By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
El Monte High School’s football team hasn’t won a Mission Valley League title since 1979, or since Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby, but with junior quarterback Brandon Martinez in the saddle, El Monte finally has a horse in the race with which to compete. Back in September, Martinez made his varsity debut by throwing for 223 yards and four touchdowns, and rushing for 126 yards in an eye-catching 43-17 victory over Baldwin Park. When asked afterward if he expected more such performances from Martinez, coach Joel Sanchez said, “If he does, you’ll be writing about him every week.”
Martinez took the baton and ran with it.
The dual threat helped the Lions secure their biggest victory in years with a 31-28 victory over Rosemead on Friday.
Not only did Martinez throw for 320 yards and four touchdowns, but he delivered the winning dagger with 1:09 left, completing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Memo Silva to rally the Lions past the Panthers.
El Monte has a favorable schedule the rest of the way. The Lions (4-2, 1-0) travel to Mountain View (3-3, 0-1) on Friday, and don’t have to face defending league champion Arroyo until the league finale.
“On that last drive (against Rosemead), I didn’t feel nervous,” Martinez said. “I kept saying to myself, `This is our opportunity, this is the time to shine.’
“We never beat Rosemead, we just never do, but we believed we can do it, and as long as we keep believing in each other, anything can happen.”
That’s what you want to hear from your quarterback and team leader.
Martinez was supposed to be the backup to senior Manuel Santa Cruz, who threw for 1,924 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010, but Santa Cruz also threw 19 interceptions, which left the door open for others to contend for his spot.
Martinez emerged and impressed everyone – not just with his ability to throw, but with his legs and commitment on and off the field.
“I remember coach giving a big speech saying it doesn’t matter if you’re a senior or junior, you have to fight for it,” Martinez said of the QB spot. “That’s all I needed to hear. I dedicated myself and ran, I lost 30 pounds.
“So far it’s paying off, and it’s great for El Monte High School. You get so tired of losing and everyone expecting you to lose. That’s not us right now.”
It wasn’t an easy summer decision to go with Martinez over Santa Cruz, but it was the right choice.
“He’s (Martinez) obviously better because he gives us the ability to run the ball too,” Sanchez said. “Plus, he’s a junior and has a great attitude.
“We had an idea of what Brandon could give us playing on junior varsity, but he took the opportunity and has shined. It’s been a blessing in disguise.
“To have a guy who can run and throw as effectively as him gives your offense another dimension. It’s a dimension we haven’t had before, but we love the possibilities he gives us. Plus he’s confident, and that’s what you want from your guy leading your offense.”
Sanchez said Martinez losing the offseason weight made his 5-foot-9, 165-pound quarterback more mobile.
Averaging 214 yards per game, Martinez has thrown for 1,285 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 500 yards and four touchdowns.
He’s on track to throw for 2,000 and rush for 1,000, and he’s still learning.
“He’s also the starting point guard on the basketball team,” Sanchez said. “He lost his baby fat and finished his first full year in the weight room.
“We’ve watched other teams have quarterbacks like that, so it’s great to have one like him here, and the best part is his attitude and work ethic. It’s always hard when you replace a (senior) with a (junior), but our guys respect Brandon because of how hard he works and how dedicated he is.
“Players want to be led; they want a guy like that. That’s the only way it works (replacing a senior with a junior) – when you earn (teammates’) respect.”
What El Monte doesn’t want to do now is take a step back.
“We’ve never been in this position before,” Sanchez said. “It’s always Rosemead and Arroyo; they’re always fighting for the league title.
“This is new to us, so we’re not going to overlook anyone. I know it’s natural to look down the road and (forecast) the possibilities, but we can’t do that, and I don’t think our players will. They’re coming out fighting every week; that’s what you like to see.”
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