Feb. 1, 2013
By JONAH ROSENBLUM
For all of the remarkable statistics that the Philadelphia Soul put up last season, there are none more remarkable than a simple oval.
The Soul didn’t make a single field goal in 2012. In fact, they only tried one, marking the fewest attempts in the Arena Football League.
Philadelphia might try – and make – a few more field goals in 2013. After all, the Soul made a big move this offseason, bringing veteran kicker Carlos Martinez to the City of Brotherly Love. Martinez led the League last year with 13 field goals. An eight-year veteran of the League who has made more than half of his 134 career field goal tries, Martinez will add a new dimension to Philadelphia’s vaunted attack.
“Obviously when you’re going out and recruiting a kicker, it’s not normally number one on the list, but you definitely want a good one,” Soul general manager Tom Goodhines said. “When you can have stability in the kicking game, that’s one less thing to have to worry about. It’s such an important piece of the game, and we feel that we got the best in the League in Carlos.”
Coach Clint Dolezel, Martinez’s former teammate with the Dallas Desperados, said that Martinez can do far more than simply kick the ball through the uprights. With Martinez at the forefront, the Georgia Force led the League last season in onside kick success, recovering four of 11 onside kicks. The Force also placed fourth in kickoff coverage and third in point-after-attempt accuracy. Georgia finished ahead of Philadelphia in all three categories.
“Getting a guy like that to come to our place is a no-brainer,” Dolezel said. “He’s not only a good kicker, he’s a good person, and we’re trying to surround ourselves with good people here in Philly.”
Martinez has also compiled at least five tackles in seven of his eight seasons in the League.
“One of the things that we really liked about him was not only his accuracy and his leg strength and consistency, which is the key to Arena Football, but he’s not afraid to make a tackle,” Goodhines said. “His no-fear mentality of not letting himself get beat on kickoffs is a trait that you don’t find in a lot of kickers and it’s one of the strengths that Carlos brings to the table.”
All in all, Martinez provides a savvy veteran presence so Dolezel doesn’t have to stay up at night worrying about special teams.
“To have a veteran guy like Carlos, you don’t have to worry about that aspect of the game,” Dolezel said. “He can hit the net on his kickoffs. He’s got great onside kicks. He’s going to make his PATs and he’s a clutch kicker. He’s shown that he can make game winners and that’s what you ask for.”
Goodhines had wanted Martinez in the past, but the kicker chose to play for Georgia in 2012, in no small part due to his family’s presence there. Martinez spent four of the past five seasons with the Force, during which he met his wife, a former Force cheerleader, and began to raise a family.
While family cemented his tie to the Atlanta area, it also allows him to continue playing every weekend. His brother-in-law attended college in the Atlanta area, and when his brother-in-law had children, Martinez’s parents-in-law decided to join them in the Peach State. Knowing that his brother-in-law and parents-in-law will be there to help look after his wife and child, Martinez said that he had the necessary infrastructure in place to allow him to dart to Philadelphia to kick field goals and extra points every weekend.
A supportive wife, who understands the dreams that the gridiron holds, helps. As a cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons and the Force, she too sacrificed for her career until she was satisfied.
“She lets me do my thing with football,” Martinez said. “She kind of knew it was her time and she’s allowing me to do the same thing with my football career so that’s pretty nice.”
A supportive coach, who said that he will allow Martinez to spend the days between games at home, also helps.
“Well, the only way that it does work is with a kicker,” Dolezel said. “You usually only work special teams once or twice a week, and that’s more so just the other seven guys running down on kickoff and kickoff returns, so you really honestly don’t need the kicker there.”
As a result, Martinez will not have to choose between being a father and a football player. Martinez will still be able to live his normal life in Atlanta during the week, while serving as a professional football player every weekend. He said that he’ll likely join the team the day before a game and fly back to Atlanta immediately after to resume his twin roles as a father and a branch manager for Enterprise.
“I’m not going to have to be there the whole time up in Philly so it’s kind of a nice arrangement for me,” Martinez said. “The last three years, I’ve done a lot of my training on my own, and I think that because I’ve kind of established myself in Arena Football and kicked pretty well, pretty consistently, every year that I kind of get a little more freedom than some of the other players.”
That’s not to say that Martinez isn’t prepared to invest extra time to get it right. After struggling at the start of the 2012 season, including missing four of six extra-point attempts in the Force’s opener, Martinez said that he plans on spending a little extra time with his holder and snapper before the season starts to make sure that they have it right before their first kick. Last season, Martinez came back after missing six of his first eight field-goal tries to make 11 of his final 15.
“The first two games out of the gate, I got off to a slow start. I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with that much adversity within myself and within my career,” Martinez said. “That’s why during camp this year, toward the end of camp, I’ll be up there working and holding for three days to make sure I’m ready for those first two games.”
At 32 years old, Martinez remains entranced by the gridiron. That’s why he was willing to follow it all the way to Philadelphia.
“I just love the competition, having the whole team depend on you and the swing of your leg and that adrenaline that you get when it’s a game-winning kick, I just enjoy those moments and the locker room camaraderie with the team,” Martinez said. “It’s just competing at a high level. As long as I compete at a high level, I think anyone would enjoy what they’re doing if they compete at a high level.”
Although he has already racked up nearly every award conceivable for a kicker, including the AFL Kicker of the Year Award in 2011, he has yet to appear in an ArenaBowl. Martinez said that is more than enough motivation to press on.
Martinez has certainly come close before. He has made it to the conference championship game on three separate occasions, but has come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard every single time.
In 2007, his Georgia Force fell to the Columbus Destroyers by 10 points, and while Martinez made all eight of his extra-point attempts, he missed both of his field-goal tries. His second miss was even more excruciating, as he missed two field goals and an extra point in Orlando’s 63-62 loss to Tampa Bay. If just one of those kicks had gone differently, he might have a ring on his finger already. The following year in 2011, his Georgia Force again came up one game short of the ArenaBowl, falling 64-55 to the Jacksonville Sharks. Martinez missed an extra point in that contest and had watch Marco Capozzoli send a game-clinching 36-yarder through the uprights to seal Jacksonville’s victory.
Having lost to Brett Dietz and Aaron Garcia before in conference championship contests, Martinez hopes he has finally landed on an ArenaBowl winner in the Philadelphia Soul. Coming off of an ArenaBowl appearance, and boasting one of the best offensive attacks in the game with Dan Raudabaugh, Derrick Ross and Tiger Jones leading the way, Philadelphia would seem to have as good a shot as anyone at finally getting Martinez to the Promised Land.
“I guess my motivation and why I signed with them this year, is I’ve never won a championship so I want to help the team achieve that,” Martinez said. “I feel like with the pieces they have with the Philadelphia Soul and with Dolezel, they have a good chance. We have a good chance to make a run for it.”
How Martinez will play into that ArenaBowl dream remains to be seen, since it might not be by leading the League in field goals again. It’s worth noting that of the three teams which compiled the most field goals in 2012, two finished in last place in their respective divisions. The other team, the Georgia Force, led by Martinez, barely made the playoffs.
So, at the end of the day, Carlos Martinez or no Carlos Martinez, fans who want to see booming 50-yard field goals might want to look elsewhere.
“I don’t care if I have the best kicker in the world back there,” Dolezel said. “I’d rank Carlos right up there with those guys, but if you’re kicking field goals, you’re probably not winning a whole lot of ballgames. Kickers like Carlos, if they’re making their PATs, that’s where you’re winning football games.”