Sports Beat

José Martínez (Courtesy of Suzzane Cullumber)

José Martínez (Courtesy of Suzzane Cullumber)

EL PASO — The game would already be marked as a win on the schedule for the University of Texas at El Paso Miners Football team, so the kick wouldn’t win or lose the game. Still, hundreds of spectators watched the senior kicker jog out onto the field under the glow of the field lights as he prepared to kick the longest field goal of his career.

The ball snapped and he took his three steps to kick the ball with the ease of a seasoned player. It sailed straight through the air, right between the goal posts. The entire stadium erupted as everyone realized that José Martínez, 22, had just kicked the second longest field goal in NCAA history. “That’s when I jumped into the history books,” recounts Martínez of his 64 yard field goal on September 27 (2008) against  the University of Central Florida. It was a historical night in the Sun Bowl and it was a kick that no one would soon forget.

Martínez, one of hundreds of student athletes at UTEP participating in sports that range from football, basketball, volleyball, track, soccer, to softball, is now one of the standout student athletes of the year. However, the road that led him to that kick was not the usual one. He was born in San Jose, California and raised by his mother and father, Grace and José Duran in Bakersfield, California along with three older brothers, Frank Ybarra, Julian Murillo, and Tomás Murillo. Martínez remembers that “growing up, we were the lower class and at times we didn’t have money and my mom almost lost the house, but we always had our basic needs.” He always had a soccer ball and cleats, he said, “They weren’t the best brand or the most expensive but they worked.”

Martínez said he didn’t care too much for the academic side of high school. “I wasn’t really into the honor roll and I never was a book guy,” said Martínez, “but I still got my stuff done.” Martínez went to South High School in Bakersfield and his sport was soccer. “I played soccer in high school all four years and I was on varsity for three,” he said. And he wasn’t your average soccer player, “My senior year I was captain, and I finished my senior year with 22 goals and 13 assists. I was soccer MVP [for my high school] and the MVP for the school district.”

In his junior year he was introduced to football. “During my junior year of soccer, I was asked [by the football coaches] if I could kick a football like I could kick a soccer ball,” said Martinez, “then when senior year rolled around they asked me if I wanted to play football.” He confessed that at the time he didn’t really know much about the sport. “I was like ‘I guess,’ so I ended up going and kicking there.” Martínez remembers kicking his first field goal at practice and said that, “the first time they [the coaches] lined me up to kick, I kicked a 40 yarder and the next day they [the coaches] put the pads on me and said ‘you’re our kicker.’” And Martínez’s football career began. “I went into my senior year just to be the kicker, but I also ended up playing DB [defensive back] and OLB [outside linebacker] and on offense I played receiver and running back,” said Martínez.

Martínez graduated from South High in 2004 and attended Bakersfield College later that fall. “I kicked there for the ’04 season, but during the ’05 season is when I started doing the kickoffs, field goals, and onsides,” Martínez said. It was at Bakersfield College that Martínez also began working with his kicking coach, Lorenzo Alvarez, who told Martínez that he saw potential in him. “He told me that I should go to a kicking event in Las Vegas called the Chris Sailer Kicking Camp, so I could try to get recruited.”  When he first arrived at the competition he was “ranked sixth because I didn’t have a commitment [for a college] but when it came to ratings I was ranked number one.” His two choices for colleges were UTEP and Ole Miss and when the time came for him to decide he said, “I didn’t know anything about football…I didn’t know anything about D1 [division one].” He picked UTEP and after red-shirting for one year, Martínez went from the junior college football level to becoming the number one D1 kicking prospect in the whole nation.

Martínez can still vividly remember the first field goal he made for UTEP. “It was in the Sun Bowl,” said Martínez. “They stuck me in there in the first quarter with about eight minutes left [in the half] from 51 yards away and I was pretty damn nervous.” He continued to recall, “It was my first collegiate field goal and that’s when I first felt the energy of the crowd. It was the biggest adrenaline rush ever and it seemed like everyone believed in me so I went out there and kicked and I made it.” Martínez says that kick was when he officially started his career at UTEP.

Since that first field goal, Martínez has kicked many times for UTEP and has racked up some pretty impressive numbers, but none of those previous kicks can compare to his record-breaking kick during the game in the Sun Bowl against the Central Florida. “That’s when I jumped into the history books,” said Martinez.

His point of view of that kick is quite different from what was witnessed by thousands of UTEP fans that night. “When I went out there for that kick, I felt the same way I did when I went out there for my first field goal, said Martínez. “My team was behind me, the crowd was behind me, and it was on TV. Right when I was going out there to take my steps, they [UCF] called a time out which is called ‘icing the kicker,’” Martínez said, “as soon as they called that time out, I was just sitting there by myself and I said ‘this is going in’ and when it was time to go back in, my team was yelling at me ‘just like practice.’” Martínez had kicked a 72-yarder in a spring scrimmage last year before the season started and he also attempted two 77 yard field goals during preseason camp but “one hit the left upright and the other came up short on the second try.” After the timeout ended Martínez said, “I went back on the field and I took my steps and I kicked. And all I could think about was my family, and even though my family wasn’t there I knew they were watching,” said Martínez, “and then the ref threw his hands up and I started running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I didn’t know what to do.” Smiling, he continued on by saying, “Every time I watch it, it just hits me. My family recorded it on the DVR and they watch it all the time too.”

That single kick has not only allowed Martínez to receive various honors and awards but it has also catapulted him into many opportunities that few Miner athletes ever hope get. Some of the special honors and awards that he has received include the title of special teams’ captain, first team all conference, and special teams MVP. He was also the leading scorer for UTEP, two time CUSA special teams’ player of the week, and was a finalist and top three in the nation in 2007 and top 20 in the nation for the Lou Groza award. “I think I moved up on the UTEP all time scoring list and I have the school record for longest field goal,” said Martínez, “I also have the CUSA record for the longest field goal, twice. And I tied UTEP’s record for most field goals in a game, twice, with five [goals].”

Like most college athletes, Martínez has dreams that he wants to achieve after his college career, which include a career as a professional athlete and one in community outreach. When asked about what he plans to do after college Martínez said, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far ahead.” He did say that if a career in the NFL is not in his future, he does have plans to use his degree to get into teaching. “I would probably get into some youth improvement teaching and try to give back to the community,” he said. “Maybe even programs like the YMCA, but just something that lets my work with kids. That’s what I like doing.” Martínez does plan on going back home to Bakersfield when he graduates so that he can be close to his family, and so he can also work with kids that are growing up in the community that he grew up in. However, the possibility of being drafted is not out of sight either. “If I do get drafted, I’ll start by helping my family and giving back to them. I will buy my mom a house and I’ll give everything I can to my brothers,” he said. “And lastly is when I’ll think about myself. But beside all the family stuff, I do want to get into some kind of charity that would help out needy Hispanic families.”

Two things that Martínez is focusing his attention on right now are graduating in May and the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine, the annual job fair for prospective NFL players. For six days in February in Indianapolis, players are put through a series of drills, tests, and interviews with more than 600 NFL head coaches, general managers, and scouts. “You’re voted in by college coaches and NFL coaches,” says Martínez, “and within all that, I got an invitation to go to Indianapolis and its going to be televised in the NFL network.”

Once he completes the combine, Martínez will be able to focus on the second biggest goal his life, which is graduating in May with a degree in Multidisciplinary Studies.  “Football was never something that I had in mind,” says Martínez, “I never told anyone that I wanted to play in the NFL, it was always soccer.  I just want to make my family proud and be able to provide for them.”
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