Football

From Muskegon to Columbus: How the legacy of Cameron Martinez was built

Ohio State DB Cameron Martinez sports a “Just a Kid From Muskegon” t-shirt prior to a practice in August 2021. (Photo Credit: Lettermen Row)

By Mike Meekhof

Introduction

Throughout his high school career, Cameron Martinez established himself among the best football players in the history of the Muskegon area. 

The former Muskegon Big Red quarterback was the type of athlete who makes his presence felt at all times. If a random fan showed up to one of his high school games with no idea who he was, that person would leave the stadium convinced that he was superhuman. 

In his high school career, Martinez won numerous statewide awards, including MLive Player of the Year twice and State Champs Mr. Football. 

After receiving 27 Division I offers, Martinez, a 2020 graduate, took his talents to Ohio State, a football program known for its winning tradition, its championships, and an ability to produce some of the best athletes and future NFL players in the country. 

While suiting up for the scarlet and gray is a rare accomplishment by itself, being a difference-maker is another story. Now in his second season with the Buckeyes, Martinez is beginning to contribute and find his niche at the highest level in college football.

In his first full game at Ohio State on Sept. 18 against Tulsa, Martinez had two tackles and three pass deflections throughout the game. But, his biggest play came with 1:50 left in the game when he returned a 61-yard interception for a touchdown, the first of his college career. 

Martinez called the performance the highlight of his time in Columbus.

“I came here for these moments like that,” Martinez said. “I’m trying to do my best to take it all in.”

After his strong performance, Martinez earned his way onto the Buckeyes’ lineup, starting the next two games, wins over Akron and Rutgers. 

Building on his successes and eventually making it to the highest level, the NFL, are his goals.

There are young kids everywhere in the country dreaming to eventually be in Martinez’s position, yet few are able to accomplish it. Let’s take a look back at the blueprint to Martinez’s success and why he’s in this position now. 

Setting A Vision

A 12-year old Cameron Martinez takes a photo with DeShaun Thrower’s Michigan Mr. Basketball trophy in 2014. (Photo Credit: Keith Guy)

Martinez was raised around stars almost his entire life. His step-father Keith Guy, the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Muskegon, has been in Martinez’s life since he was only 2 ½ years old. 

Between his stops as head basketball coach at Muskegon Heights and Muskegon, Guy has had the opportunity to coach some of the best athletes in the state. Any good athlete knows you have to not only have the talent to be successful, but passion, drive, and love for the game as well. Guy said he always made sure to keep his children, including Martinez, around his programs to see first-hand that it takes not only talent to be successful but passion, drive and love for the game. 

“I had all my kids around,” Guy said. “I think it showed them what it means to work, what it means to compete and to be great.”

Martinez attributes much of what he’s learned from being around some of the area’s elite players, such as Willie Snead IV at Heights, and DeShaun Thrower and Deyonta Davis at Muskegon. Snead was the Div. 5-6 Football Player of the Year in 2010 and is now a wide receiver for the Las Vegas Raiders. Thrower was Mr. Basketball in 2014 and won a Division II National Championship at Ferris State University in 2018, and Davis was Mr. Basketball in 2105 before playing one year at Michigan State University and appearing in NBA games for the Memphis Grizzlies and the Atlanta Hawks. 

“I saw how hard (Guy) pushed them and how he reached their full potential,” Martinez said. “Just to see them doing all the right things and working hard,  and the sacrifices that people don’t really notice, that’s what a lot of success comes out of.”

After Thrower received the Mr. Basketball trophy, Guy had Martinez, just 12 years old at the time, take a photo with the trophy.

 “It was one of those things where we put a vision in his head,” Guy said. “He wanted to be Mr. Football or Mr. Basketball, and he looked up to those guys.”

En route to his own Mr. Football, Martinez started the sport at Port City, a time he still remembers vividly.

“I remember the first game that I played, wearing number 31, that was my first football number,” Martinez said. “I just remember getting my first handoff, that was a special time and I will always remember that.”

Guy said that it was during a game at Port City that he realized Martinez’s potential.

“I knew he was special when he was playing at Port City. The game was tight, and he made a play and a break on the ball,” Guy said. “He was on defense, and he intercepted the ball and pick-sixed it and sealed the game. He just has a good feel for the game and just knows how to play.” 

A Lifelong Friendship

Christian Martinez (left) lines up against his brother Cameron (right) during a workout in May 2020. (Photo Credit: Adrian Briseno Photography)

One of Martinez’s best friends, mentors, and influencers is older brother Christian, who plays football at Northwood University in Midland. However, it wasn’t always that way. When they were younger, they developed a rivalry in household games that sometimes became extremely intense.

“We competed 24 hours, seven days a week growing up, and we probably literally fought every day that we competed,” Christian said. “It wasn’t just like a, you know, I’m kind of mad or he’s kind of mad; it was like full-on like mad turning into fights, having to be separated by our parents, you know, and our parents hated it because it was every day, so it was intense. That’s just how it was.”

While the competitiveness never stopped, when Cameron entered his freshman year at Muskegon Catholic Central, the two built a closer bond as they tried to help each other reach their goals.

“Around ninth grade is when it really turned into a lot less competing and more like we had a mission,” Christian said. “I was trying to go to college and be successful, and I was trying to help him get to the dream school he wanted to be recruited by, so the competing kind of dialed down. It never stopped, but it dialed down.”

They would work out almost every day they could together, even on days that most people would take off. 

“I remember my sophomore year when we were working out on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve,” Cameron said. “We’ll never forget about those moments.”

The two also watched plenty of film together during the season. Christian originally attended Davenport University in Grand Rapids, a 45-minute drive to Muskegon, which made it easier to meet in person. 

“I would watch film with him all the time,” Christian said. “When I went to Davenport and he went to Catholic, I was closer to home, so if I was home we would watch film before or after games.”

When Christian transferred to Northwood, it was a 2 ½-hour drive, which made it more difficult for them to be together in person for film. But, thanks to technology, they found a way to make it work.

“We would watch film together on FaceTime,” Christian said. “I would just help him go through things on the field. He would ask me questions and things like that.”

Christian said he plans to coach football when his playing career is done, something his brother says he would be great at.

“He’s one of the smartest guys I know regarding the game of football,” Cameron said. “He’s been able to tell me certain things and point out situations I didn’t see. Having him by my side, knowing that he cares, we can talk and have a close relationship is a really big deal to me.”

Strong Character Runs Deep Into Family’s Roots

The Martinez/Guy family poses for a photo at Cameron’s graduation party (L-R: Christian Martinez, Kiesha Guy, Cameron Martinez, Kierra Guy, Keith Guy) (Photo Credit: Keith Guy)

In the Guy household, Keith and his wife Kiesha always established in every one of their children to treat everyone with respect, no matter how big or little they may be. Their kids were also taught to use their platform to help people going through tougher times succeed.

“We’re cut from the same cloth,” Keith said of his family. “We treat everybody right, we try to be as humble as we can, we’re never too busy, and we never look down on anyone. Everybody’s important to us.”

Kiesha had Cameron volunteering at shelters when he was only a toddler, and the family attended church every Sunday.

“We just live an old-school, old-core value type family,” Keith said. The one thing you will find in all of my kids that I’m proud of is that they’ve picked up those traits from us, and they try to treat people the way God wanted them to be treated.”

Martinez says Kiesha played a big role in influencing him to do the right things.

“I believe she instilled a lot of that in us. She always says it’s always important to give back, use this platform to change people’s lives, and make a difference,” Martinez said. “That’s how I try to live my life every day.”

Martinez’s high school coach at Muskegon, Shane Fairfield, is one of those people who knows that his character speaks volumes.

“I’ve never heard anyone ever not finish a conversation with ‘What an amazing dude’,” Fairfield said.

On some days, instead of hanging out with friends or playing video games, Martinez would read to elementary students at Muskegon during his free time. Fairfield said due to Martinez leading by example, recent players in the program have done similar things to contribute to their community.

“He made it cool,” Fairfield said. “A lot of guys looked at that and said, ‘If Cam can take time away and do these things, then why can’t I?’ Other guys have started to follow suit by looking for more activities to do outside of school and using who they are to make an impact and an impression on young people.”

Muskegon Catholic Central Career

Martinez runs for a touchdown against Manistee in 2017, Muskegon Catholic Central went on to win 42-6. (Photo Credit: Tim Reilly)

Before Martinez even played a down of high school football, he received his first Division I offer from Central Michigan University. The offer came as a bit of a surprise for Martinez.

“I remember coach (Steve) Czerwon at (Muskegon) Catholic was telling me that they wanted me to go to this camp, and I figured I’d go, but I didn’t really know anything,” Martinez said. “Then once I got the offer, I was like wow, it was crazy. Definitely a big moment in my life.”

Cameron almost had the opportunity to play with his brother in high school, but Christian was a year young for his grade, which meant his senior year occurred when Cameron was an eighth-grader.

“If he was in the right grade, we would’ve been able to play for one year, so we kind of just always talked about that,” Cameron said.

While Christian was in high school, Muskegon Catholic won three straight Division 8 state championships in 2013, ‘14, and ‘15. Cameron hoped to lead the Crusaders to a fourth straight title as a freshman in 2016. Czerwon said he saw Cameron’s potential early on as he made his way through the program.

“Oh, he was here all through elementary and middle school, so we knew he was a special kid and had a lot of tools,” Czerwon said.

Like most freshmen playing varsity, Czerwon decided it would be best to ease Martinez into things. Throughout the season, Martinez split reps at quarterback with senior Trenten Bordeaux. 

“We tried to not put him in positions as a freshman where it was too overwhelming, but at that age even, he could handle just about anything,” Czerwon said.

For Martinez, the shining moment of his freshman season turned out to be the state title game, where he finished with 154 rushing yards and a touchdown in a convincing 35-6 win over Ottawa Lake Whiteford, completing Muskegon Catholic’s perfect 14-0 season and capping off a fourth straight D8 championship for the Crusaders.

“It was definitely a great moment in my life,” Martinez said of the state title. “My brother winning the year before and being able to do it after was definitely a great moment, not only for me but also for our entire family.”

Christian said he was proud of his little brother for carrying on the family tradition.

“I was super, super proud because I knew that he could do it, and I felt like he was ready,” Christian said. “Once I graduated, I knew that he was coming up right behind me, and so that whole year honestly leading into the finals, I had a vision of what I thought could happen, but then when he actually did it, it was unreal, like wow, he really did that as a freshman, so I was super proud.”

Czerwon was also proud of the way Cameron showed leadership during his time with the Crusaders despite being one of the youngest members of the team.

“He’s such a special athlete,” Czerwon said. “I think people just gravitated toward him, and that’s been pretty evident as he’s gone on.”

In his sophomore year, Catholic would fall to Mendon in the D8 district finals. That turned out to be Martinez’s final game with the Crusaders.

“It was just crazy because I didn’t expect it, especially where I come from, you don’t really lose,” Martinez said. “I was kind of surprised, but there’s always a reason for that. You can learn from your losses, and that was able to show me a lot of things.”

Muskegon Career

Martinez runs against Detroit Martin Luther King in the 2018 Division 3 state finals, Muskegon would come up short, losing 41-25. (Photo Credit: Tim Reilly)

Following his sophomore year, Martinez decided to transfer to Muskegon High School. It is a decision he called difficult, but the right one to make.

“I remember us kind of talking about it as a family. I prayed a lot, and I think God was just telling me what to do,” Martinez said about the decision. “It definitely was hard, but it was just something that needed to happen.”

Throughout the offseason, Martinez faced doubters who claimed his success at Catholic was due to him being at a smaller school and that he wasn’t ready for “big boy football.” 

Martinez was quickly able to put those questions to rest after a big performance in the Big Reds’ opening game of the season against defending state champion Warren De La Salle when he rushed for 291 yards and five touchdowns in a 36-21 win.

“I would say at that point I didn’t have any jitters. I think all that stuff just motivated me. I knew what they were talking about, but I knew they were wrong,” Martinez said. “I knew how I truly was with my mindset and what I could do on the football field. I was most excited to show everybody what I was capable of.”

Another breakout game for Martinez was in a 55-35 win over rival Mona Shores. He rushed for a school-record 352 yards and six touchdowns. 

“I tried my best to envision having a breakout game like that and being able to do all of those things. Luckily, it happened,” Martinez said. “It was definitely a great moment for me and my teammates.”

Fairfield said that having Martinez was like a “comforting blanket” for him in big moments.

“When you get a kid to coach like Cam, I don’t think I was ever nervous in any game,” Fairfield said. “You just never knew when he was going to take over; you knew it was coming, you knew it was going to happen, you knew there was going to be a play, a moment in every game where you said, ‘Wow!’”

Despite Muskegon falling to Detroit King in the Division 3 state finals, Martinez set multiple records, finishing with 2,528 yards and 38 touchdowns on the ground, the most in the 100-plus years of Muskegon football history. Additionally, Martinez was selected as MLive’s Player of the Year.

Following the season, Martinez was receiving college attention from some of the best programs in the country. Around Muskegon, it seemed as if everyone knew his name.

“I remember I was at a stoplight, and a lady wanted to take a picture of me from her car,” Martinez said. “It’s also great though knowing that I could use success to make a difference in my community.”

In his senior season, Martinez continued to make headlines, but the Big Reds fell in the D3 state title game again, this time to River Rouge. Despite coming up short in the big game, Martinez won his second MLive Player of the Year award as well as winning State Champs Mr. Football, fulfilling the vision he set for his younger self. 

Martinez said he will always look back on his time with the Big Reds with nothing but positive thoughts. 

“From the beginning, the culture, the teachers and getting to know people, understanding their situations, forming bonds and friendships  while playing the game we love,” Martinez said of his time at Muskegon. “I’m definitely thankful for those memories, moments and experiences. It taught and showed me a lot  about life and things outside of football. I am truly thankful for the opportunity and those who helped me.”

Fairfield speaks highly of Martinez, placing him among the best players and people he’s ever coached.

“What an amazing kid, what an amazing friend, what an amazing son, what an amazing teammate,” Fairfield said. “If you want to do things the right way, do it the way Cameron does them, and good things will happen.”

Martinez said he misses the community atmosphere of his time at Muskegon the most.

“It’s just one of those things, you don’t appreciate stuff until it’s gone,” Martinez said. 

How to Stop Him?

Martinez dives for the end zone in Muskegon’s 34-18 Regional Finals win against Cedar Springs in 2018. (Photo Credit: Tim Reilly)

Throughout his time in high school, Martinez left many head coaches scratching their heads. In his four years, he compiled a record of 48-4 while also finishing with more than 6,000 rushing yards and over 100 touchdowns.

Doug Bolles, who coached at Hesperia against him in his freshman and sophomore years at Catholic, said his teams were no match for Martinez.

“He’s just one of those kids that you can’t really coach against,” Bolles said. “You can think you have this set up and that set up, but he just has such good vision, and he’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of kids.”

During his sophomore season, Martinez returned two punts for touchdowns against Bolles’ Panthers in a 49-9 running-clock rout.

“It was like an NFL player against 8-9-year-old mini-mites,” Bolles said of the punt returns. “I don’t even think he ran, I don’t even think he sprinted, he basically jogged to the end zone. Obviously, he had a good team that was with him too, but he just made us look like little kids.”

When Martinez was at Muskegon, he and the Big Reds beat Mona Shores handily both times they played, with a 55-35 win his junior year and a 53-0 rout his senior year. Martinez made the Sailors look like a subpar football team despite Shores reaching the state title game both years as well. 

Shores coach Matt Koziak said Martinez is among the toughest players he’s ever had to coach against.

“Even when you thought you had guys in position to make plays, he would make those kids miss,” Koziak said. “He was so strong and so quick that he made it difficult on everybody he played. It’s easy to draw something up on paper, but actually getting into the game and trying to defend him is a whole different thing.”

One of the few coaches who was able to find success defending him was then-Montague coach Pat Collins. His Wildcats beat Muskegon Catholic 34-6 during Martinez’s sophomore year, holding the versatile quarterback to only 77 yards rushing and ending the Crusaders’ 27-game winning streak. Leading up to the game, Collins said he put a lot of emphasis on stopping Martinez.

“I might’ve been the biggest promoter of him compared to some of the players and coaches I was with. I just said, ‘Guys, I’m not saying I see things you don’t, but these are the reasons why this guy’s different,’ and man, he was amazing,” Collins said. “I knew we couldn’t just play traditional football and expect to stop this guy.”

So Montague went outside the box. Instead of playing at full speed, they went into the game with the goal of slowing everything down. In other words, the Wildcats were going to let Martinez come to them instead of flying up to make a play.

“We had a rule that we described at practice as, ‘Imagine if everybody’s visiting the Grand Canyon and the Grand Canyon’s the line of scrimmage’,” Collins said. “‘You cannot come across that or you’re gonna fall to your death, and in our case, you’re getting pulled out of the game’.”

The plan worked for the Wildcats in that game, but Collins knows that it wasn’t by any means foolproof.

“We really just tried to just say ‘OK, we’re not as good as this kid, none of us are. We’re gonna have to do something different,’ and that’s what we did,” Collins said. “It worked that game, but I saw him for many years after that just dominate teams that tried to do the same thing, so he’s a special player.”

Ohio State Career

Martinez following his first career interception in Ohio State’s 41-20 win over Tulsa on September 18, 2021. (Photo Credit: Lettermen Row)

In high school, Martinez’s college decision was highly anticipated. He held 27 offers from FBS programs, including every Big Ten program except Maryland, Rutgers, and Illinois. Early in the summer going into his senior year, Martinez took official visits to Northwestern, Minnesota, and Ohio State. By mid-summer, he announced his commitment to the Buckeyes.

“I just wanted to think about what was the best way I could put myself in a position to be great, successful, and to take my game to the next level physically, but also mentally as well,” Martinez said. “I prayed a lot about it too. I feel like God had directed me in the right direction, and I felt more sure about Ohio State than any other school.”

Martinez signed his national letter of intent with Ohio State in February 2020 and left for Columbus a few months later. While playing at a school like Ohio State was exciting, it also meant Martinez would be faced with a situation he’d never been in. 

Throughout his entire career, from youth league to high school, Martinez was always the clear best player of whatever team he was on. With Ohio State, he began as a small fish in a big pond. He would have to earn his way onto the starting lineup. 

To add to all of that, the beginning of Martinez’s Buckeye career was arguably one of the most challenging times for any newcomer — the midst of the deadliest pandemic in U.S. history. 

“I would say this last year, there was a lot of adversity for me,” Martinez said. We had a lot of ups and downs, and it wasn’t really what I anticipated or expected, but that definitely showed me a lot about how to persevere  and that I had room to grow, and the things I needed to work on. I believe it’s paying off now.”

While Martinez’s parents helped give advice and encouragement, they were not there to feel bad for him.

“I’m one of those old-school parents; his mother is the same way. You can’t call us with crying, pouting, and sulking about playing time,” Keith Guy said. “Now, we’ll talk to him and encourage him, but it always goes back to what can you do? What can you do to make this situation better? This is what you asked for, this is what you signed up for, and you’re built for this. Just go out and prove it.”

Things have started to come to fruition for Martinez this season. 

Martinez’s interception return in the Tulsa game awoke the sleeping giant that had been in hibernation since his final high school game two years back. His former coach said he watched the game live back in Muskegon and was proud of Martinez’s work paying off. 

“He had an elite offseason (at Ohio State), the articles were written that he had the best weight-room attitude, strength, and gains. He had the best camps, he had this and that, and he still had to wait for an opportunity,” Fairfield said. “He got his opportunity and excelled, so that’s when all that other stuff that people don’t see comes into play.”

Martinez has now excelled into his starting role, contributing with 10 tackles, three pass deflections, and the aforementioned interception in his three games this year. 

Conclusion

Martinez poses with his MLive Player of the Year street sign in 2018, the sign now hangs on Laketon Avenue in Muskegon.

Martinez said he models his game after Kansas City Chiefs star Tyrann Mathieu, one of the top defensive backs in the NFL.

“Every game  he plays you know you’re going to see the best from him, he’s going to give it all he has, and he leaves it all on the field,” said Martinez, who is majoring in psychology and wants to be a counselor if his NFL dream doesn’t come true. “I think that’s what every  player wants. I know that’s what I want and every time I walk on that field I want to do what’s best for me and the team. I’m ready to play and make a difference.”

Bonus

Check out this video of Martinez’s first career interception and touchdown at Ohio State (Video Credit: Mike Meekhof)

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