Award honours whole team, says Titans coach

John Martins (right), with son and fellow football coach, Avery, watches his midget team during the 2011 season. The elder Martins was honoured as the B.C. coach of the year at last month’s Orange Helmet Awards. - Contributed photo
John Martins (right), with son and fellow football coach, Avery, watches his midget team during the 2011 season. The elder Martins was honoured as the B.C. coach of the year at last month’s Orange Helmet Awards.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The way John Martins figures it, the BC Lions owed him a favour.

Throughout last fall’s football season, Martins’ team – the White Rock-South Surrey midget Titans – won week-in, week-out, eventually culminating in an undefeated season and a provincial title.

At the same time, the BC Lions were struggling to bounce back from an 1-6 start to the Canadian Football League, which they did – capping their improbable comeback with a Grey Cup title in November.

And Martins, the midget squad’s head coach, jokes now that it was his team’s play that inspired the Lions’ winning streak. The longtime coach is good friends with BC Lions’ player personnel co-ordinator Neil McEvoy, himself a White Rock native. Every week, McEvoy would call Martins to ask how the Titans did.

“We won,” Martins would say.

“Good, we’ll just follow your lead then,” was McEvoy’s reply.

And the Lions did, reeling off 10 wins in 11 games to end the CFL regular season, before rolling through the post-season to win a league title on home turf.

Then, in the off-season, Lions’ Wally Buono was named CFL coach of the year. Four weeks later, Martins followed his lead, being named B.C. community football coach of the year at the prestigious, BC Lions-hosted Orange Helmet Awards Dinner on March 30.

Consider the favour repayed.

“It’s kind of funny that it worked out that way, Martins laughed.

When the award was announced at the banquet, Martins admits he wasn’t surprised – “they have to let you know to make sure you’re going to be there,” he said – but regardless, he was in good company. The Orange Helmet Awards, which were held at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver, honoured the province’s top amateur teams, coaches and managers, and featured a keynote address from former NFL star Herschel Walker.

“It was quite an honour, and quite a night,” said Martins, whose team was also honoured as one of the provincial champions.

In December, the midget Titans capped an undefeated Vancouver Mainland Football League season with a 36-13 win over the Coquitlam Falcons in the B.C. Championship game.

Martins said he was thrilled to lead such a great team, and passes off much of the credit for his coaching honour to those who surrounded him during the year.

“I’m very proud, for sure, but I never really thought of it as an individual award. There’s a whole ton of guys on this staff – we have eight coaches – and it really is a group effort,” Martins said.

“I’m very lucky to have the staff around me that I do.”

He also praised his players, a large number of whom – including quarterback Cole Meyer, lineman Connor Burchartz, receiver Andrew Darcovich and running back Ray Calderwood – will play in the April 28 Star Bowl, for Vancouver Mainland Football League all-stars.

“It’s so tough to win it all, and our guys just stayed totally focused and kept their heads on straight, week after week,” he said. “If they hadn’t have bought in, our season could have derailed quickly.”

Instead, the team reeled off a perfect 10-0 record and became the first White Rock midget team to capture a provincial trophy. The title was just the second for the entire Titans’ association; the first came in 1992 when the junior bantams won it all. As luck would have it, Martins was the offensive co-ordinator of that title-winning team.

In between, Martins coached a number of teams, at a variety of age divisions, in White Rock-South Surrey, Cloverdale and North Delta, and also spent a number of years on the coaching staff of the B.C. Junior Football League’s Surrey Rams, who eventually moved to South Surrey and now play in Langley.

Martins was part of the Rams’ 2005 championship team, but says last Decembers’ win still meant more to him – in part because he was able to coach alongside his son Avery, 25, who is part of his staff.

“This one was all local kids, and my son was with me… it just hit a little closer to home,” Martins said.

“When I left White Rock (to coach with the Rams), I always wanted to come back, so it’s a little emotional for me. Right now, I’d say that win was right at the top.”

Martins was especially proud of how far the midget program has come since he took the reins three years ago, one year after the association did not field a midget team at all due to lack of players.

“Three years ago, when I got my first roster, it had eight kids on it. I couldn’t even have fielded a hockey team,” he said. “But our executive has been a big help, the parents, the players, the coaches... it’s been a big work-in-progress, but it paid off.”

With Martins’ two amateur football titles coming two decades apart, he knows how tough winning a title can be.

It’s a message he imparted to his players back in December, and continues to remind them of today.

“I told the guys that something like this probably won’t happen again. Teams win provincial championships, but winning the way we did – going undefeated – that’s rare” he said.

“So I told them to just to sit back and enjoy it.”

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