And when he returned to school, he wore a back brace for about a month and a half.