EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (WFAN/AP) — It has all the makings of being a fairy tale football story, one born, bred and raised entirely in the Garden State.
As a running back at Hopatcong, Joe Martinek became the all-time leading rusher in New Jersey high school football, compiling 7,589 yards and 80 touchdowns. Martinek then moved on to Rutgers, where he had a fruitful four-year career, first as a tailback and halfback and finally as a fullback.
Martinek rushed for 1770 yards and 17 touchdowns over 391 rushing attempts while at Rutgers, averaging 4.5 yards-per-carry.
Now, Martinek is making his mark at the rookie minicamp of the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants, with his versatility opening the eyes of the coaching staff, including Tom Coughlin.
“To be honest, he’s been pretty good the whole camp,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
Martinek, who was signed as an undrafted free agent just after the NFL Draft was completed last month, was one of the most impressive performers in the second day of the camp Saturday. Martinek showed the ability to run with speed and power and caught several passes out of the backfield in different 7-on-7 drills.
“He’s been very steady. I think he learns well and he’s very motivated. I think he has some position versatility. I think he can probably play both spots (in the backfield). That would be good,” Coughlin concluded.
The 6-foot, 225-pound Martinek heard from several teams that he was on their draft board, but went unselected. It really didn’t matter to Martinek, who chose to play golf on the final day of the draft instead of watching the proceedings.
“I just wanted to get away from it all,” Martinek said. “It was a little frustrating. I didn’t want to watch. I received some calls from teams telling me that they were interested in drafting me in the later rounds, but it got to the point that I didn’t want to watch. I mean, it’s always a dream to be drafted and be a team’s pick, but it didn’t happen.
“I was getting calls from teams that wanted to sign me before the seventh round ended.”
Since Martinek wasn’t selected at all, he had a choice of what team he wanted to sign with. He selected the team that plays and practices about 45 minutes from his home in Hopatcong.
“A lot of it came from what the organization offered and how it was run,” Martinek said. “Sure, it’s the Giants, one of the top programs in the league. It was good to have my friends and family close.”
However, unlike most New Jersey football players, Martinek was not a Giants’ fan growing up. In fact, he didn’t even have a favorite NFL team.
“I was more of a college football fan, but I did like Barry Sanders,” Martinek said. “But my entire town and my friends are huge Giants fans. I’ve received overwhelming support from my hometown. They’re all excited that I’m with the Giants.”
Martinek feels that he’s made some positive strides in his first two days as a professional.
“The more we get into the playbook, the more comfortable I’ll feel,” Martinek said. “The more reps I get, the more time I spend in this building, I’ll learn how to go about things better. I’m still learning my assignments on the field.”
The ability to line up at both running back positions is a huge plus, as is his penchant for catching the ball out of the backfield. He grabbed 27 passes for 262 yards last season for the Scarlet Knights.
“We’re obviously playing him at fullback now and we’ll see what he can do, but that fullback position is so versatile depending on who it is that’s playing,” Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said.
“If he ever became the fullback, I think he would probably expand some of the movement in terms of taking him out of the backfield, putting him in that detached position that sometimes the tight ends will go to and see if he can catch the ball and do some things.
“He can certainly be out there if we’re going two-tights or three-wides and he’s the single back. We’ll explore that down the road. But this camp obviously, it’s just going to be in the fullback position.”
Martinek knows what he can do to help the Giants if he makes the team.
“I can read blitz pick-ups as the one-back and I can catch the ball,” Martinek said. “I’m real comfortable with that. I prided myself in being able to play both positions at Rutgers. I think it helps a lot that I can do both. I can do a lot of things for the team, but I still have a long way to go. I can never be satisfied, because you never know what’s going to happen, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done.
“It’s been a big transition.”
So has it been a dream come true?
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Martinek said. “I put the helmet on, see the name over my locker and still can’t believe it. It’s incredible. But I’m not going to let this opportunity go away. I like being in this locker room.”
NOTES: Another Rutgers product, defensive back Brandon Bing, was one of the most impressive defensive players Saturday, breaking up several passes, including one long bomb he got a hand in. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is calling Bing, “Bada,” as in “Bada Bing,” the club in the HBO series “The Sopranos.” … Seventh-round draft pick Markus Kuhn, the defensive tackle from North Carolina State and a native of Germany, missed Saturday’s workouts due to a cut he suffered on his leg from a knife protruding through a box while moving. … Free agent Julian Talley, a wide receiver from Massachusetts, showed the most speed among the receivers, looking a lot like his former UMass teammate Victor Cruz. … Former Philadelphia Eagles center Jamaal Jackson — an eight-year NFL veteran who attended the minicamp as a tryout — told Coughlin “he didn’t feel his heart was in it,” and left camp. He told Coughlin he was retiring.
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