On the walls of LFO High School are several signs, using “LFO” as an acronym to describe the characteristics of a Warrior: “Lead by example. Focus on success. Own your actions.”
Talk to any of the administration or staff at the school and they will all agree that senior Erik Martinez is a perfect example.
Martinez, a two-time Catoosa County Boys’ Cross Country Runner of the Year and a state qualifier with the Warriors’ track team, will take his considerable talents to Cleveland State Community College next season after signing papers with the Cougars last week in front of numerous friends, family members, faculty members and even future Cleveland State teammates.
The Cougars finished their second season of cross country this past fall and collected three third-place finishes at meets hosted by and attended by bigger schools.
“It’s an exciting feeling that I’m able to compete at the next level and to be part of a team and to be able to push my limits even further,” Martinez said. “I look forward to being a Cougar and to continue my education there as well.”
Martinez said he chose Cleveland State for its proximity to home, its academics and its growing reputation as a top-notch cross country program.
“They already have some good runners and it’s a good school as well,” he added. “I’m hoping that I can be a leader, even though I will only be a freshman. Hopefully, I can help get the guys together and we can be even stronger than they have been in previous years.”
Martinez will graduate from LFO as arguably the best and most decorated boys’ cross country runner in school history. He finished third at last fall’s Area 6-AAA championships to qualify for the state meet for the fourth time. He ran at 17:34 on the tough Carrollton course — his best time ever at state — and it marked the fourth straight state meet in which he improved on his time from the following year.
Martinez was runner-up at a season-opening meet at Heritage and had five top-three finishes in the fall, ending the year with an average time of 17:27 for the 5K courses.
More recently, he won the 1600-meter title at the area track meet with a time of 4:49.52 and went on to finish second in the 800 (2:05.13). He placed sixth at the Class 3A sectional meet in both events and finished 10th in the 1600 at state in Albany this past weekend with a new LFO mark of 4:31.08.
“Cleveland State is getting an athlete with character and that’s the biggest thing about Eric,” said First Sergeant Anthony Heath, who coached Martinez at LFO. “It shows when he comes to practice. He does everything that the coaches tell him to do and then he’ll go out and do twice as much afterward. That’s work ethic. He just puts in a little more than everyone else.
“Plus, he’s respectful. He’s the type of kid you’d want to have as a son. Looking at him (on Signing Day), he’s walking around and he’s cognizant of everyone around him and I think he gets that from being a runner. He’s just a great student.”
Cleveland State coach David Kyle said he was “excited” to get a runner as highly-motivated as Martinez on his roster.
“Erik is a strong runner. His times tell that, but he’s a dedicated runner, which is what you want,” Kyle explained. “I’m not going to have to tell him to go out and run. He’s already doing 60 or 70 miles (a week) on his own. Our men’s program is already stacked. We should have a really great team next year and he’s going to be a part of that. He’ll come in and be a strong runner right off the bat.”
Kyle said Martinez has the ability to be a young leader for his team and expects that the LFO standout will immediately fit right in with the rest of the squad.
“We’ve got a couple of sophomores coming back, but I think he’ll be right in there with them,” the coach continued. “These guys are already friends. Even though they go to different high schools, they’re running together and already training together. In fact, one of his teammates for next year was here at the signing today, so that’s how close they already are.
“I want to them build a tight-knit group. I want them to hang out together outside of running, go run together on the weekends or whatever and these guys are doing that already so it makes my job easier. I’m super excited to get (Erik) because it’s going to make my coaching job a lot easier.”
Martinez said he is undecided on a major.