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To the brink: Martinez led Le Grand to Division V title game

SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK
Le Grand's Rick Martinez is the football coach of the year. Photographed in Merced, Calif. Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK Le Grand's Rick Martinez is the football coach of the year. Photographed in Merced, Calif. Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009. Merced Sun-Star

Rick Martinez still has flashbacks.

He can't help it.

Martinez was oh-so close to leading the Le Grand football team to its first section championship.

"I still wake up at night," Martinez said. "You can't help but think about it. I've watched the film a few times. My coaches ask me why I do that to myself. You want to make sure your schemes were right.

"It still comes down to when your horses go down -- when you're a small school like us it's tough."

Ultimately, Martinez and Le Grand came up short in its bid for a section title.

Still, after a perfect run through the Southern League and leading Le Grand to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship game, Rick Martinez is the Sun-Star Football Coach of the Year.

"It was really a special year," Martinez said. "We had a tough group of kids. We weren't the biggest team, but we worked hard and it was great to see.

"It was a pretty tight-knit group that played in our youth league together. They are close outside of school and sports.

"It was a blast to be with them and our staff for 13 weeks."

The ride had a big bump at the start.

Le Grand started the season 0-4 thanks to a tough non-league schedule that included games against Central Valley, Chowchilla, Livingston and Summerville.

The rough start didn't rattle Martinez, but it was tough on his players.

"Honestly, I knew we would still compete in league," Martinez said. "We weren't getting blown out in all the games.

"But we're still dealing with 17- and 18-year-old kids. Their confidence was shaken a little bit.

"The turning point was in our league opener against Denair. We got our feet underneath us for a couple quarters and then we played Mariposa, which is the top dog in our league.

"We kept going, got that win and then that light at the end started shining a little brighter."

Le Grand outscored its SL opponents 234-39.

With a strong second half, Le Grand was able to put away Highlands 28-7 in the second round of the playoffs.

Le Grand jumped out to a 21-7 lead at the half against Capital Christian in the Division V championship at Roseville's Oakmont High.

Le Grand had dominated Capital Christian physically in the first half.

However, injuries to its three stars Bob Perez, Alex Martinez and Tony Ortegon took a toll in the second half.

Capital Christian came back to defeat Le Grand, 35-27.

"When you lose three guys like that it's like losing five or six," Martinez said. "With those players out of the game, there was a sense of panic. I think if our guys don't get hurt, we win the game."

Even though Le Grand didn't take home the blue banner it will be a season to remember for Martinez.

"It was a fun ride," he said. "It was a great moment in their lives and I'm honored to be a part of it."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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