Editor's note: This is the third in an ongoing series following Cottonwood football player John Martinez through the recruiting process.

MURRAY — It will be many months before John Martinez decides which school will benefit from his football skills.

But Cottonwood's junior offensive lineman is already learning that being one of the state's top recruits offers unique opportunities and unexpected pressure.

Recently, Martinez and Timpview junior Xavier Su'a Filo were invited and plan to play in the ESPN All-Star game Jan. 4 in Orlando. Both were invited to play in the Army All-American game in San Antonio on Jan. 3 as well but opted to play in the ESPN game, Martinez said.

Both players were All-Combine Team at the Army All-American Game this year, and Martinez said he looks forward to playing in a game with the country's best athletes.

"I was pretty excited," Martinez said of the invitation. "I thought it was great. I had a lot of fun at the Army All-American game ... I'm excited because the competition will be pretty intense."

The game will be televised live after the NFL's Wildcard games.

The invitations came from ESPN's Bill Conley, who is one of four scouts who evaluates the country's top prep football players. The former assistant and recruiting coordinator at Ohio State for 17 years, said he was impressed with the athleticism of both players.

"John is a very athletic big man," Conley said, "which is really what you look for in a lineman."

As for Su'a Filo, Conley said, "He is also one of those special guys up front. He moves well ... and he's equally good against the run as he is against the pass."

Martinez said he opted to go to the ESPN game because of the opportunities leading up to the actual game.

"We treat them like this is a bowl game," said Conley. "There is a skills challenge, press opportunities and community service."

Cottonwood football coach Cecil Thomas will be coaching Martinez and Su'a Filo in the game. Thomas got an invitation to coach in the Army All-American Game, which is in its ninth year, then, a day later, he got a call from Conley asking him to coach the offensive line in the ESPN All-Star game.

"I really left the decision up to John," Thomas said. "I think it will be fun to coach one of my kids in an all-star game. Once I knew where he wanted to play, I just told the Army people, 'I'm going to have a hard time coaching in San Antonio knowing my guy is playing in Orlando.'"

Thomas said he is flattered by both offers.

"I was thrilled for the opportunity," he said. "I'm really excited for the kids ... Either game is a great opportunity for the players."

Thomas said he wanted to make the decision about which game to play in as easy as possible, as the recruiting process is becoming more complicated.

"He'll have enough tough decisions to make here in the next little while."

Martinez said the process is both flattering and overwhelming, and sometimes even he can't quite believe the number of schools willing to give him a chance to play for an education.

"It's getting a little ridiculous," he said with a slight laugh. "It's always fun just to have colleges interested in you, but it's getting confusing, too."

He currently has 23 written offers, and said while he's keeping an open mind, he has started to focus in on a few specific schools including, USC, LSU, Oklahoma and BYU. Martinez has a connection to each of the schools either through teammates, family or friends, and said that he is trying to worry about improving his skills and enjoying high school.

"I'm really still open to everything," he said. "Sometimes, when I get another offer or letter, I feel some pressure on my shoulders."

Martinez had another unpleasant decision recently, and that was whether he could continue playing baseball. The Colts are the defending 4A champions, and the program requires a full-time commitment. John struggled with juggling three to four hours of baseball practice with several hours a week of spring conditioning and specialized workouts for linemen, as well as a martial arts class on Thursday.

"The whole thing was eating him up, so I just asked him, 'What is your ultimate goal?"' said his father, Steve Martinez. "He wants to play football in college and the NFL. I told, 'If you really, really want to do that you have to quit baseball."'

He felt bad about quitting the team, but realized he couldn't do it all.

"I was relieved," said John. "It gives me more time to do homework. I was bummed at first because I wish I could do everything."

On the bright side, he said he does have more time to read all that mail colleges are sending him.

"I do have a little more free time now," he said.


E-mail: [email protected]