So many thoughts and emotions run through the minds of football players in the span of a game. The mind and heart of the leader of Glendale College’s football team belong to one thing: his grandmother.
Quarterback Steve Martinez lost his grandmother two days before Christmas last year, but to him she is still at every game protecting her first grandchild.
“When I’m out on the field I know she’s watching over me and protecting me,” Martinez said. “Whenever something happens during the game I’ll look up and acknowledge her.”
Leading up to his grandmother’s death, Martinez was dealing with uncertainty in his football career, receiving no playing time at East Los Angeles College, and was losing faith in his ability. The death of his grandmother not only took away his favorite person but also left him without his biggest supporter.
“When she died, I didn’t want to do anything anymore. She was the biggest influence in my life and she was always there for me,” Martinez said. “She didn’t know much about football but she would come to every single game and cheer me on even if it was hard for her to get around in a wheelchair.”
He recalls his grandmother spending eight hours receiving treatment for her illnesses, but she would always find a way to make it to his games. He has Pretty tattooed on his left bicep to honor her; he called her Pretty because as a child he would call for his mother and grandmother by mom and his grandmother would tell him she is his pretty mom. He may have given her the nickname of Pretty, but he never underestimated her toughness.
“Her heart must have stopped about five times. She was a fighter and it made me feel bad always complaining about being sore from practice,” Martinez said. “Watching her and seeing how brave she was has made me tough on the field.”
Just as football was dissapering from Martinez’s heart, his grandfather pulled him aside and asked him to reconsider playing said and that it would have made his grandmother happy. Martinez realized sitting around was not going to do anything for him so he jumped back into the sport and realized he needed a fair chance to lead a team.
“I doubted myself a little because everyone else doubted me too,” Martinez said. But the slight doubt was not enough to deter him .
He approached Glendale College Head Coach John Cicuto and received an invitation to join the team, but was never guaranteed anything. He joined three weeks before the season started and knew his place would be on the bench unless he could prove what he had.
“Coach [Cicuto] just gave me a chance,” Martinez said, “something East L.A. never wanted to give me.”
He is now the starting quarterback for Glendale College and has gone from a spectator on the bench to the man controlling the game for Glendale. He has led GCC to a two-game win streak and a 3-2 record. What mainly impresses Cicuto is the attitude Martinez has for the game.
“He enjoys playing football. It’s not work to him,” Cicuto said. “That’s the difference between him and some other players.”
Martinez revels at being the starting quarterback and knows what comes with the position, the first to be patted on the back in a win and the first pulled aside by the coaches on a bad play.
“There is pressure being the starting quarterback because for other players to be seen by scouts we have to win,” Martinez said. “If I play bad, we’re not going to win and I don’t want to let anyone down.”
If he feels any pressure, he hides it well because the coaching staff love his calm and cool demeanor on the field during stressful moments.
“Pressure doesn’t get to him and he never has a strain on his face,” Cicuto said. “He’s a very intense athlete but nothing really bothers him.”
Martinez realizes the fact that stress can either make or break a great quarterback and he works hard on staying calm during the course of a game. He tries to be like the eye of a hurricane, controlling the destruction that whirls around him but remaining focused and calm.
“To play football you have to be in a rage, but the quarterback has to stay calm even though everyone around you is going crazy,” Martinez said. “I just feel immortal when I’m out on the field. Off the field I feel normal though.”
The hurricane that surrounds Martinez needs to grow stronger because of the bold statement he made after last week’s win against East L.A., where he guaranteed a sweep the rest of the season and the tougher schedule coming up.
Martinez will do his best on the field to lead this team to the playoffs and a bowl appearance, something that has eluded them since 1992. He will count on his fearless attitude towards the game and the guidance of his grandmother to push him on.
“I know she’s not here anymore,” Martinez said. “But I want to make her proud and I know she’s watching me because she promised me she would.”