Back in 1966 the folk rock group Simon and Garfunkel penned a
song that had as its chorus
I am a Rock, I am an Island.
Back in 1966 the folk rock group Simon and Garfunkel penned a song that had as its chorus “I am a Rock, I am an Island.” And while we can safely assume that field goal kickers were the farthest thing from the duo’s mind at the time of the lyrics’ writing, rest assured, every kicker wearing a single digit on his back, that has lined up behind the offensive line with the game hanging in the balance has felt just that way . . . like he’s on an island all by himself.
And for the good ones they’re also a rock. That’s what makes them money in the clutch. And Gilroy’s Neil Martin is one of the money guys. He’s downright good.
But even the good ones miss from time to time. And that’s when the world takes notice. To quote yet another lyricist from the past, “One can be the loneliest number.”
And two weeks ago against San Lorenzo Valley, Neil Martin missed just his second extra point of the year. But it was one that everyone would remember . . . no one more than Neil.
The Mustangs had pulled off an amazing comeback rallying from 21 points down at halftime and on the game’s final play Gilroy scored a touchdown to pull within one point.
Initially Gilroy head coach Darren Yafai opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win. But a 5-yard penalty on offense got Yafai rethinking his options. He instead decided to turn to Neil “Mr. Automatic” Martin.
But on this night Martin would not be perfect.
His extra point sailed wide left.
“As soon as I hit it I knew I had shanked it,” Martin would later admit. “I didn’t feel good the whole night. There was something wrong. Something not right, even in warmups.”
In the locker room no one had to say a word and few did.
Martin, a senior, is one of the captains on this Gilroy squad and he not only felt the weight of the world on his shoulders, he was the first to put it there.
“My Dad (Craig) is my special teams coach. It was real quiet in our house that night,” Neil said. “Neither one of us said a word. I was angry at myself. It was uncalled for to miss that kick. The second I missed it I told everyone that I blew the game.”
But ironically enough something much bigger may have been gained by that miss and that’s really where the story becomes one of interest.
“I can’t really explain it but in the four years I’ve been on the team I can honestly say that I feel more a part of the team, one of the guys, now than I ever did before,” Martin explained. “I mean all these guys are my friends but I think they’ve in some ways always taken me for granted. When I missed that extra point it was like a wake up call for all of us.”
In fact on the first day of practice following the loss the Mustangs offensive coordinator, Tim Pierleoni, came up with an idea that would ultimately totally unite the Gilroy squad.
When Coach Yafai blew the whistle ending practice, Pierleoni yelled out to the whole team and ordered them to line up as one solid defensive line. They then lined Martin up for a 25-yard field goal.
“I told the kids to yell at him as loud as they could. You can’t exactly simulate crowd noise but that’s what we were aiming for,” Pierleoni admitted.
And then the relentless taunting began. “Neee-il, Neee-il,” the team chanted. “Neee-il, Neee-il!”
When Martin split the uprights with a forceful kick the entire team exploded in applause.
“I’m not that emotional of a person,” Neil admitted. “But when they did that I can honestly say it gave me a feeling like something I’ve almost never had. We’re a team. We win as a team and now we’ve lost as a team. I’m telling you, I can’t explain it. It was just weird, that’s all.”
Pierlioni, who is well known for his tough exterior, showed his softer side in speaking of Martin.
“He’s one of our leaders. The kids look up to him. They know they need Neil. The exercise was all in fun. I know one thing. I’m not afraid of many things but ‘ll tell you right now, that’s one position I’d never want. I could never be a field goal kicker. Talk about pressure. Wow!”
In last Friday night’s game against Oakland Tech Martin missed a 45-yard field goal (not really of any fault of his own) but then drilled a 33-yard field goal and two extra points.
The team lost but with the way they’ve rallied together as a team that one point loss may actually catapult this team to bigger and better things.
“I never want to feel the way I felt that night again,” admitted Martin. “It was a horrible feeling.”
And to finish the Simon and Garfunkel chorus, “And a Rock feels no pain and an island never cries.”
Neil Martin is a field goal kicker at heart. That means that he finds himself out on an island every time he takes the field.
But for this rock . . . he wouldn’t have it any other way.
And now he knows he’s got a sea of support around him.