Dick Shiner. Frank Reich. Kerry Collins. Brandon Kirsch. Even James Capello, Mark Pyles and Zach Kulp.
Through the ages, little Lebanon County has produced more than its share of accomplished quarterbacks. And while its unfair to compare, anytime the topic of conversation is local signal-callers, Jeff Martin’s name must be mentioned.
If not only because the Elco senior accomplished something that none of those ever did.
On Friday night, Martin became Lebanon County’s all-time leader in scholastic passing yardage. He is the only local quarterback ever to surpass 6,000 yards in his high school career.
“I think it is a great accomplishment, being the top in Lebanon County and being one of the top six in the Lancaster-Lebanon League,” said Martin. “I was excited when I got it. But I just wanted to get going with the game.
“I think sometime during last season, someone brought it up to me,” continued Martin. “I kind of knew about it over the off season. I didn’t say too much about it. But I knew it was there.”
“I’m not big into stats,” said Elco head coach Bob Miller, who prefers to emphasize team triumphs over individual accomplishments. “But it’s a pretty big accomplishment. He came on to the team as a young kid and had a lot of responsibility. It’s a really big deal, especially with some of the kids who have come through here.
“It wasn’t a matter of him having one big season,” Miller continued. “He wasn’t a full-time starter for his first year. The kid has had to split some time, and he’s really earned it.”
Martin entered Friday’s Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three tussle with Northern Lebanon two yards shy of Capello’s previous Lebanon County record of 5,996 yards and six yards short of the 6,000-plateau – earlier this season he had become the most prolific passing Raider by surpassing Kulp’s mark of 5,922 yards. Martin got the record with 4:23 remaining in the second quarter, when he connected with favorite target Andrew Olson, on a seam route that produced a 45-yard touchdown.
He finished the contest 15 of 25 for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Martin now has 6,250 passing yards in his career and seems destined to pass the 6,700-yard mark.
“I’m thinking it was when Andrew Olson caught the touchdown over the middle,” said Martin. “I remember the play pretty well. Andrew caught the ball down the seam, and I had to lead him out there. I kind of thought that was the play. When I came to the sideline, Coach Miller told me that was the play and congratulated me.
“Yeah, it definitely was a relief,” added Martin. “It was nice to get it out of the way. People were telling me about it for two weeks. I was really close to getting it at Donegal (the week prior).”
“He’s having a really good senior season,” said Miller. “He’s very patient, and he’s done a great job of progressing week-to-week. When he’s gotten shots, he’s taken them. He’s getting better and better, making good reads, those types of things.
“Jeff has to understand he has to run the offense,” Miller added. “He’s got to make more calls at the line of scrimmage. The other thing is winning games, for him to be the guy to lead his teams to wins.”
Certainly becoming Lebanon County’s all-time leader in passing yardage is no small feat. It is akin to Becky Hower’s basketball scoring record, Tommy Long’s local rushing record and Kelly Fitzpartick’s field hockey goal mark.
But it as much a testament to Martin’s talent as it is to his durability, his work ethic, the personnel the Raiders have been able to surround him with – offensive linemen, receivers and running backs – and his consistency. Following 2,000-yard sophomore and junior campaigns, Martin has amassed about 1,200 yards passing as a 12th-grader.
“You definitely need to stay healthy,” said the 6-4, 220-pound Martin. “To put up good stats, you’ve got to have good games. It definitely took a while to get there. It’s an accomplishment to get there.
“Coming in as a freshman, I remember my first game and I was nervous,” Martin continued. “I’d say over the years, I’ve really progressed on reading coverages and seeing the field well. I’ve always had a pretty strong arm. Reading defenses is probably the biggest thing I’ve improved on.”
“He’s improved phenomenally,” said Miller. “Early on, you could tell he was going to be a competitor. You could tell he wasn’t afraid. Right now, he’s enjoying the game. He’s excitable, and he’s more in control. We knew he was going to be a good quarterback early on and he’s developed his game. He’s not a Prima Donna.”
Another thing that Martin has developed is his leadership skills. Though outwardly subdued and quiet, the heart of a leader burns inside of him.
“I kind of take charge of the huddle, try to get people settled down if things aren’t going right,” said Martin. “I try to be a good leader for people to follow. I think my teammates look at me and see me as a leader. We have other guys who are more vocal. But I play through my actions. I’m not a big rah-rah guy.
“My biggest personal goal coming into the season was getting that section championship, and getting to the playoffs, which I didn’t do any of my four years,” Martin added. “There’s goals where I wanted to get a certain amount of touchdowns, but I wanted to win more. I’ve been putting up petty good stats, so I don’t usually worry about that.”
“He’s talking in the huddle,” said Miller. “He’s making corrections with guys. Some things people aren’t going to see. He’s modeling leadership. He’s really come out of his shell the last couple of years. It’s been neat and fun to see him have success.”
If there’s been one knock on Martin over his career, it’s that Elco has not won consistently under him. Currently, the Raiders sit at 3-1 in Section Three and 3-4 overall.
“We started off a little slow,” said Martin of the Raiders’ 0-3 beginning. “We expected to start faster. We had some off-the-field issues. There were some ups and downs. But we’re staying into it, which I like.
“I think I’m doing good right now,” added Martin. “You can always improve on things, here and there. Now that we’ve got the passing game going, things are going better.”
“He’s fun,” said Miller of his protege. “He doesn’t project a lot. He doesn’t tell a joke too often, but when he does, it’s funny. He likes to have fun, but he’s not going to be the life of the party. He’s fun to be around because he’s a lot more comfortable.”
But perhaps the best things about Martin’s new record are yet to come. If it could catch the attention of a college coach, get him in the right situation – both athletically and academically – for him, then it would become more value than any number.
“Yeah, I’d like to play football in college,” said Martin. “The interest has kind of been on and off. Over the summer, I had some Division Ones, smaller Division Ones and Division Twos contact me. It cooled off and then I heard back from some.
“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Martin concluded. “I’m trying to get some highlights out. I’m focusing on the season and have that on the side. But it’s something I really want to do.”
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