Versatile Cardinal Mooney player
part of impressive turnaround
By Ryan Buck
He shares his name with a Western frontier city founded and built by wayward miners, loggers and land speculators.
Like those pioneers in the 1800s who once found themselves lost between the gold they sought and the homes they fled in search of fortune, Cardinal Mooney football player Denver Martin was a nomad.
In a football sense, he was a man without a defined role or position, which was his predicament during a junior season of ups and downs for both he and his much ballyhooed team.
The 2012 Cardinals fought through a most unusual 3-6 season. A surprising turnaround has them on the brink of the school’s 12th state championship appearance only a year later.
Martin, a well-rounded athlete who plays multiple positions and also leads the Mooney baseball team in the spring, began last season as a focal point of the offense.
“Well, last year I played quarterback, then they moved me around,” Martin said. “They moved me to tailback by the end of the season.
“And then the beginning of this season they didn’t know where to put me.”
The Cardinals struggled through one of the state’s toughest schedules and — even with the presence of two Division I athletes in Marcus McWilson and Courtney Love — missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
“I don’t know about the popularity or attention given to each squad, how that’s perceived from the public or the media or wherever,” said Mooney coach P.J. Fecko, who is looking for a fifth state title in his 14th season. “I do know this: this team this year has done a really good job of preparing themselves. I think the team chemistry is outstanding.
“Last year’s team took the same steps of preparing themselves and going through everything they needed to do and unfortunately came up short here or there.”
Fortunately for Mooney, a strong junior class was ready to fulfill its potential this past August.
That included Martin, who just needed to settle on a position. Or did he?
“They started me out at tailback, then they moved me over to receiver for a little bit, then they switched me in at fullback,” said Martin, a 5-foot-11 190-pound combination of strength and speed. “So, wherever they need me, that’s where I’ll go and I’ll play.”
As Martin has remained transient on offense, he was undoubtedly a stalwart in the defensive backfield.
He grew into a reliable and punishing safety, who made every tackle and, through resourcefulness and versatility, forced his way onto the field
And he doesn’t actually leave it. As the starting punter, he is averaging over 45 yards per punt.
“I’ve played pretty much both ways my entire life,” he said. “I don’t know how football would be without going both ways.
“I’m kind of used to being tired.”
With a smaller team in numbers than in years past, Martin is just one of several Cardinals who play both offense and defense.
Running backs Mark Handel and C.J. Amill also play cornerback. Anthony Dermotta plays both fullback and linebacker. Quarterback Jon Saadey doubles as a defensive back, to name a few.
Mooney’s success is built on sacrifice.
“We see it more this year, playing together as a team,” said Handel, who leads the team in rushing, receiving and interceptions. “The whole offseason, throughout lifting and stuff, we became a team. We’re working together, we’re closer and I think it’s translated onto the field.”
In last Friday’s regional final with Cleveland Benedictine, Mooney overcame a 14-point, first-half deficit and looked to take a 21-14 lead into halftime.
There, Martin provided perhaps the signature play of their season.
On fourth-and-22 from Benedictine’s 42-yard line, he out-jumped a pack of defenders in the end zone and came down with Saadey’s Hail Mary as the second quarter wound down.
His touchdown proved to be the winning margin in a 28-21 victory that advanced the Cardinals to Friday’s state semifinal with Steubenville.
“When I threw it, I knew it had something special on it,” Saadey said. “I knew my boy Denver was going to get it.”
For good measure, Martin added a second-half interception.