Ross Martin earns UA Game jersey

Ross Martin lined himself up, took three steps back, two steps to the side and put his head down. He was concentrating on his holder and target spot, but it was probably best he didn't look up anyway. Staring him down would have been an 0-1 start and a devastating loss to a team that had no business in the lead with just seconds left in the game.

The ball was snapped, Martin approached the ball and booted it toward the uprights as the game clock struck zeros.

"Right down the middle," said Martin, who kicked a game-winning 29-yard field goal for Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Walsh Jesuit in its season-opening 27-26 win over Louisville (Ohio).

"I was just thinking how I did it a million times before, breaking down the pure mechanics of it," he said. "When it happened it was all mechanics and a perfect kick."

It is big kicks like that one against Louisville that earned the No. 2 kicker in the country and three-star prospect a spot in the Under Armour All-America Game, which will be played in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Jan. 5.

On Tuesday, Martin was awarded his all-star game jersey during a presentation in his school's library with his teammates, coaches and mother looking on. It was the second stop on the 80-stop tour for the American Family Insurance presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour.

"I was absolutely ecstatic and very humbled," Martin said of the ceremony. "It's a huge thrill for me. I got to go to a lot of national events and saw how many kickers would be thrilled to have my opportunity. I worked extra hard for this opportunity."

Few kickers earn scholarships every year, and it is rare for kickers to earn scholarship offers from schools such as Texas -- like two-in-every-four-years rare.

The Longhorns were among Martin's final teams, but, in a bit of a surprise, Martin committed in June to play for David Cutcliffe at Duke.

"I looked around at numerous colleges all over during summer, and last June I went back to Duke and fell in love with the campus," Martin said. "The coaching staff is unbelievable with Coach Cutcliffe, and it's Division I football in the ACC plus the academic experience."

The Blue Devils' coaching staff wants Martin to make it down to Durham, N.C., as soon as possible, so Martin plans on heading toward Tobacco Road just days after his June 5 high school graduation. The coaching staff has told Martin it expects him to be the Blue Devils' starting kicker in 2012.

It's too bad Martin can get to Duke now, because through four games the Blue Devils have connected on just 2 of 8 field goal attempts.

California, Harvard, Northwestern and Texas were the other four schools in Martin's final five, and it was hard saying no to Texas and even more so Harvard.

"Academics are a huge factor for me," Martin said. "I've always valued them and they have always been important. When looking at colleges I always looked at the very solid base of being an academic institution.

"It was a little hard [saying no to Harvard], but at the same time, I know Duke is a top-10 school. I know I'll get as equal an education at Duke."

In return, Duke is getting a kicker with a leg capable of hitting 66-yard field goals.

During the summer, Martin drilled a field goal from 66 yards away during practice. His longest career field goal in a game is 49 yards, but he did push through consecutive field goals of 55, 57 and 60 yards at a kicking camp in September, the last of which won him the kicking competition.

Like a number of kickers, Martin was a strong-legged soccer player before moving from the pitch to the gridiron. Don't expect to see Martin flopping like Ronaldo or avoiding contact on kickoffs, though.
Prior to focusing on just kicker, Martin played outside linebacker and running back for four years from fifth to eighth grade. In fact, football is the only sport Martin plays now.

"I've always been a pretty physical player, even in soccer; it was a good time to legally hit people," Martin, who had four tackles on kickoffs last year, said with a laugh. "All of my teammates, they know I do a lot of the hitting drills and work extremely hard in the weight room.

"I have their respect on all levels."

Jared Shanker covers Midwest recruiting. He can be reached at jshankerespn@gmail.com.