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Psssst . . . Have You Heard About Chris Martin?

October 03, 1986|TOM HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Let you in on a little secret. The best senior running back in Orange County doesn't play for Edison High School, El Modena, Servite or El Toro.

He doesn't play for any of the more publicized schools in the area. In fact, he doesn't even play his home games in the county, but in relative obscurity at California High in Whittier.

The opposition includes Big Bear, mighty Christian High of El Cajon and a Bassett team that finished 1-9 last season.

But Chris Martin, star running back for tiny Whittier Christian High, is a college prospect despite his anonymity. Just ask the recruiters at Texas, Nebraska, Baylor, Colorado, Utah or Nevada Las Vegas.

They all managed to find Martin at the private school that has an enrollment of only 930 students and is located in the northwest corner of La Habra.

It's easy to understand why the big-time schools are vying for Martin. He has gained 552 yards in 70 carries for a 7.9 average and 8 touchdowns. Many college scouts envision Martin as a free safety with his 4.6 speed in the 40, vertical leap of 37 inches and great hands.

Whittier Christian Coach Phil Bravo said he could coach for another 15 years and never have another player like Martin.

"He's a fast, finesse/power runner, if that makes sense," Bravo said. "He can hit the hole and break to the outside, or, if the hole is clogged, he can put his head down and run over defenders.

"He's elusive, yet powerful. When Chris is running in the open field, it's exciting. We've never had a player quite like him here."

Bravo came close to never having coached Martin. Martin was convinced that his future was on the basketball court. He gave up football after his sophomore year. But El Toro Coach Bob Johnson persuaded Martin to give football another chance.

"I met Coach Johnson last summer when I was playing basketball with his son (Bret) in the Slam 'n Jam League," Martin said. "We used to talk a lot before and after the games. He would always tell me: 'If you went to my school, you'd be playing football.' That's where the foundation began.

"The next week, Coach Bravo talked to me and planted the seed. He told me his plans for a running team. I got excited about playing again. I talked it over with my parents and decided to give football another shot."

Bravo couldn't have been happier with Martin's decision. The 6-foot 3-inch, 180-pounder gained 178 yards in his varsity debut against Beaumont. He followed with 292 yards against Big Bear and, suddenly, the world took notice.

He was honored as Southern California's player of the week by a Los Angeles television station. Recruiters are now telephoning Bravo every week for progress reports. The fanfare is all new for the little school on Beach Boulevard.

"This is my sixth year at the school, and I've never had any interest about a player from a big-time college," Bravo said. "We've had players go to Cal Lutheran, Occidental and other small colleges. It's fun getting calls from coaches at Texas or Nebraska every week."

School officials in the athletic department at Whittier Christian had better learn the recruiting game. Martin's younger brother, Erik, figures to be a top basketball prospect by his senior year.

Erik, 6-5, 190 pounds, already wears size-16 shoes. The 15-year-old is projected to grow to 6-9 before he graduates. Both Martins will be starters for the Heralds' basketball team for the second straight season.

Chris Martin was the point guard last season as Whittier Christian posted a 25-1 record. The Heralds' only loss came in the Southern Section 1-A Division title game against Crossroads of Santa Monica. Martin said Washington State, San Jose State and Oregon have expressed interest in his basketball skills.

Basketball has always been a big part of the Martin family. Martin's father, Edward, was a starting center for the University of Connecticut. His mother played at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.

"My goal has always been to get a college scholarship," Martin said. "I don't care which sport. If a good opportunity is there, I'll take it. But I'm just going to wait and see what happens."

While there is some uncertainity about Martin's athletic future, grades should be no problem. He has maintained a 3.0 grade-point average in college-prep classes. He said his parents enrolled him at Whittier Christian because of its strong academic reputation. But the move wasn't initially popular with their son.

"I was all set to go to Los Altos," he said. "I had attended summer practices for the freshman football team. I had a class schedule. But a week before conditioning week started, my parents told me I was going to Whittier Christian.

"I was looking forward to playing with my friends at Los Altos. I got to Whittier Christian and I only knew one player. But it was easy making new friends here, and I understand now that my parents wanted me to get the best education I could.

"I sometimes ask myself what it would be like playing at a big school. Would I be this good at a big school? I would probably get more exposure at a bigger school, but I think the college scouts have found me."

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