When Dylan Martin came back from an injury to his throwing wrist to pitch perhaps the best game of his baseball career on May 16, it was little bittersweet for St. Helena High head coach Darrell Quirici.
During an April 1 doubleheader against visiting Fort Bragg, the Saints had lost not only both games but Martin, too.
“It was an innocuous thing,” Quirici recalled. “He slid into home, but his hand was down on the slide and he had a minor fracture. We didn’t get him back until May 2. He was still out there at practice every day, with his wrist taped up, doing what he could do. He’s that kind of kid. But that was a big chunk of our league season which we could have used him. It would have been a different season with him.”
That was apparent that Senior Day, in not only St. Helena’s last home game but its season finale.
Martin had lost his comeback game a week before to rival Middletown, 4-2, despite allowing no earned runs. This time, against Clear Lake, he and his defense were clicking. He tossed a brilliant complete game, a two-hit shutout with four strikeouts and just two walks as the Saints won 4-0 to avenge an earlier 4-1 North Central League I loss.
Unlike Martin’s football and basketball teams, the Saints weren’t headed to the CIF North Coast Section playoffs in baseball.
It had been a pretty quick season for Martin. After he had led the basketball team to the postseason for the first time in five years, he barely got to play baseball before his injury.
But he had quarterbacked the football team to the playoffs, was named All-County Boys Basketball Player of the Year, and finished out the baseball season to complete his fourth year as a three-sport athlete.
Those feats, and the way Martin overcame adversity to accomplish them, made him a convincing choice for Napa Valley Register 2016-17 Male Athlete of the Year.
Martin also finished his final football campaign on a strong note, throwing for a season-high 231 yards in a 27-9 playoff loss at Ferndale. For the year, he was 95 of 184 passing for 1,333 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, and was nominated for the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Football Team.
Football head coach Brandon Farrell said Martin’s 52-percent completion rate was partly out of his control.
“He’s so long in his arms and legs that there were times he would do things perfectly – get on top of the ball, keep a nice short stride – and still get out in front of himself (and throw incomplete). We also had a really undersized offensive line. But he was always willing to work come in and watch film with me.”
Martin also lost his final prep basketball game, 77-31 at No. 4 seed Bentley-Lafayette in their Division 5 section playoff opener, but he remembers that one with a laugh.
“That was the best basketball team I’ve ever played in my life,” Martin recalled. “I walked in and watched a guy, flat footed, jump and two-hand dunk it, and I looked at Joe (Densberger, head coach) and he said ‘Focus on yourself.”
Martin averaged 17.3 points per game for the season – 19.6 in league play – and scored in the 30s twice and more than 25 five other times.
“His senior year, really you could tell the difference in his basketball mentality compared to his first three years. I credit that with part of being the starting quarterback in football,” Densberger said after the basketball season. “You’ve got to see more than just you now. So he was seeing more and understanding and he was one of the big leaders of our team that tried to institute ‘one more pass, one more pass.’”
At 6-foot-3, Martin came into his senior basketball season expecting to be more of a recipient of passes. But the Saints needed a point guard, and Martin was ready for the challenge.
“I had been used to working off the ball, and it was interesting to look at it from a different point of view. I really enjoyed playing the point guard position. I felt that after two years of quarterbacking I was able to see the floor pretty well, so I could try to call out weaknesses (in the defense) and pick a play to counter those.”
He didn’t think being a tall ball handler was too unusual, noting that the No. 1 picks in the last two NBA drafts by the Philadelphia 76ers, 6-foot-4 Markelle Fultz and 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons, have good court awareness and passing ability.
A huge fan of the NBA, Martin would like to think he was inspired by the legendary Michael Jordan – whose original No. 23 Martin wore – when he fell under the weather before an important game this past season. Jordan had the flu when hit the winning shot in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
“My dad (Earl) had these old Jordan highlight-reel DVDs, and whenever I was watching anything on TV it was that. I want to say I thought of it for a sec when I was playing sick that night, but I was usually pretty focused,” Martin said. “Once I was finished blowing my nose on the sideline I was jumping back in.
“I really hated missing time away from sports because of illness or injury, so whenever there was something I could play through I just knew I had to do it and step up for my teammates. When you get in the game and the adrenaline kicks in, it’s insane.”
He’s been working full-time Mondays through Thursdays at Indian Springs Resort in Calistoga and Saturdays at Peju Winery as he gets ready to go to college in the fall.
“It’s good to make money before going to college,” he said.
Will use sports in major
A big fan of the movie “Jerry Maguire,” which was based on sports agent Leigh Steinberg, Martin plans to major in sports management at the University of Oregon.
“I figured if I’ve got all this knowledge about sports, why would I give it up and not utilize it?” he said. “I don’t know how often people who work with athletes understand the industry from the athlete’s point of view, but I feel like with my wealth of knowledge I would be able to relate with the players and managers. I’m super excited about it.”
Though he never won a playoff game, Martin had no regrets about playing sports year-round throughout high school.
“Every sport overlapped into the next season, so there were literally no days off, but sports are my thing,” he said. “I’ve always loved them. They keep me busy, keep me out of trouble. I just love to compete and I’m super glad I did it.”
Basketball has always been his favorite sport.
“Nothing can take my mind off something like basketball,” he said. “It has always just had a special place for me, from the time I was little.”
He said his friend and fellow Saints three-sport star, the 5-foot-9 Niko Lopez, was actually taller than Martin in middle school.
“That hasn’t been true for years now, but my mom (Kristin) and I convinced him to try out for the basketball team because of it,” Martin said. “Niko’s always been one of my best friends and he’s spent a lot of time at my house. My mom has spoken of him as her second son.”
Lopez was not only the Saints’ top hitter and pitcher in baseball but their leading rusher and kicker in football, which Martin said Lopez will be playing at Santa Barbara City College.
“Niko was definitely the workhorse for the football team,” he said. “When stuff wasn’t working, we’d just hand the ball off to him until we figured out something else to do. He’s always loved the game and loved to work for it. He’s a great baseball player, too. Niko and I always competed with each other to do better at whatever we were doing.”
When Martin started playing Carpy Gang youth football as a fifth-grader, he was a defensive lineman and tight end.
“I was always trying to be the scrimmage hero in practice, trying to pick off plays by looking for signs and what not, and reading the quarterback,” he recalled.
Martin said he didn’t start practicing as a quarterback until his eighth-grade year, when Farrell took him Lopez and another friend, Austin Cia, to the nearby middle school to throw.
“My arm was so weak and I had no idea what it took to play the quarterback position,” he said. “But it was fun that I was able to work with Coach Farrell for basically five years. I had a class with him my junior year, so there was just as much football talk going on as pre-Calculus.”
While playing 12 seasons of high school sports, he managed to finish with a 3.7 cumulative GPA.
“I talked to my parents a lot about dropping a sport just so I’d be able to focus on school, or on one of the other sports more, but I never wanted to drop another sport,” he said. “I was always motivated to play them, and my time management has always been pretty solid. Besides, playing one sport completely helps with components of other sports.”
Hampered by a large strike zone because of his height, Martin hit only about .280 this year in baseball. But he had a solid on-base percentage because of his patience.
“Dylan almost didn’t understand that he was a good baseball player, and I had to convince him of that sometimes,” Quirici said. “He was solid all the way around, from his character to how he played the game.”
Even though he’ll be playing only intramural sports at Oregon, Martin said he’s looking forward to attending such a sports-crazed institution.
“I visited Syracuse and UConn, too, but the feel I got at Oregon wasn’t like the other two,” he said. “I got a tour of the football facility from a friend who graduated this year from Oregon and from St. Helena five years ago, Lucas Wendt, who filmed for the football team. It’ll be crazy being where sports are so huge, but the academic programs are also really good so it’s the best of both worlds for me.”
When talking to Martin in person, or walking around campus with him and hearing everyone say hello to him, one wonders if he would have been class president if he’d had the time.
“He’s someone you really enjoy being around, and he definitely can make you laugh,” Quirici said. “He’s not a flashy player but he gets the job done. Whether on the football field, basketball court or baseball field, he does what you ask of him. I’m honored to have coached him and I think he’s going to do well with whatever he sets out to do with his life. Oregon’s going to be lucky for the next four years to have him up there.”
Learned to be resilient
Farrell said Martin almost didn’t play football as a junior because then-senior Dominic Collins was projected to start at quarterback. When he decided to play anyway, it saved the season because Collins had a season-ending injury at a preseason practice.
“I’m really glad Dylan, under the circumstances, ended up playing because kids need to understand that there’s a process involved. You don’t stop doing something you like to do just because you don’t think the reward’s going to be there right away,” Farrell said. “I think that had a big influence on Dylan. We had an unfortunate injury, we were unsure what was going to happen, and Dylan stepped up and did a great job. That showed a lot of poise and grit on his part and I think that kid of propelled him to a varsity sports career that was very fulfilling.
“It’s difficult to complete four consecutive years of being a three-sport athlete. It takes on a responsibility of its own beyond just playing the sport – we can’t run a football practice without a quarterback. The three-sport athlete is diminishing in this town, this county and probably the country, really.”
Farrell will always remember Martin for his resiliency.
“We were down 21-0 against a really good Fort Bragg team, and instead of being down three scores at the half, Dylan got us downfield quickly and threw a touchdown pass on the last play. Then we came out in the second half and he led a nice drive to get us within seven,” the coach recalled. “We were hoping to (win) that game and hopefully play for a championship. It didn’t work out for us, but for a spurt there Dylan gave us a chance to be competitive in the second half. He also had really good games against Winters and Lower Lake where were down at halftime and won.
“I’ll remember him most for his work ethic and coming out and really trying to improve as a quarterback, and he did that. I think overall Dylan will have a fond memory of his senior year. The teams were successful for the most part and that’s important stuff he will remember for a long time.”