Upper Canada College Year 11 student Matt Martin had one of the thrills of a lifetime when he played for Football Ontario against the U.S. Under-17 Stars at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 12.
“The feeling you get when you walk through the same tunnel that the Dallas Cowboys walk through on to the field is indescribable,” says Martin. “When the announcer called your name through the speakers, it felt like you were a real-life pro — not to mention the huge Jumbotron, where even if you were standing right beside the field you felt compelled to watch.
“I would say there were around 1,000 people in attendance, but the size of the stadium made that number seem small.”
Martin has played football since he was 10 years old, and he was a member of UCC’s junior varsity team for three years before joining the varsity Blues squad this past fall. He credits varsity head coach Dave Brown for some of the progress he’s made as a defensive back/safety, which landed him an invitation to try out for the Football Ontario team in Stoney Creek in early December.
“There were about 200 players who came from all over Ontario trying out, and 40 made the team, so it was a pretty competitive process,” says Martin. “Through drills and a game, they were able to narrow the team down.”
Martin’s team flew to Dallas on Jan. 5, which gave it a week of preparation for the game. The players went through two practices, as well as team meetings, each day. There was also a scrimmage against a tier two American team on Jan. 10.
While Martin’s team lost the big game, he says it was still a valuable experience.
“I learned that, in order to play at the highest level, I need to add a certain ferocity to my game — something which every player on Team USA had. Whether it was in their practices or the game, they always left everything on the field — something I can definitely learn from.”
While Martin is unsure where football will take him next, he hopes to play past the high school level and continue with the sport as long as he can. There’s no tunnel vision in achieving his goal, however, and he’s the antithesis of the “dumb jock” stereotype.
“Something that the coaches kept reiterating through the whole trip was the importance of grades when it came to playing post-secondary sports,” says Martin. “For anyone who wants to play at the next level, I would give them the advice to keep their grades up because they matter just as much as your play on the field.”