Former Orestimba High and Modesto Junior College standout Austin Martins recently signed a letter of intent to accept a scholarship to Division I Valparaiso (Indiana) University. Among those on hand for the event were two of his MJC coaches, defensive coordinator Jim Stevens (left) and head coach Rusty Stivers.

Former Orestimba High and Modesto Junior College football standout Austin Martins has set his sights on making an impact at the Division I collegiate level.

Martins, a 2016 Orestimba graduate, recently accepted an academic scholarship to attend Valparaiso (Indiana) University, where he will study civil engineering and play for the NCAA Division I Football Champion Subdivision Crusaders.

Martins’ opportunity to play at that level is testament to perseverance.

He attended Linfield College in Oregon out of Orestimba, where he was slotted as a running back but saw limited action his freshman year and left the team due to a family emergency after playing one game as a sophomore.

At that point, Martins shared, he did not know if he would have an opportunity to play again - but was granted an additional year of eligibility due to hardship.

Martins got a second chance at Modesto Junior College last fall - and made the most of it.

“I just wanted to get back on the field and play. I didn’t expect to have a big season. I just went out and trained as hard as I could, and decided that I would see where it went,” he commented.

Martins returned to the defensive side of the field when he went to MJC, playing linebacker rather than running back. “I think I am better suited to be a linebacker. It fits me better because of my size and speed,” he explained.

Martins acknowledged uncertainty upon his return to the game, but said the MJC coaching staff made him feel more than welcome and gave him every opportunity to excel.

“I had not played football in two years, and had not played linebacker at that level,” he said. “They gave me a chance. Every day, they wanted to see what I could do.”

Martins stepped up to be an impact player for the Pirates.

He was at the heart of the defense for an MJC team which went 8-3 and defeated power house San Francisco City College in the Golden State Bowl.

Martins, an MJC team captain, led the Pirates with 58 tackles, including 17.5 for losses and nine sacks.

He was named MVP of the Golden State Bowl after recording 10 tackles, four sacks and a forced fumble.

Martins was a first team all-league linebacker with MJC, and was named to the first team state all-academic team.

That stellar season opened the door for Martins to continue his football career - and Valparaiso was among the schools which came calling.

While he talked to Division II schools offering full-ride athletic scholarships and Division I colleges inviting him to walk on, Martins said Valparaiso felt like a good fit from the time he visited the campus.

“It came down to taking a full-ride athletic scholarship at a D-II school or playing D-I and getting a great education,” Martins said. “My main goal is to just get that civil engineering degree. The NFL is probably not going to be the route, so I want to make sure I obtain that degree.”

But Martins is driven to excel on the field as well as in the classroom.

“I watched their spring game,” he said of the Crusaders. “There is another speed, bigger and even stronger (than the junior college level). I have been focusing on trying to get my body right. I will be taking off July 12 to go start training with them, and after watching their spring game I know I have to be in the best shape possible.”

He hopes to help the Crusaders, who play in the Pioneer Football League, build a solid football program and culture.

“I feel like I can go and make an impact right away. I think it is going to be a good year for me,” he commented.

Martins said the support and encouragement of his parents, Mario and Helen Martins, the staff at Modesto Junior College, and his high school coach and ongoing mentor Aaron Souza have been the foundation of his success.

His faith has always been an important part of his life as well, Martins reflected.

And his work ethic and dedication have been instrumental as well in the journey which has taken Martins from his football roots in Newman - where he started playing youth football at 7 years of age - to the D-I level in the nation’s heartland.

Countless hours of training have gone into his success.

“I love to be in the weight room. I like to work out,” Martins reflected. “I have always been a grinder.”