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Martin displays the fundamentals


                        Mike Martin running the Marcus Martin camp.

Eddie Gray played with Marcus Martin in '05 and ''06. Back when "Pops," Marcus' dad, was taking the Taft High Senators from an afterthought of Cincinnati prep football and making them a capital idea.

"The best teammate you can ever ask for,' Gray is saying about Marcus Martin. "I'd have to be up there with Marcus to miss it. I wouldn't miss it for the world…I knew him since he was in eighth grade and I was in ninth and his Pops would bring him up to Taft and we'd shoot baskets in the gym."

Pops made sure nobody missed it because that's the way it is now. A year after Mike Martin lost his 25-year-old son Marcus so suddenly and cruelly to a pulmonary embolism. 

The Cincinnati heat melted the words in Pops' mouth this past weekend when the former Taft High School head coach called up the 65 campers or so at the end of the second annual Marcus Martin Youth Fundamental Football Camp at Woodward High School. Even though lunch loomed, the kids from four to 10 years in their sweaty camp T-shirts listened well.

"Who can tell me what Marcus is about? What he stands for?" Martin asks because he told them back when the camp started three hours ago.

"He's a son," says one little man, about seven years old or so. "He's a brother. He's an angel."

There was a pause before he finished.

"And a friend," the little man says.

"Good job," Mike Martin says. "When you think about something that's not making you happy or you're feeling sad, take a look at your shirt and think of Marcus. He would have loved to have been with you guys."


"He made sure he did everything he had to do," Martin reminds them.

"In school, too," piped up his mother, Michelle Martin.

After graduating from Taft as the top male in his class, Marcus Martin got a full ride to Wabash University before deciding to pursue a path to screenwriting and movie making.

"He got offered a full college education for academics," Martin tells them. "He didn't have to play football. He wanted to be a student."


They were a team, Pops and Marcus, no question about that, ever since Marcus was born five weeks after Mike's Bengals lost Super Bowl XXIII in heartbreak of another kind. But the nice thing is if you've got enough of them, you never run out of the best teammates.

Not only is Eddie Gray here, but so is Jim Breech, the Bengals kicker who came within 34 seconds of being Super Bowl MVP that day. And there is wide receiver Ira Hillary and safety Barney Bussey and linebacker Joe Kelly, all who became Super Bowl Bengals after Mike Martin arrived in 1983. If these guys were Marcus' uncles, Mike Martin was everyone's big brother.

"We were a family," Kelly says. "I mean, I've lived in Cincinnati longer than I've lived in Los Angeles, where I grew up. Can you believe that?"

You can believe it when Kelly says he was in the delivery room with Ira and Cassandra when Darius Hillary was born and they were there when Kelly's youngest daughter was born and Tim McGee's daughter went with Marcus Martin to the prom and…

"I called Tim and he would have been here but it was his anniversary weekend,' Mike Martin says. "And other guys reached out. It's a busy weekend, but the guys who could make it did."

They always have. These were the guys that all gathered in the hospital lobby when 16-year-old Jovante Woods died five years ago. His father, Ickey Woods, would have been here but he's hosting a picnic for volunteers of the Jovante Woods Foundation.  Kelly, who helps run the foundation, is headed there after lunch.

And even though Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz couldn't be here, his company, Munoz Brandz, donated the camp T-shirts emblazoned with Marcus' picture.

Fundamentals. Even for four year olds and 10-year-olds.

"Stance. Head up. The basic stuff," says Kelly, who made tackles in 156 NFL games with six different teams before settling in Cincinnati. "The big thing is to make it fun. 'Hey, don't let him beat you and run as fast as you can.'"

Bussey, whose son Bakari also starred while his dad coached him (at Lakota West High School), dusted off his fundamentals for Marcus.

"We broke it down into offense and defense," Bussey says. "I don't know everything about playing receiver, but I know enough. Some of them are more advanced. The eight and nine year-olds, some of them know a lot more than you think. You try to keep them interested. If you're a receiver, it's catching it with your hands, looking the ball in. For defensive backs, it's back-pedaling; staying low in your turn, watch the guy in front of you. Basic stuff."

The basics. Fundamentals.

Like being there when teammates call 30 years later.

"We were from all over the country and we ended up here,' Kelly says. "California. South Carolina. Mike is from D.C. We grew up together.  When our kids were out, it was like they were cousins."

Or a year later.

"We just connected," Eddie Gray says. "We always worked together in chemistry class and after school. He was the greatest. You could go on forever. That was my guy. He was our baby brother."

Gray is busy these days. The kid who thought Marcus was going to play basketball when they first met in the gym went on to play basketball at Georgetown College in Kentucky. Then he came back to Taft, where he does it all as a teacher's aide, an athletic trainer, a seventh and eighth grade football coach and a varsity basketball assistant. Gray, the Taft football coaching staff and some of Marcus' Taft teammates are also doing the fundamentals and answer the call this weekend.

"How is Mike doing?" somebody asks Kelly.

"He has his moments," Kelly says. "It's his son. When I was in high school, I lost my brother. I think of him every day."

A year later and Mike Martin is still the ultimate teammate. He has moved back to Michelle's hometown of Chicago, where he is a recruiter for a national recruiting service looking to place low-profile players with scholarships.

But his singing is still well known in Cincinnati. For the third straight year at this weekend's Music Festival in Paul Brown Stadium he'll lead his band through the gamut of R and B and he hopes it will end up in another three-year engagement.

No matter what happens, he knows there'll be a third Marcus Martin Youth Fundamental Football Camp in Cincinnati next year. The hardest event to pull off in anything is the second one. This second one all came off on Facebook, which bodes well for next year.

"Every year until I can't do it anymore," Mike Martin says. "We wanted to make sure the kids learned some stuff and had some fun. My son wouldn't have had it any other way.

"With the sponsors we have, Anthony, Herbalife, Kroger, Skyline, they've been great," Martin says. "We'll be here next year."

When Martin breaks this camp, he has one final instruction.

"Three claps for who brought you here to camp," he says. "You've got to be on time."

Martin gives three sharp, rhythmic claps as if he's on stage. They could have been for Marcus' teammates or even his own, the biggest fundamental of all.

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