RENO – Long before stepping foot on the Bishop Gorman campus, Tate Martell made national headlines.
Prior to his eighth grade – that’s right, eighth grade – season, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder, who starred for the Mira Mesa (Calif.) Chargers of the Throwback Football League, verbally committed to Washington.
Then Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian had seen video (see video below) of Martell in action and relayed his interest in the very young star. And Martell, a big fan of the Huskies and their quarterback, Jake Locker, decided to commit.
After playing his freshman year for a Poway High School squad that finished 4-7, Martell’s family decided to move the family business to Nevada in part because of California’s tax rate. And Martell transferred to Bishop Gorman.
Gaels’ head coach Tony Sanchez had heard all the hype.
“Those things are always interesting,” Sanchez said with a smile when the topic of verbally committing to a college in the eighth grade came up.
Sanchez already had a returning quarterback receiving college interest in Danny Hong. Sanchez said he has never seen Martell play before.
“When he came here, we saw him in the summertime and you’re like, ‘All right, what’s this guy all about?’ You look at his freshman film – it’s all right, you know, nothing extraordinary. Then when he got here you saw that he could throw the ball really well.”
Still, it was Hong, not Martell, who started the season opening 44-0 win over Brophy Prep from Phoenix. Hong finished 8-of-12 for 159 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Martell was 1-of-3 for five yards.
“Even in Week 1 it wasn’t obvious that he was the guy,” Sanchez said. “He and Danny were battling it out a little bit, and Danny’s done a great job this year. It was one of those deals where he had to beat (Hong) out. And then he got an opportunity and took advantage of it.”
That opportunity came the following week at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., against southern California prep power Servite High of Anaheim led by Oregon commit Travis Waller at quarterback.
Martell entered the game on Gorman’s final possession of the first half with the Gaels behind, 7-6, and provided an immediate spark, throwing for 152 yards and three touchdowns and also running for 110 yards. Bishop Gorman ended up blowing out the Friars, 48-27, and Martell stole the show away from Waller.
“He came in with a ton of energy,” Sanchez said.
After about his third scoring drive, Martell said his teammates began telling him he reminded them of another well-known quarterback.
“They were saying I looked just like Johnny Manziel,” he said. “I had never really heard that comparison before but that’s what everybody calls me now at school and stuff. At homecoming they had a poster they said, ‘Money Martell.’
“I’ll take that comparison any day,” Martell said. “He’s in the NFL. Being compared to a player in the NFL is a huge compliment.”
What does Sanchez think of the comparison?
“I call him Tate,” he replied.
Still, there’s no doubt that Martell is a key reason that Bishop Gorman (14-0) will be playing for its sixth straight Nevada state title and it’s first-ever national title Saturday afternoon here at Damonte Ranch High School when it faces Reed High (11-3) from nearby Sparks.
Martell has completed 115-of-187 passes for 2,337 yards, 34 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He has also rushed for 435 more yards and four touchdowns and this week was named Gatorade’s state player of the year.
“His ability to extend the play,” Sanchez said when asked to name Martell’s best attribute. “He’s got great arm strength. He’s got good speed. The thing now in football with these high-pressure defenses, if you have the ability to extend the play when things break down, that’s almost a necessity now. And Tate does that.”
Although Sarkisian is now the head coach at USC and recently offered Martell a scholarship there, the sophomore says he still sticking with his Washington commit.
“There’s a lot of letters coming in and stuff but I’m still committed to Washington,” he said. “I was up there for their game against Arizona State (on an unofficial trip) and they still want me to come there.”
Martell biggest focus is finishing an undefeated season on Saturday.
“I honestly didn’t know what our preseason ranking was when I came here,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to be ranked No. 1 out of something like 26,000 high schools. It just insane to think we can finish No. 1 in the entire country. But we have to focus on the task at hand and that’s the next game. That’s the way we’ve approached things all year along. We can think abut everything else and celebrate after the game.”