At 14, he should focus on kid stuff
Tate Martell is a talented, dual-threat quarterback who wants to play football at the University of Washington. Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian has studied Martell on film, and was impressed enough to offer the San Diego resident a scholarship a few weeks ago.
Still, Martell remains undecided about where he’ll attend school. Uh, high school. The 14-year old is entering the eighth grade.
That’s right, the Huskies have assured a 14-year old that a free college education awaits him in 2017 (Martell reportedly accepted the offer Wednesday). While the assurance is not binding – it packs the contractual weight of, “Hey, let’s do lunch sometime” – identifying an eighth grader as a potential blue-chip quarterback suggests a recruiting culture that is out of control.
Until I read Bob Condotta’s story in the Seattle Times, I’d never heard of Tate Martell. I admit this without shame: For one, I pay minimal attention to college recruiting until letters of intent are signed in February. For two, the last seventh grade football player to genuinely impress me was Ralph Sieja, my teammate at Immaculate Conception school in suburban Chicago.
Ralph ran me over during a nutcracker drill. I crouched into a tackling position, and the next thing I knew, the coach was asking, “Are you awake now, son? You just got your bell rung!”
I skipped practice the next day – my back hurt more than my head did – but I returned the day after that, for more nutcracker drills, and the coach never disciplined me for my unexcused absence. It occurred to me that he didn’t notice.
Anyway, ever since getting my bell rung, I’ve kind of avoided dwelling on seventh-grade football. Sarkisian, apparently, doesn’t have that luxury. He’s seen films of a seventh grader excelling with agile feet and a strong, accurate arm – he’s convinced the kid will anchor the Huskies’ recruiting class of 2017 – and what’s wrong with that?
In a word: Everything.
Even though I don’t know Martell, I feel sorry for him. He’s got only one chance to spend a summer as a 14-year old kid, and he’s spending it as a quarterback prospect for a major college football program.
At least he’s used to the drill. Al Martell, Tate’s father, told the Times that his son has been playing football “seriously” since the age of 7.
Wow. When I was 7, the only thing I took seriously was making sure Santa Claus saw the plate of cookies awaiting him after he slithered down the chimney. If a serious football coach, preparing for a serious game, had told me, “There is no tomorrow” on a Saturday, I would’ve thought: Hurray! No school until Tuesday, because Monday would be replacing Sunday.
Seven-year olds shouldn’t be taking football seriously, and 14-year olds shouldn’t be committing themselves to a university that has no business cultivating children to be quarterbacks.
For everything there is a season, and for every season there is an age that seemed ideal. Winter reminds me of when I was 7, building castles in the snow, and then finding comfort in the sound of logs crackling in the fireplace. Spring reminds me of when I was 11, playing hoops on a neighbor’s driveway as the weekend nights turned longer and warmer. Fall reminds me of when I was 20, cramming inside a station wagon for an overnight trip to a college football road game.
Summer reminds me of when I was 14. That was the year I rode a horse for the first (and last) time, the year I delivered newspapers at dawn and mowed lawns at night and still had enough time to play baseball games on a schoolyard field unencumbered by the presence of adults. It’s not that we didn’t love our parents; we just didn’t want them hanging around, replenishing our bodies with snacks and drinks, reminding us to keep our eye on the ball.
We played catch if only two of us showed up. We called our field – left or right – if three of us showed up. Sometimes as many as 15 or 20 kids showed up. If there is such a place as heaven, it contains a schoolyard baseball field where 20 kids can enjoy the opportunity to be 14 years old on a summer afternoon.
The 14-year-old determined to play for UW isn’t wasting time on the childhood he’s relinquished. This 14-year-old is destined for stardom.
Steve Clarkson, a noted quarterbacks camp instructor whose previous pupils include Sarkisian, told the Seattle Times this about the Huskies’ latest find: “If you could clone Fran Tarkenton and Brett Favre, you would have Tate Martell.”
Tarkenton and Favre are all-time greats, but both have endured personal difficulties. In 1999, Tarkenton was forced to pay $154,187 to the SEC – the other SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission – as a penalty for directing investors into a software company exposed as a fraud.
In 1996, Favre, in the throes of a Vicodin addiction, spent 46 days in a drug-rehab clinic. Favre also was fined $50,000 in 2010 for failing to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation of inappropriate messages he allegedly sent to a female New York Jets game day host.
The point here is not to denigrate the legends of Tarkenton and Favre. But it’s intriguing, and troubling, when a 14-year-old is seen as the next-generation prototype of two great players not unfamiliar with headaches off the field.
Here’s a thought: Can we wait a few years before we talk about a future eighth grader as a clone of Fran Tarkenton and Brett Favre?
Tate Martell owns a non-binding scholarship offer from the UW, but the cost is substantial: He’ll never have a chance to be 14 again. He’ll never have a chance to enjoy the best summer of his life.