He had something to prove.
Lincoln High star defensive tackle Romello Martin was always told New York City football programs didn’t stack up to those in other gridiron hotbeds across the country. The talent, they said, simply wasn’t there.
But Martin never believed that talk, and at the 22nd Annual Empire Challenge June 21 at Hofstra University, the 6-2, 290-pound lineman helped prove it.
Martin and his fellow city standouts clinched a dramatic final-second victory over the Long Island all-stars, but the game was about much more than just bragging rights or even national exposure. It gave Martin and some of his Lincoln teammates one last chance to celebrate a victory under their head coach, Shawn O’Connor, who had been winless in three previous tries against Long Island in the annual all-star game.
“It was fantastic to play one last game with coach,” Martin said. “He was 0-for-3 in this game, (so) we sent him out the right way.”
For Martin, the game was one final chapter in a long list of positive high school memories. On the field after the game, his elation and pride could be sensed from a mile away as he struggled to single out just one memory from his remarkable career.
“I’d say my best memories were all my memories at Lincoln, all of them, all three seasons that I had over there,” Martin said. He added that the Railsplitters’ city championship during his sophomore season stood out and while Lincoln came up short this season, falling in the city semifinals, he insists he wouldn’t trade a moment of the experience.
Now, Martin will have an opportunity to compile new memories, at a new level; this fall, he’ll play college football at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Martin, who had a handful of Division I offers, said that once he found out he would have an opportunity to play for new Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin, his decision was sealed.
“When I found out Coach Kiffin was my coach I was, like, ‘I’m coming,’” he said. “We’ll see what Coach Kiffin can bring me,” he said.
Kiffin, whose coaching resume includes stops at Tennessee, Southern California, Alabama and the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, brings a certain aura to the Florida Atlantic football program, one that Martin says he’s looking forward to experience.
“It was mainly the coaching staff that I was comfortable with,” he said.
Martin also joked that he was excited to ditch the blustery New York winters in favor of the sunny temperatures of Boca Raton. But while he is eager to depart, he won’t be so easily forgotten after a successful three years at Lincoln.
A consensus three-star recruit — who also fielded offers from top programs like Florida, Florida State, Penn State and Miami — Martin is a prime example of the exciting new football talent that is exploding out of New York City. It’s a trend he’s certain will continue, and most importantly, will be shown nationwide when the Empire Challenge airs on CBS Sports July 1.
“All I could say is that July 1st , you’ll see what New York City could bring to you,” Martin said.