State Voyage

Countdown to State: Kirk Martin’s journey from Quitaque to a State Championship game

Countdown to State: Kirk Martin’s journey from Quitaque to a State Championship game
Coach Kirk Martin of Manvel on the sideline. Vype

Originally appeared on Vype.com.

HOUSTON – Kirk Martin’s love for Texas high school football started in the small West Texas town of Quitaque.

With a population of 601 and just down the road from Turkey, Texas, in between the two towns was Valley High School—a Class 1A program, which Martin watched and helped out with while growing up and eventually played for from 1985-1988.

“I was a football junkie,” Martin said. “I was a football manager when I was in the fifth grade. I rode the yellow dogs and all that stuff. I had an older brother; he was a manager in seventh grade so I was in fifth grade. I went to all the games; I’ve seen so many great games.”

The chase for a state championship from his childhood has carried over into his career.

Martin’s journey has taken him to almost every corner of Texas, including stops in El Paso, Alvin, Odessa—at Permian working for T.J. Mills—Giddings, Alpine—his first head coaching job in 2004—and then Manvel.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” wife of 23 years Caren said about being on this journey with Kirk. “When we first got married he was teaching at a junior high and coaching at a high school. Then we got to move all over Texas. He was an assistant for a while, a coordinator.

“Before we moved to Manvel the longest we lived anywhere was four years and that’s when he was at Alvin High School. The shortest we lived anywhere was eight months. He was the offensive coordinator at Giddings and then he got his first head coaching job at Alpine. We loved living in Alpine. It was in the middle of nowhere but we had so much fun being out there and it was a great place to raise kids. I thought we’d stay there but the job came open and we prayed (about it).”

Along the way there was always success.

At Alvin, Martin was the offensive coordinator when the program last won a District Championship in 1996. At Giddings, Martin helped guide the team to a win against La Grange for the first time in 12 years.

With all of this on his resume, Martin got a chance to build a program from the ground up with Manvel opening.

Since starting to compete in 2008, Manvel has made the playoffs in eight of 10 years, had 10-plus win seasons for eight-straight seasons and made it to the state quarterfinals seven times.

In 2011, the Mavericks made a run to the 5A Division II State Championship game against Aledo. This was Martin’s first chance to capture that title.

Aledo won the game 49-28.

“We’ve been there before and I didn’t know if I’d ever be back again,” Martin said. “Our oldest son (Koda) was a sophomore when we went in 2011 and we didn’t win it. Everybody kept telling me don’t forget to enjoy it. Enjoy the moment, savor the flavor and all that stuff and there was so many different community pep rallies and hoopla stuff and I don’t know if we were as focused as we needed to be. I think the bigness of it really affected us.

“We played tight in the first quarter and for the first half. Offensively we weren’t ourselves. We dropped a bunch of balls and did some things that were uncharacteristic of our football team. I’ve always said if we get to do it again I’m going to make sure our kids are really focused and aren’t worried about the moment.”

That chance for Manvel and Martin comes on Friday against defending state champion Highland Park at AT&T Stadium.

A day after clinching the spot in the title game with a 35-10 win against Angleton, Martin was at home getting ready for the day when something happened that brought him to tears.

“My son (London Harris) that’s at Texas State won state in track and he’s got a state ring,” Martin said. “It was underneath a towel by my sink and Saturday morning I got up early, took a shower and I went over was brushing my teeth and I picked that hand towel up and there was that state ring with that Manvel ‘M’ on the front of it.

“Honestly I just started crying. I was just like it was almost like it was put there for me I just started balling. I was like this thing may actually happen.”

If it does happen it will mark the first-ever football state championship for Manvel High School.

On top of that it would fulfill the dream of the kid from Quintaque, Texas who has lived and breathed Texas high school football.

“I’m so focused right now,” Martin said. “We’ve got to do this.”

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The Astros have their work cut out for them. Composite Getty Image.

Through 20 games, the Houston Astros have managed just six wins and are in last place in the AL West.

Their pitching staff trails only Colorado with a 5.24 ERA and big-money new closer Josh Hader has given up the same number of earned runs in 10 games as he did in 61 last year.

Despite this, these veteran Astros, who have reached the AL Championship Series seven consecutive times, have no doubt they’ll turn things around.

“If there’s a team that can do it, it’s this team,” shortstop Jeremy Peña said.

First-year manager Joe Espada, who was hired in January to replace the retired Dusty Baker, discussed his team’s early struggles.

“It’s not ideal,” he said. “It’s not what we expected, to come out of the shoot playing this type of baseball. But you know what, this is where we’re at and we’ve got to pick it up and play better. That’s just the bottom line.”

Many of Houston’s problems have stemmed from a poor performance by a rotation that has been decimated by injuries. Ace Justin Verlander and fellow starter José Urquidy haven’t pitched this season because of injuries and lefty Framber Valdez made just two starts before landing on the injured list with a sore elbow.

Ronel Blanco, who threw a no-hitter in his season debut April 1, has pitched well and is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three starts this season. Cristian Javier is also off to a good start, going 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA in four starts, but the team has won just two games not started by those two pitchers.

However, Espada wouldn’t blame the rotation for Houston’s current position.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster how we've played overall,” he said. “One day we get good starting pitching, some days we don’t. The middle relief has been better and sometimes it hasn’t been. So, we’ve just got to put it all together and then play more as a team. And once we start doing that, we’ll be in good shape.”

The good news for the Astros is that Verlander will make his season debut Friday night when they open a series at Washington and Valdez should return soon after him.

“Framber and Justin have been a great part of our success in the last few years,” second baseman Jose Altuve said. “So, it’s always good to have those two guys back helping the team. We trust them and I think it’s going to be good.”

Hader signed a five-year, $95 million contract this offseason to give the Astros a shutdown 7-8-9 combination at the back end of their bullpen with Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly. But the five-time All-Star is off to a bumpy start.

He allowed four runs in the ninth inning of a 6-1 loss to the Braves on Monday night and has yielded eight earned runs this season after giving up the same number in 56 1/3 innings for San Diego last year.

He was much better Wednesday when he struck out the side in the ninth before the Astros fell to Atlanta in 10 innings for their third straight loss.

Houston’s offense, led by Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, ranks third in the majors with a .268 batting average and is tied for third with 24 homers this season. But the Astros have struggled with runners in scoring position and often failed to get a big hit in close games.

While many of Houston’s hitters have thrived this season, one notable exception is first baseman José Abreu. The 37-year-old, who is in the second year of a three-year, $58.5 million contract, is hitting 0.78 with just one extra-base hit in 16 games, raising questions about why he remains in the lineup every day.

To make matters worse, his error on a routine ground ball in the eighth inning Wednesday helped the Braves tie the game before they won in extra innings.

Espada brushed off criticism of Abreu and said he knows the 2020 AL MVP can break out of his early slump.

“Because (of) history,” Espada said. “The back of his baseball card. He can do it.”

Though things haven’t gone well for the Astros so far, everyone insists there’s no panic in this team which won its second World Series in 2022.

Altuve added that he doesn’t have to say anything to his teammates during this tough time.

“I think they’ve played enough baseball to know how to control themselves and how to come back to the plan we have, which is winning games,” he said.

The clubhouse was quiet and somber Wednesday after the Astros suffered their third series sweep of the season and second at home. While not panicking about the slow start, this team, which has won at least 90 games in each of the last three seasons, is certainly not happy with its record.

“We need to do everything better,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I feel like we’re in a lot of games, but we just haven’t found a way to win them. And good teams find a way to win games. So we need to find a way to win games.”

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