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 to share his story to young football players attending a football camp.

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

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

He played 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.

In his first and only year of football at any level, Martin recorded 41 tackles, 7 solo tackles, 3 sacks, 6 hurries and a fumble recovery.

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

"Going out there every day, making me count," he said. "Me playing football not as a person with no legs but me just playing football.

"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, other publications and radio and television stations nationwide.

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 are traveling across the country working on a book and possibly a movie.

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

'Just live every day'

On June 12, Martin's message to the youngsters 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 open your eyes," he said. "You got to make each and every day count. Make a goal for yourself every day. Life is precious."

After a short speech, Martin spent the next 30 minutes answering questions from the crowd. The first 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 a sort of a landmark for others."

Another youngster asked if he can tackle the bigger players.

"That's my specialty," he answered. "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."

Then Martin was put to work. He showed off how he does pushups -- lifting his whole body parallel to the ground -- and how he gets around on the football field -- using his arms as legs.

One youth asked Martin how fast he was. He responded, "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.

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

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

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

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

Awards, philosophies

As for his time at the ESPYs, a sports award show that takes place at the 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 [O'Neal]. I really had to look up to him. That made my day. I was snapping pictures of everything. I couldn't believe I'm there. It was excellent."

Not everyone Martin has come into contact with has been inspired by his efforts. It was at halftime during a game in September 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 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 him being on the field again.

That also may be the one and only time someone hasn't liked Martin. He's a friendly, outgoing person who gets along with everyone.

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

The campers and coaches alike couldn't get enough of Martin. When he 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 try to tell him he can't.

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

E-mail: bhovey@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-688-0088 ext. 3115