TOUCHET — In the first quarter of last Saturday’s semifinal, Touchet’s Elias Martinez had his lower lip and gums slashed open.
The defensive back was chasing a ballcarrier down the Edgar Brown field in Pasco. He dived, missed the tackle at the goal line and landed awkwardly with his chin slamming into the turf. His chinstrap dug into his mouth, giving the appearance that his lip had been sliced with a razor blade.
Despite bleeding profusely, Martinez sat out just one play, quickly going back onto the field and leading the Indians to a monster rally and a berth into Friday’s Class 1B state title game in Tacoma against Neah Bay.
It’s that kind of toughness that has allowed him to shake off an interception that would have broken lesser athletes and made him into one of the best players in the state.
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Martinez was intercepted in the final seconds of Touchet’s quarterfinal loss in 2012.
“That was like the big motivator to this whole season,” Martinez said of the throw. “Just remembering that game and the last interception I threw. It still bugs me. I feel like I let the team down and last year’s seniors. I tried to do too much.
“(This season) will make up for it if I win the state championship.”
Martinez worked extra hard last offseason, gathering his fellow seniors to the Touchet football field after they got off of work, throwing passes, working on the offense and forming a bond that would serve them well this fall.
“All the seniors, they had that taste of the playoffs last year, it was just a bitter taste in their mouth and they needed to get back,” said Saul Martinez, Elias’ older brother who helps the coaching staff during practice. “You could see it at the beginning of the season — this team was going to be good.”
Elias Martinez is the last of four brothers to play for Touchet. He will be the first to play in the Tacoma Dome, though older brothers George (1999) and Saul (2006) were on teams that qualified for state title games.
Elias has developed from the baby of a family of nine into a leader on and off the field for the Indians, who haven’t won a state title since 1999.
“He sets a real good example for the rest of the kids to follow,” Touchet coach Gary Dorman said. “That is both out here (on the football field) and in the classroom and in school. He’s a real good role model for our younger kids.
“He really exudes a lot of confidence, but he doesn’t have so much that he doesn’t stop to talk to a second or third grader that wants to talk to him either.”
Elias remembers playing football with his older brothers in the backyard of the family home. While he didn’t start out as a quarterback because he was too small — he said he was just a tackling dummy — he learned from George and Saul and Jose, eventually seeing what it took to play varsity for Touchet.
“I didn’t know he was going to be as good as he is today,” said Jose, who graduated in June, “but he showed what he can do (as a youngster) and it is pretty good.”
Elias went under center for the first time in fifth grade as a part of Pee Wee football and hasn’t looked back since.He was on JV as a freshman and split time at QB the first two games of his sophomore season, before an injury paved the way for him to take over full time, a position he hasn’t let go of since.
“He is such a student of the game,” Dorman said. “He is just so smart and understand the game, and understands what the other team is doing. He reads things real fast.”
Martinez added a new skill this season, playing defensive back for the first time. Dorman said he is the best at that position in the state and is good enough to play it at larger classification schools.
Martinez is planning on pursuing a degree in statistics and has applied to attend the University of Washington.Before he can do that, though, he has a game to worry about Friday in Tacoma on the biggest stage of his life.
“It doesn’t feel real,” he said. “Knowing all my brothers tried to do the same thing, and how hard it is. It feels good. I’m not nervous, I’m excited.”