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Trailblazer: Hard work earns Martinez a college volleyball offer

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Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2019 10:25 pm | Updated: 10:31 pm, Wed Jan 9, 2019.

On a rainy Wednesday morning, a loud hacking sound begins to reverberate throughout the gym at Ingram Middle School.

The source of the noise comes from Koedi Martinez, whenever his hand greets a volleyball. The sound is a product of his athleticism, which he generously showcases during a training session with Next Level volleyball coach Tony Vela. The sound arrives whenever Vela lofts sets to his pupil, who relies on his vertical jump and power to hammer volleyballs at dizzying speeds.

Martinez couldn’t even sleep the previous night; he was too excited. Several hours after Wednesday’s training session, he hopped on a plane destined for Due West, South Carolina, where he will play college volleyball for Div. II Erskine College this spring, beginning the next chapter of his improbable volleyball career.

When Martinez boarded that plane on Jan. 2, he became a trailblazer. The 2018 Tivy alum didn’t start playing organized volleyball at Next Level until last July. Six months later, he is the first person in his family to attend college, and the first male athlete from Kerrville to play college volleyball.

And that’s the biggest reason why he’s a trailblazer: He’s attending Erskine College on an athletic scholarship, proving that men’s volleyball — an overlooked sport — can offer an avenue for underprivileged students to attend college.

“Being the first one in my family to go to college is awesome,” Martinez said. “My family isn’t financially stable. Getting a scholarship that will pay for my school as well has been awesome. … This is happening so fast. I never would have thought growing up in a small town that I would go play Div. II volleyball.

“It still gives me chills,” Martinez continued. “It’s crazy for me to think about it.”

Crazy is the best adjective to describe Martinez’s journey to collegiate athletics. Until last summer, the thought of playing organized volleyball never even once crossed his mind. Sure, he’s always possessed athletic gifts — playing football, basketball and golf as a child — and sure, he attended several Tivy volleyball matches in high school, but he definitely never paid attention to the sport’s finer details while watching matches in Tivy’s student section.

“All I knew about volleyball is that (the Tivy girls) would spike it and get a point. That’s about it,” Martinez said. “I just knew it was one-two-three over, one-two-three over. … I had no idea how to play.”

Martinez’s introduction to volleyball arrived last year, when he started playing during open gym at Kerrville’s Kroc Center. He must have shown some promise during those pick-up games, because his friend, Lauren Kennedy, recommended that he try Vela’s Next Level program.

Martinez started training with Vela on June 1. At that time, he could barely pass a volleyball. But by July, he was competing in his first sand volleyball tournament. Admittedly, his inaugural tournament wasn’t exactly a rousing success — Martinez’s team didn’t advance out of pool play — but the experience did serve as a wakeup call.

“I was super tired,” Martinez recalled. “The experience was fun, but I knew after that I had to put in more work in to get better.”

And he did exactly that. He trained with Vela for five days a week during the summer and spent his weekends playing in tournaments in either San Antonio or Corpus Christi. He couldn’t afford private lessons with Vela, but he found other ways to make payments: He helped Next Level’s staff rake the sand and clean the courts. He even helped Vela run the Next Level

summer volleyball camps offered to kids in the Hill Country.

During car rides with Vela, he remained silent; he was too busy studying film.

“He had the athleticism — the kid jumps out of the gym and swings hard,” Vela said. “But there was the other part of the game — the mental part of the game, learning how to see the court — that he had to learn. What I try to do is help these kids become students of the game. When you watch the film, you see things from the coaches’ perspective. … He did those things.

“He’s a guru when it comes to wanting to watch and dissect film,” Vela continued. “That’s why he’s going to be successful — because he spends the time doing what other players don’t want to do during the offseason. … I have never seen a kid turnaround and develop so much in just a short amount of time.”

Toward the end of the summer, Vela told Martinez that if he continued to work hard, he would have an opportunity to play college volleyball. So, Martinez uploaded his film on a college recruiting app.

Sure enough, he received a message on Aug. 24 from Erskine volleyball coach Justin Brubaker, who wanted to know if Martinez was interested in playing for the Flying Fleet. A month later, Martinez received an official offer. When he shared the news with Vela, he struggled formulating words.

“I don’t know what to say other than thank you,” He finally stammered.

On Wednesday night, a week after his final training session with Vela, Martinez admitted he was still acclimating to college life. Still, he was doing well in his new environment.

Back in Texas, his mentor doesn’t harbor a single doubt his pupil will succeed.

“I think once he saw someone believe in him, he started believing in himself,” Vela said. “He’s really set the standard for his family and the Hill Country to be the first male athlete to go and play college volleyball. … The kid is going to be successful, and he’s going to play volleyball for a really long time.”

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