by Brent Hovey

Reporter

Twinsburg -- Bobby Martin never expected all this. All he wanted to do was play football. He never expected doing just that would get him on SportsCenter, allow him to meet his sports heroes and win him an ESPY.

On June 12, Martin was at the Edge Athletic Training Complex in Twinsburg to share his story to a group of young football players attending a football camp.

Martin's story starts on Nov. 3, 1987 when he was born with "Caudal Regression Syndrome." Martin was born with no legs.

Martin refused to use prosthetics and refused to let his condition slow him down. He said doctors told him if he had legs he would be anywhere from 6-feet, 2 inches to 6-4. But as it is, Martin measures 3 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 120 pounds.

He played just one year of varsity football for Colonel White High School in Dayton as a special teams player and backup nose tackle. One year was all he needed to prove doubters wrong.

Making his mark

In his first and only year of football at any level, Martin recorded 41 tackles, seven solo tackles, three sacks, six hurries and a fumble recovery.

For Martin, it was important to be just another football player rather than the football player with no legs. That's what inspired Martin every game.

"Going out there every day, making me count. Me playing football not as a person with no legs but me just playing football," he said. "Make it count. Having people say, 'OK, he's out there, what's he going to do.' Then bam! I make a tackle. Bam! I get a sack. It was important to show people I'm not doing it just for attention. I really know how to play."

Martin's courageous effort earned him national recognition from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and other newspapers, radio and television stations across the county.

Martin's fame climaxed when he won an ESPY from ESPN for "Best Athlete with a Disability" in 2006.

Since his graduation in 2006, Martin has been taken under the wing of Tony Marinozzi, a screenplay writer who saw Martin's story and wanted to share it with the world. The two of them are traveling across the country working on a book and possibly a movie.

They have visited NFL teams like the Chicago Bears and Cleveland Browns and have met NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell along with a long list of other of sports superstars.

Sending a message

On June 12, it was group of youngsters in Twinsburg who got to meet Martin and hear his story. Martin's message to them was the same it was to the Browns, the Bears or anyone else he meets -- "Just live every day."

"It's God's gift to wake up in the morning and just open your eyes," he said. "You got to make each and every day count. Make a goal for yourself every day. Life is precious. You got to make the best out of every day."

After a short speech to the kids, Martin spent the next 30 minutes answering questions from them. The first question was the most obvious, "How did you lose your legs?"

"I was born like this," Martin told them. "I guess God just wanted me to be different, be sort of a landmark for others."

Another youngster asked if he can tackle the bigger players.

"That's my specialty," he answered, laughing. "You are always taught to get low when making a tackle and I'm already low. All I have to do is wrap them up."

After answering a few more questions, Martin was put to work. He showed off how he does push-ups -- lifting his whole body parallel to the ground -- and how he gets around on the football field -- using his arms as legs. Think of him using his arms like someone on crutches, only much faster.

One kid asked Martin how fast he was. Martin responded by saying "Wanna race?" Of course he did, as did the rest of the campers.

Martin showed off his speed as he beat most of them for the first 30 yards. He can run the 40-yard dash in 5.8 seconds.

Pursuing his dreams

Martin even participated in some of the camp's defensive drills.

The camp was put on by the Cleveland Vikings, a semi-professional football team. Martin just signed with the Vikings. Just another step in Martin's amazing journey.

He is hoping he will have improved enough to get a shot at the Arena Football League by next year. Marinozzi said there has been some interest from the AFL but, like the NFL, you must be three years out of high school to play.

By making the simple, yet difficult, decision to play football, Martin has seen his world take off. His two biggest highlights: winning the ESPY and meeting his football hero, Warren Sapp.

Martin was on the sidelines when Sapp's Oakland Raiders played at Cincinnati last year. After the game, Sapp gave Martin his jersey and autographed it. The two exchanged numbers and e-mails and now Sapp calls him his little brother.

As for his time at the ESPY's, a sports award show that takes place at the famous Kodak Theatre in Hollywood every summer, Martin said it was a dream come true.

"I had to pinch myself," he said. "It was like a dream. I ate breakfast with Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal]. I really had to look up to him. That just made my day. I was snapping pictures of everything. I couldn't believe I'm there. This is a dream. It was excellent."

Overcoming adversity

Not everyone Martin has come into contact with have been inspired by his efforts. It was at halftime during a game in September of 2005 when the referees told him he was ineligible to play since he was not wearing shoes or thigh or knee pads.

It was the first time Martin said he felt he had a handicap. He said it was just one team's way of trying to attack his team. Martin was hurt, but his team went on to win and there was never a problem with his being on the field again.

That also might be the one and only time someone hasn't liked Martin.

He is a friendly, out-going person who gets along with everyone.

"I'm popular," he said. "Everyone wants to be around me. I was voted class favorite. That's what you want. You want to be nice and friendly with everyone. If one person doesn't like you, it's his loss."

It was obvious how friendly and popular he is at the camp.

The campers and coaches alike couldn't get enough of Martin.

When Martin wasn't talking to someone there, he was on his cell phone talking or text messaging another friend.

Martin said after playing with the Vikings he hopes to make the AFL and improve enough to enter the NFL Draft. Lofty goals? Yes. But you try to tell him he can't. Martin may be half the size of the average man, but he has twice the courage and drive.

"Don't let anyone tell you can't do something," he said. "That's your determination in life."

Editor's note: Hovey is a reporter with the Aurora Advocate.

E-mail: bhovey@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-688-0088, Ext. 3115