Joe Martinek set the New Jersey prep record with 7,589 career rushing yards and 80 touchdowns at Hoptacong High School. Yet few colleges thought he was good enough to play at the next level.
Martinek is proving that his high school numbers were no fluke. The sophomore leads Rutgers in rushing with 729 yards and eight touchdowns, and could finish with a 1,000-yard season. I caught up with Martinek for our Friday Q&A while he and the rest of the Scarlet Knights were preparing for Saturday's game at Syracuse:
It seems like the offense in general is starting to pick up for you guys. Do you get the sense that things are now coming together?
Joe Martinek: We're starting to mesh together and we're getting better. A lot of the young guys are stepping up and have a big role. You can feel them getting more comfortable, and the more comfortable you are, the better you play.
How about the maturation process for freshman quarterback Tom Savage? How is he coming along?
JM: He's maturing before our eyes, and pretty quickly, too. He's a great kid, a great leader. He has all those characteristics and he's showing them on and off the field.
You've become the featured back now after starting to take that role over late last year. How gratifying is that?
JM: It's something I've always dreamed of and hoped for. To have the confidence from your team and the coaches, for them to give you the ball and let you go out and play, it's definitely a great feeling.
What other scholarship offers did you have out of high school?
JM: It was basically just Rutgers and Vanderbilt.
Did that surprise you, given your unbelievable statistics?
JM: A little bit. My dad and I, my family, we thought maybe more would come. Originally, I wasn't going to do the combines because we thought more offers would come. But I gave it a shot, and then when the offers really didn't come after that, we were definitely puzzled a little bit.
But I think no matter how many offers I got, Rutgers would have been the choice either way. It's close to home, only 45 minutes away, so my family and friends can come watch me play, and playing for my state is definitely a great honor.
Did schools not think you could play running back at this level?
JM: Every school I talked to didn't like the idea of being a running back. Rutgers at first wanted me as a defensive back. Vanderbilt talked about giving me a shot at running back, but every other school turned down the idea and basically just talked about the defensive side of the ball.
Do you feel like you've proved people wrong?
JM: Maybe a little bit. The thing is, if I take a week off and have a bad game, people will say, 'OK, that's why he wasn't recruited.' I do this for my family, my friends and my teammates. I just continue to work hard and just try to have fun with it.
Do you still use that lack of recruiting interest as motivation?
JM: Everyone has their own little secret motivational tricks to keep them going, keep them working hard every day. I definitely have some things that are on my mind. I'm always trying to prove people wrong, trying to make my family and my town and everyone around me proud.
You also were a track and field star in high school. What was your best event?
JM: The javelin.
What was the farthest you ever threw the javelin?
JM: 210 [feet].
What skills go into that? People probably don't understand what it takes to throw the javelin.
JM: What people don't really know is that you don't really throw with your upper body. It's all lower body. And you have to basically just put your body in position like a rubber band and expand your body. It all starts with having a strong lower body, then you torque your body in a certain position and it slings your upper body forward.
You've said before you would like to try the decathlon. Is getting back into track and field still a goal for you?
JM: Any time I would be able to do it, I'd love to do it, even if it's just the javelin here or once I get out of college, maybe try to do the decathlon. It's something I started doing in high school, with all the different field events. I've grown to love it, and it's definitely a dream of mine.
Have you given any thought to joining the Rutgers track team in the spring?
JM: Actually, my high school track coach's Olympic coach is the coach here. So we worked together in high school and he helped me out. He has shared some information with me. If it's possible, I'd love to do it. But football is definitely my number one priority, and if there's any way to help the football team out, that's what I'm going to do first.
There's a pretty detailed Web site of you out there called JoeMartinek.com, complete with videos of you all the way back to when you were 8 years old. How did that get started?
JM: Going into my senior year of high school, a graduate of my high school contacted my dad one day. He was a Web designer and he asked us permission to put it up so people could follow me in high school and even in college. At the time, I was getting near the state [rushing] record, and he had a countdown on there. That's really how it started, with the countdown to the record. Ever since I came to Rutgers, he's been expanding it. He does a great job with it, and I get a lot of feedback from it.
I also understand your nickname is "Jersey Joe?" How did that originate?
JM: It started my freshmen year, when my roommates started calling me that. It seems like everyone does now. My four roommates my freshman year somehow came up with it.
There are a lot of Jersey kids playing for Rutgers. How big of a source of pride is that for you guys?
JM: I haven't really been anywhere else, except for a couple of other states, and I've been out of the country once. I've been in Jersey basically my whole life. So to play for my state school and to have that nickname, it's pretty cool.