High School Sports

Orestimba standout Martins will play football for Linfield in Oregon

Orestimba Austin Martins runs the ball during the Southern League game with Ripon Christian at Orestimba High School in Newman Calif., on Friday, September, 25, 2015.
Orestimba Austin Martins runs the ball during the Southern League game with Ripon Christian at Orestimba High School in Newman Calif., on Friday, September, 25, 2015. aalfaro@modbee.com

One of the best small-school football players in the state will be leaving it soon for a Division III power.

Orestimba senior Austin Martins will attend four-time national champion Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. He signed the equivalent of a letter of intent Wednesday during a lunchtime ceremony in the office at the high school.

Martins said he received scholarships for academic merit covering 85 to 90 percent of his tuition.

“To be wanted by one of the top Division III teams in the nation, one that could compete with D-II and NAIA programs, is amazing,” Martins said. “Every single year they’re competing for national championships. They’re playing on ESPN. That’s awesome.”

They’re recruiting to win a national championship, and they believe they can win conference every year.

Aaron Souza, Orestimba football coach, on Division III power Linfield College

A second-team all-state linebacker last fall, Martins was surrounded by family and school officials, including football coach Aaron Souza, when he confirmed his commitment.

Souza helped Martins through the recruiting process.

“This is exciting for him. When he first started playing for me, his big goal, aside from leading the team to a championship by his senior season, was that he wanted to play college ball at a four-year,” Souza said. “It was about finding the right fit and the right level. I truly believe he has come by the best situation for him.”

Martins becomes the third player from Orestimba to sign with a four-year university since Souza took over the program in 2010. He joins Kevin Tucker (Minot State in 2012) and Alex Banks (Crown College in 2015).

“First and foremost, we’re trying to get guys at Orestimba to be successful on the field and off,” Souza said. “We want them to graduate and play with a fanatical effort, and believe they can parlay that into success on Friday nights.”

2,081 Rushing yards last season by Austin Martins, the 12th-best total in Stanislaus District history.

Martins, a two-way player often left bloodied, bruised and bandaged, checked all of those boxes. He is a straight-A student (4.184 GPA) who also plays baseball and is involved with student leadership on campus and in the FFA program.

“I’m ecstatic for the kid,” Souza said.

With Martins and quarterback Joe Sheldon tugging at the reins, the Warriors enjoyed a storybook season. Orestimba (11-1) won the Battle for the Chief and the Southern League title on the same night in Gustine, then knocked off Hughson for the program’s first Sac-Joaquin Section playoff victory.

Orestimba suffered its only loss in the Division V semifinals at Sonora, the eventual section champion and CIF Northern California runner-up.

Martins was the physical and emotional catalyst for the Warriors, a player so intense and invested he was often moved to tears in the postgame huddle.

“I was one of the guys on our team at Orestimba,” Martins said, “and I want to be one of those guys in college.”

Martins led the Warriors in rushing (2,081 yards), touchdowns (25), tackles (115) and interceptions (eight). He was second on the team in sacks with six. He was hailed as one of the best small-school players in the region and state, earning spots on The Modesto Bee’s All-District team and MaxPreps’ All-Sac-Joaquin Section and Cal-Hi Sports’ all-state small-school second teams.

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound linebacker/running back joins one of the true powers in Division III football. Linfield has a reputation on par with Alabama, said Souza, who competed against the Wildcats as a player at Menlo College in 2004 and 2005.

Linfield College has 60 consecutive winning seasons, an NCAA all-divisions record. Along the way, the Wildcats have won four national championships: in 1982, 1984 and 1986 at NAIA Division II; and in 2004 at NCAA Division III.

In 2004, Linfield won its fourth national championship and first in Division III. The Wildcats own the NCAA’s all-divisions record for consecutive winning seasons at 60 ... and counting.

Martins was hypnotized by the gold collecting in the Linfield trophy case in their gymnasium and at ease in the Pacific Northwest.

“They’re recruiting to win a national championship, and they believe they can win conference every year,” Souza said. “When this process started, when he knew he was going to the Division III route, I told him if Linfield comes after you with true sincerity, you have to visit them.

“They’re one of the best (D-III) colleges west of the Mississippi. Once they got serious and he went up there, it was a no-brainer, in my opinion.”

Martins was recruited as a running back, but as the coaching staff dug deeper into his film, he said there’s a chance he could play safety, too.

Because D-III schools don’t offer a redshirt season, Martins welcomes any opportunity to get on the field.

“I want to play college football. I don’t care what position,” Martins said. “I just want to help my team win.”

James Burns: 209-578-2150, @jburns1980