Alex Martinez had 15 minutes to kill before practice started on Aug. 23, but he didn’t mind waiting for his St. Xavier University (SXU) teammates to trickle out of the locker room and join their senior starting quarterback.
After missing the last eight games of the 2018 season with a knee injury, Martinez was just glad to be back healthy and playing football.
“This was the longest offseason I’ve ever had,” Martinez said. “All those days rehabbing in January and February, to finally be back for my senior season with all these guys, it’s the best feeling. I think we’ve got a special team.”
Playing against No.-1 University of St. Francis (Ind.) in late September, Martinez tore his right ACL and also suffered ligament damage while scrambling in the second quarter.
His season was officially over.
“I heard the pop, so I kind of figured something was wrong,” Martinez said. “I wanted to tell myself not to believe it, but reality sets in when the trainers talk to you and then you have the MRI. You know you’re done for a while.”
In four-plus games, Martinez threw for 850 yards and 5 touchdowns.
As the Cougars’ season continued, Martinez threw himself into the rehab process, working to make a healthy return and the best of his senior year.
The St. Laurence grad is 11 months removed from the injury, healthy and raring to go for SXU, which earned the No.-5 ranking in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) preseason Coaches Poll.
Coach Mike Feminis is glad to have his veteran signal-caller back.
“Alex is our guy,” Feminis said. “He’s had a phenomenal camp. Everything is going to go through him. He’s definitely got the weapons around him and a veteran offensive line. It’s a veteran offense, and we fully expect them to put a ton of points on the board.”
Mike Robando, Anthony Saro and Bruce Mesa are important starters up front on the offensive line. Harold Davis (86 catches, 1,273 yards, 8 TD), Nick Czeszewski (34 catches, 531 yards, 5 TD) and Chris Simmons (31 catches, 290 yards, 4 TD) are major targets at wide receiver.
Michael Markasovic also figures into the mix at receiver after missing last season with a torn ACL.
Vance McShane (782 yards, 4 TD) and Jamarri Watson lead the deep backfield.
“This is the most experienced group since I’ve been here,” Martinez said. “We have all sorts of weapons, so it’s going to be a really special season.”
Davis has 147 career catches for 1,973 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“With Alex at QB, it’s been really good,” Davis said. “It’s been great having him back. We’re connecting, and he’s been able to connect with the whole offense. We have so many good all-around players that we can run or pass. It’ll depend on the game.”
Senior linebacker Josh Hettiger has been a beast on defense for the Cougars, including a junior year that saw him pile up 134 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 9 sacks and an interception.
In his freshman season, the Cougars finished 5-6. Ever since, Hettiger and his teammates have gone about erasing the memories of a down 2016 campaign.
“That wasn’t who we are as a team,” Hettiger said. “As younger guys, we said ‘This won’t be the culture. This isn’t who we are as a team.’ We got after it in the weight room and changed that. We’re excited to show what we can do.”
Other key defensive players include cornerback Kevin Block and Ron Carroll and linemen D.J. Milutinovic, Jaleel Holloway and Payton Campbell.
From starters to subs to scout team, Hettiger (Oak Lawn, Richards) has seen the Cougars defense rise to the challenge.
“We grew as a team this offseason. Guys were getting after it every day,” Hettiger said. “Every guy on defense in the meetings, we’re ready to attack, hungry to make plays and want to be a better team every day. That’s what builds great teams.”