WEIRTON - It doesn't take much for Madonna's Josh Martin to draw a crowd.
Even at the most inconvenient time.
When you're 7-feet tall, it comes with the territory. The "do you play basketball" questions come all the time. Well, yes he does, though it is pretty much a hobby more than a serious addiction to a game you'd think would be his calling card. It's not, so don't bet the mortgage on that one.
Madonna’s Josh Martin, right, talks to teammate Ross Comis during practice this week.
He is frequently asked if he is in college. Looks it, but then, looks can be deceiving.
Always, the stares. And occasionally, downright looniness.
"I was in this little store the other day, and all I wanted to do was buy some salami," said the guy affectionately known as 'Kong' to his teammates and coaches. "This lady comes up to me and goes, 'Oh my God, you are tall, how tall are you?' Then she is bringing all these people around to see how tall I am. It gets frustrating. It's not like I go around talking about how short people are."
Mostly he just laughs it off. He does that.
Laughs come easy for Martin, know as the team comedian.
Quarterback Ross Comis knows Martin's penchant for comedy.
"He's the most sarcastic guy on the team," Comis said. "He is the funniest guy on the team."
Oh yes, the team.
Martin and Madonna will take on Greenbrier West at 7 p.m. Saturday in the West Virginia Class A state championship game.
Martin is unique being a 7-foot football player. There aren't many of those.
Make no mistake, Martin is not a novelty act, an anomaly who stands on the sidelines. He isn't some specialty act, put in situations where he can be lofted the ball and by size alone outjump the opposition for an easy touchdown.
No, Martin lines up in the trenches, a two-way tackle for the state's top-ranked small school.
He is a unique talent, a potential college prospect with an upside rivaled only by his size.
"I get calls all the time from people who who say 'Is he really 7-foot?' " Madonna coach Doug Taylor said. "Look, the kid is a good football player. He knows his assignments, he knows how to fight off blocks on defense, he knows the game of football. He is a football player. He has made by far the biggest improvement on the football field I've seen. We knew with the progression he made from the day he first showed up to where he was at the end of the year we had a real football player."
Martin echoes those sentiments, he talks the talk and backs it by walking the walk.
"I've always loved football," Martin said. "I'm the kid who will sit around all day watching the NFL Network. I can be one way off the field but when I get on the field it's like a light goes off. The field is a place where I can get all of my aggression out. Being the biggest guy, you always have people who want to challenge you. Happens all the time. On the field, I can let that out. I just love the game. I love being in the trenches, where things happen."
Taylor believes he has a future in football.
"If someone is willing to take a chance on him, and work with him, even if he sits out a year, he is going to be a great player," Taylor said. "He'll have to work, hit the weight room, but he is willing to do that."
"My dream is to play college football," Martin said. "I've heard from teams. WVU showed some interest, I've heard from Marshall, Robert Morris, and most of the teams in the (Mountain East) conference."
Still, there is this lingering basketball situation. He plays for Madonna, but at this point "it's pretty much just something I do because I'm tall and I love the guys on the team."
Yet West Virginia University has sent out flyers, because, after all, "you can't coach 7-foot tall ..."
Martin laughs, as he always does these days.
"I was on the field the other night against Williamstown (in a 42-28 victory in the semifinal), and a kid from their team was yelling at another kid and I said, 'Yeah, that's right, tell him bro.' I was just having fun. The referee looked at me and said, 'You know, if this football thing doesn't work out, you have a career in comedy. I liked that."
Dave Morrison can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org