MUSKEGON, Mich. — There are two secrets hidden in plain sight on the corner of Morrall and Sanford, facts that are obviously well known to all the locals in the hard-working, tradition-rich Port City.
First, Hackley Stadium is hallowed ground.
The exposed bricks on the exterior and the glimpses at the iconic Big Reds Red paint are enough that signs aren’t even necessary to identify perhaps the most storied program in the state of Michigan. Even in the summer with no lines on the field, a structure famously constructed by the company that built Wrigley Field and the Big House oozes history, setting the standard for anybody who walks into the no-frills, concrete-covered locker room to represent the program.
Second, Cameron Martinez is special.
On a Monday in July, a rising senior strolls through the chainlink gate on the north side of the field wearing a beige, logo-less workout shirt. The only hints that he might be different than anybody else in Muskegon are the football in his hands and a 6-foot, 190-pound frame that looks like it was forged in a factory, which is obviously fitting in the blue-collar city that raised him.
“I’m putting on for this town, and I’m just hoping more people hear the name soon,” Martinez said. “When people hear Michigan, they tend to think about Detroit, but that’s on the other side. They don’t think about Muskegon. As far as sports to academics and everything, there are a lot of great people and a lot of great workers. Hopefully going to a big school like Ohio State, if I can make a difference there, everybody will know that it started here in Muskegon.
“This town is underrated. There are so many good things here that not a lot of people notice.”
Martinez is too humble to put himself on that list, but he’s near the top of it at the moment for Muskegon as the state’s reigning Mr. Football and newly-minted commit to the Buckeyes.
Overlooked throughout his recruitment and still perhaps underrated as a three-star recruit, the sky-high potential Martinez brings on both sides of the ball has been well known locally dating back to his days as a youngster in the Rocket League. His reputation as a stand-up citizen and student when he’s not in pads is just as sterling, making him just about a perfect match for Hackley Stadium.
Another football cathedral awaits in the Horseshoe. But the journey in Muskegon isn’t over yet, and he’s still not done giving back.
Cameron Martinez ‘calm in midst of chaos’
The timing wasn’t ideal for Kiesha Guy.
The baby was about six weeks early, for starters, and that was reason enough for concern. But after a nurse woke her up in time to watch the second tower fall on Sept. 11, 2001, Guy didn’t want her new son to be born on a day that would forever be associated with terrorism.
“The doctors were just like, ‘I’m sorry, he’s going to have to come out,’” Guy said. “They were trying to hold it off [a procedure] because I was worked up, he was worked up. I remember crying that I didn’t want him to be born that day. They were all watching the TV, I’m facing this way and everybody else is facing the other way.
“It was surreal. But Cameron was always really calm in the midst of all that chaos. He was a calm baby. He’s just always been that way. To me, he’s just a special kid because he’s got a great spirit. Even as he’s grown up, he’s always been very calm and cooperative”
There are some exceptions, of course.
A fierce, loving sibling rivalry with Cameron’s brother Christian rages to this day with the two fighting over every game of pickup basketball or video game imaginable. The two even initially picked different sides of the most heated feud in sports with Christian cheering for Ohio State and Cameron rooting for Michigan, a rift that has obviously now healed with the older brother getting to cheer for both his family and the school that has blankets covering his bed.
His dad Steve helped cultivate that competitive mindset when Martinez was younger, pushing him to take on challenges on the travel circuit as an athlete, always reaching for a different measuring stick. Stepdad and Muskegon basketball coach Keith Guy added more fuel to that fire, bringing home trophies from the two players of the year he mentored and having Martinez envision himself holding his own one day.
And then there’s mom, who still owns a couple high school track records and might just stand alone as the ringleader of an endless battle for bragging rights among Muskegon’s most competitive family.
“My records have been up longer than theirs,” Keisha Guy said with a smile. “They always tease me, but that’s the one thing I have.
“Cameron always says that I’m probably one of his biggest haters. Because sometimes I would talk to my husband and say, ‘Is he that good? Like, is he?’ I don’t ever want to get too high because so many things can happen in life, so I’m always been a skeptic. Cameron knows that and says I’m so cautious, but that’s just who I am. For me, I still sometimes think the jury is still out. Can he play at this level or do this or that? I mean, I know he’s moving on and he’s at this level, but I just wonder where it goes from here.”
Certainly that’s driven in part by the protective nature of a mother who still thinks about her premature baby and all the nights when Cameron couldn’t go to sleep without being tucked in correctly.
But it might also be a motivational ploy, continuing to push a high-achieving athlete blessed with incredible genetics to keep working.
“When I lose, sometimes my mom is more mad than me,” Martinez said. “That’s something we live by every day.
“That’s my family: Competitive.”
‘More to me outside of football’
Every Thursday afternoon, even during football season, Cameron Martinez could be found in the same place.
Whether it was in a kindergarten classroom reading books or running around on the playground, Muskegon Elementary was a staple on the weekly schedule.
“That was fun,” Martinez said. “The kids would always tell me that they saw me on TV, so it was cool to talk to them.
“I think a lot of people don’t think there’s much more to me outside of football. You know, a lot of people just see me as a football player, but I think I’m so much more. Being caring, loving, always trying to do the right thing. A lot of people don’t see that, because I think athletes get judged off what happens on the football field. I think there’s so much more than that, and I’ve been surrounded by a good supporting cast to keep my head level and always doing the right thing.”
That extends to his own classroom, which is a big reason why Northwestern remained such a crucial figure in his recruitment until the quality of the Ohio State education became more clear during his visits.
And it also includes his responsibilities at home, which don’t ease up no matter how many touchdowns he scores on a Friday night.
“Last year I taught him how to cut the grass with our riding lawn mower, and we had a deal where he would do it every week,” Keith Guy said. “They played their first game last year against De La Salle and he [ran for five touchdowns], so I didn’t think he would do it. Next morning, he was up early cutting it. He made it his business every Saturday to cut the lawn.
“First of all, it’s his personality and how he treats people. He loves people, and he does not look down on people. He will give anybody the time of day, and he’s a really nice guy. On the athletic side, he’s a hard worker, extremely competitive and I think he enjoys challenges. He enjoys when people write him off or doubt him. I think that makes him compete harder. His drive is second to none.”
The support system is equally impressive, and Christian remains a key part of that.
An accomplished football player himself, on this Monday in July the two put their rivalry aside for a couple hours to go work out together at Muskegon and reflect on the journey growing up together — and the door that once was shattered by a dumbbell when the Wolverines scored against the Buckeyes.
“It was always all love, and we have always wanted the best for each other,” Christian said. “But all of this still hasn’t really set in for me. To see what he’s doing, I’m really happy and excited for him. At the end of the day, he’s my brother. He’s a priority over anything else.
“It’s been crazy to watch him. Now to see him go play for the Buckeyes, it doesn’t feel real yet.”
The Cameron Martinez Rule
Shane Fairfield isn’t sure if the stipulation still exists or if it followed the rising star up through the ranks of youth football.
But he knows exactly why it was created, and the Cameron Martinez Rule is certainly going to get the attention of a high school coach in Muskegon.
“Seriously, when he was in Rocket football, he was only allowed to score three touchdowns and then he couldn’t touch the ball again,” Fairfield said. “He would punt return, kick return, he’d just get the ball and take off and score just like he does now in high school. It was unfair otherwise, because he could score an unlimited amount of touchdowns at that level.
“He’s kind of done that at the high school level even against really, really good teams. His best games come against some of the biggest competition. He’s just an exciting kid to watch play football.”
Sitting on an old picnic table just a few yards behind the north end zone, Fairfield laughs at the notion that anybody could get him to put a similar cap on his dynamic, two-way weapon with the Big Reds.
Maybe this season he’ll shift Martinez out to wide receiver more often instead of simply snapping him the ball and letting him work his magic. Perhaps Muskegon will need to use their best pure tackler more on defense after spending last season primarily keeping him protected to lead the offense.
But spread around the touches just to keep everybody happy? The Big Reds have a winning tradition to uphold, and they’re going to let Martinez do anything in his power to get the job done.
“They can’t install that rule up here, absolutely not,” Fairfield joked. “We’re going to win games. But our whole thing here is to win games and not to treat him any different. I think that’s the best thing about him is that he’s treated like everybody else. As many accolades as he gets, as much as the camera is in his face, he is never treated any differently from the coaching staff. He will always do what is best for the team and the program.
“He doesn’t have to be the guy with the ball in his hands all the time. He’s OK with it. That’s what is so special about Cameron is the fact that if we’re winning, he’s happy. If you ask him where he wants to play, the first thing he’ll say is he wants to win, so wherever he can help the team. Sometimes that’s a cliche and people just say it because it sounds good, but that’s truly who Cameron is.”
That’s the Muskegon Way.
That’s also the Martinez Way.
There is nothing flashy about either, from the simple bricks at Hackley Stadium to the plain workout gear of the rising phenom who calls it home. And it’s easy to overlook them both if anybody doesn’t know what to look for around the eastern shores of Lake Michigan.
“I’m used to surprising everybody,” Martinez said. “So, might as well keep it like that.”
For Cameron Martinez, it might be too late at this point.
The secret in Muskegon is officially out now.