While his teammates exchanged hits on a soggy football field all week, Columbus Lions kicker Carlos Martinez enjoyed some quiet time by himself on a baseball field near his home in Atlanta.
The kicker is responsible for his own workouts, which he said typically consist of lining up on a nearby high school infield and kicking balls at the light poles in the outfield and behind the backstop. Lions coach Jason Gibson said he had no problem with Martinez’s unusual approach or trusting him to get in enough practice.
“It’s working, isn’t it? He’s about the most productive player in the league right now,” Gibson said. “Whatever he’s doing, he’s doing something right.”
Martinez, who came to the Lions with NFL, AFL and af2 experience, might just be an early candidate for league MVP. After three games, he leads the AIFA in points (48) and is third in points per game (16.0). Only one other kicker, Baltimore’s Gary Cipra, cracks the top 10 in either category.
“(Martinez) can be the difference in a game for us,” Gibson said. “He’s making almost all of his field goals and extra points, and then he can kick it 60 yards and get an uno (one-point for a field goal on a kickoff). That’s a four-point play for us. If we don’t score a touchdown and instead go for a field goal, those four points are almost as important as the touchdown and keep us in the game.”
The only thing more important then the point totals has been Martinez’ consistency, according to Gibson. He is 15-for-16 on point-after attempts through three games and is hitting better than 60 percent of his field-goal attempts.
Martinez was a three-time all-state honoree as Papillion-La Vista Senior High’s kicker and set the Nebraska record for most field goals (28). At Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, he was a three-time All-America selection and garnered Division III Kicker of the Year and Special Teams Player of the Year honors.
Gibson, who had a close relationship with the coaching staff of the AFL’s Georgia Force, didn’t need to hear about the accolades.
“I saw him play for the Force, so I knew what he could do,” Gibson said. “I saw him kick and I knew we could use a guy like that.”
Gibson may not have expected such big numbers, though. In five seasons in the AFL, Martinez had 32 field goals on 69 attempts.
He’s on track to match that mark with two regular-season games to spare this year, and he intends to pass it.
“I definitely think I can keep up this pace,” Martinez said. “I appreciate (Gibson) giving me the chance to put some points on the board.
“When I played with the Force, we had such a high-power offense, they didn’t need me to kick a lot. Coach is giving me a lot of opportunities this season and I’m trying to showcase my abilities.”
Doing the leg work
The Lions have a roster peppered with players with college and arena experience and even a two-time Super Bowl winner in Dexter Reid. But few have put in as many miles as Martinez.
He signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2003 and had a pair of touchbacks and two extra points in the preseason before being cut. He spent part of the following preseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but still never made the game-day squad.
After failing to make the grade with the Buccaneers, Martinez played the final six games of the season with the AFL’s Dallas Desperados, where he kicked well enough to earn a two-year contract. He tore his ACL in the second game of his first full season in Dallas and played the next 14 games with the nagging injury. His numbers hardly reflected his struggles.
“I got hurt on the second kick of the second game of the season, and I actually ended up having my best year,” Martinez said. “I finished the season with a 98.4 percent PAT percentage. I don’t know how I did it. It hurt, but I just toughed it out.”
Martinez then had a brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006, but again was cut, this time the day before the first preseason game. He returned to Dallas to play with the Desperados, but instead found a spot on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad in November.
After eventually being dropped by the Cowboys, Martinez signed with the Force, where he picked up another two-year deal. And when the AFL announced it was suspending the 2009 season midway through his contract, Martinez saw his next opportunity in Columbus.
Martinez was recruited by Division I schools but waited too long to make a commitment. The teams quickly found other players anxious to take his spot, but Martinez said he had no regrets about signing with a Division III school.
“If I could go back, I would do it all the same,” Martinez said. “I got to play right away, and my first game I hit a 42-yard field goal to win the game in overtime.
“… I’ve always had a hard work ethic, and I knew that someone would notice me if I was making the 50-yarders anywhere I went to school. Maybe I wasn’t on TV like everyone else, but I was making those kicks and proving I was just as good if not better and out-kicking everyone I faced.”
Martinez said he hopes that same attitude finds him a spot on an NFL roster next season. And although he said he could not comment on the specific teams he has contacted, the kicker has workouts scheduled for next week in Phoenix and Kansas City, Mo.
“I see myself in the NFL next year,” he said. “I have a couple big things coming up next week, and I’ve been bouncing back and forth between arena football and the NFL long enough to know what I need to do. Whether you’re in Division III or the AIFA or wherever, you’ll get noticed if you’re making plays.
“It’s been my childhood dream to play on a Sunday, and I’m still working hard to get there.”