Johnny Martin is a film enthusiast.

But it’s not the latest blockbuster releases that interest the Highland junior running back. It’s game film of his upcoming opponents.

“I’m always watching film,” Martin said. “I watch film every day. When I’m bored, I just watch film.”

Martin said he watches football film during free time in school, while lying down at night before he falls asleep, with teammates after practice to dissect defenses and plan future blocking schemes. He even watches it in the bathroom.

Martin said before he steps on the field on Friday nights, he’s seen his opponents’ film at least 30 times. That meticulous level of preparation has produced results.

The 5-foot-9, 210-pound speedster, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season as a sophomore, has 454 yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries in just two games so far this season. His dominance has put the West Jersey Football League as well as several Division I college football programs on notice.

“He’s an exceptional player,” said fifth-year Highland coach Brian Leary, who has known Martin since he coached him as a seventh-grader. “A lot of time you have kids with the speed or strength, but he’s got the combination of both. And he’s a hard worker

“When he’s on the field, nothing surprises me anymore. He’s first-and-goal from anywhere.”

Martin has 454 yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries so far in 2019.
Martin has 454 yards and four touchdowns on 52 carries so far in 2019.

Martin started his first game in his freshman year after Highland’s two-year starting running back, Daejuan Sanders, went down with an injury. Martin subbed in and picked up 120 yards and two touchdowns.

As the first-year nerves disappeared, Martin’s confidence grew. He averaged 8.2 yards per carry his freshman season and finished with 1,266 yards and 10 touchdowns. Expectations soared.

“It became clear very early that he was a special player,” Leary said. “When teams come in to play us, they know who he is, and they want to stop him.”

But Martin said he thrives when all eyes are on him.

“Every time I’m on the field I hear teams saying, ‘Watch Johnny,’ and adjusting their defense to wherever I’m at,” said Martin, who clocks a 4.5-seconds 40-yard dash. “I don’t really look at it as pressure. I look at it as an opportunity to put the team on my back.”

Martin is so valuable to Highland that Leary doesn’t have him wear pads. His participation is light, saving him from injury and overuse. He has worked on his pass-catching ability that Martin said should be used in playoff games.

“I think I’m an elite route runner,” Martin said. “I can be one of the best route runners in Jersey.”

Leary insists that Martin’s on-field abilities, as impressive as they are, pale in comparison to his leadership. Martin routinely works with teammates and even acts as an extra coach, breaking down film and creating game plans.

“Before I get the ball, I can tell if it’s going to be a big gain or not just with how the defense is set up and how I know we’re going to block it,” Martin said. “Any run can be a touchdown run.”

With great talent comes a calling from the next level. Martin’s first of 11 Division I college offers came from Baylor. Last weekend, he saw West Virginia host North Carolina State in a battle of teams vying for his enrollment.

And while Martin initially had his sights set on traveling far away from South Jersey, his relationships with local teams, including Temple running backs coach Gabe Infante, with whom he talks frequently, have made him reconsider the idea of playing close to home.

Martin said he plans to make his college decision either next summer or early in the following offseason. He wants no distractions during his senior year.

While he knows his dominance won’t likely be the same at the next level, Martin said the key to sustaining success is sticking with what has worked for him so far.

“I’m just going to get my body right so I can get there physically,” said Martin, whose name “Johnny” is listed on his birth certificate. “Then mentally, I just need to look at film more so I can recognize more defenses. Once I look at the film more and understand it more, I think it will just be regular football.”