Ethan Martin was a four-time VHSL state champion during his days wrestling for the Rural Retreat Indians, but his first season at the collegiate level got off to a rocky start.
“It took me a month and a half in order to get my first takedown in practice,” Martin said. “I had a losing record for most of the season. So you can say it was pretty rough at times, but it’s something I would never take back.”
Nobody can take away Martin’s season-ending achievement of earning All-American honors.
Competing for Liberty University in the 184-pound weight class, Martin won five of his seven matches to place fifth at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) tournament on March 12-14 in Allen, Texas.
Seeded 14th entering the event, Martin had wins over grapplers ranked third and sixth.
“I believe it to be one of Ethan’s best performances of the year,” said Liberty coach Jesse Castro. “Ethan wrestled free, unencumbered by self-doubt and apprehension. I was impressed by his tenacity and will to win. That was a glimpse of what I hope is to come in the years ahead.”
A thrilling 7-5 victory over Newport News Apprentice senior William Sorey was Martin’s most memorable match.
“He was an excellent wrestler and the third-ranked guy coming into the tournament,” Martin said. “The match stood out the most because I left everything I had on the mat. I forced a stalling call late in the third period to tie up the match and after three more overtimes, I finally got the winning takedown to secure the win.”
Such grit and guile is something Martin has always displayed, according to a guy who has seen him excel for years.
“Ethan is extremely dedicated to wrestling and it makes me very proud to see a kid who has worked so hard through our program gain All-American honors as a college freshman,” said Rural Retreat coach Rick Boyd. “He has traveled all over the country to wrestle the best kids around and he wrestles with a lot of confidence.
“Ethan’s parents [A.J. and Nikki Martin] are very instrumental in his success. Any kid that is successful in college has parents that have dedicated lots of time in travel and resources to enable their son to reach that level of success.”
Success doesn’t come easy for athletes who transition from the high school to college level, especially in a sport as demanding as wrestling.
“The biggest adjustment I had to undertake was my drilling,” Martin said. “In high school at times it was about learning all the moves you can and finding out which ones work for you. While once I hit college it was all about refining and fine-tuning what already works for you.”
Then there was the competition Martin faced each time the freshman stepped on the mat.
“I had to constantly improve every day in order to change my old habits to reach the level of wrestling that I wanted to,” Martin said.
The NCWA – which is not affiliated with the NCAA and features several club teams from large colleges and universities – actually finished its season amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Liberty won the team title.
“It felt amazing to finish the season off,” Martin said. “All of us in our division busted our tails from the beginning of the season all the way to the end. But I truly feel for the guys that did not get to complete their season. It’s utterly heartbreaking to put that kind of time in and not getting to your end result.”
The end result was certainly unforgettable for Martin.
“There are two things I’ve learned this season. First off, trust the process. Nothing comes easy in life and if you think it’s hard now, it’ll just get harder. You have to overcome barriers every single day in order to be the best you that you can be and trust the guidance of those around you,” Martin said. “Second off, give glory to God however, and whenever, you can. The team’s motto on all of our shirts is “My Utmost For His Highest.” Whatever you are doing, do it for the glorification of God. Always give thanks and be thankful for the opportunities that are placed in front of you.”