Harrisburg's Yahmir Wilkerson is sacked by McCaskey's Carlos Martinez in the second half during the football game against Harrisburg at JP McCaskey High School in Lancaster., Saturday, September 5, 2015. (ANDY BLACKBURN | Staff Photographer)

McCaskey alum Carlos Martinez has always felt he had the ability to play at or near the top levels of college football. He just had to take a detour to get there.

Soon, the 6-foot, 1-inch, 275-pound defensive lineman intends to leave Lancaster for the University at Albany, where he has a roster spot waiting for him, and the possibility at an athletic scholarship in the 2021 season.

“I’m grateful for it,” Martinez said by phone Monday. "But in my eyes I feel like it’s only the beginning.”

Martinez was a two-way starting lineman for McCaskey for three seasons before graduating in 2018.

“I was getting D-I attention,” he said. “I was going on Temple visits every week. I was recruited by Lafayette and Delaware. I had a lot of Division II schools, too.”

Problems arose when coaches requested school transcripts. Martinez had a 2.2 grade-point average and an 860 SAT score by the time he graduated high school.

“I needed a 2.3 GPA and an 890 on the SAT in order to be D-I eligible,” Martinez said.

While Martinez said he turned around his academics in his last two years of high school, his freshman and sophomore years were so poor academically he made things difficult for himself.

“I was underachieving,” Martinez said. “I didn’t work that hard. I was immature. ...I made the honor roll from my junior year through my senior year, but my GPA didn’t go up that much because of my first two years.”

So Martinez went the junior college route, spending the next two seasons playing at Valley Forge Military Academy & College.

“It was a big life change,” he said.

Recruited to Valley Forge as a d-tackle, Martinez was asked to start on the offensive line in 2018 because the team was short on o-linemen. He had to compete for a d-tackle spot in 2019.

“I came into camp and destroyed everybody,” Martinez said. “The rest is history. I made first-team all-conference. I was the best nose tackle in our league. I was leading the team in tackles for loss. I was second in sacks.”

Statistics from Valley Forge’s 2019 season are unavailable on the school’s athletics website, and the Seaboard Conference of which the program was apart doesn’t have a website. Valley Forge discontinued athletics in the early months of 2020.

As a result, Martinez had to be proactive in his pursuit of landing a roster spot at the next level.

“I probably sent out thousands of emails to coaches across the country,” Martinez said. “I’d wake up at 5 in the morning and spend hours of my day just grinding.”

In May, he was lining up a recruiting visit to Florida International University, where it appeared the coaches were interested in bringing him aboard. But the visit was soon bagged due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and FIU's interest waned.

By December, Martinez was losing hope in his football future. He started thinking about his next steps beyond the game while driving his 2009 Nissan Maxima about 12 hours a day when delivering food for DoorDash. He'd save the $180 to $250 he'd make each day, and passed the time listening to audio books about finances, with thoughts of potentially launching a career in real estate.

But he kept up on his nutrition and stayed in good physical shape, taking breaks from delivering to stop at the gym.

A week ago, everything changed.

"This all happened out of nowhere," he said. "Schools started reaching out to me in a one-week span. I wasn’t even really reaching out to these schools. Somebody must have retweeted my highlights (on Twitter). It popped up on the feed of all these coaches who were following it. ...they need a d-tackle.”

Martinez is to report to the Albany campus this Sunday.

Albany is part of the Colonial Athletic Association, which includes schools such as Delaware and New Hampshire. In 2019, the Great Danes were the CAA runner-up and won a FCS playoff game for the first time in program history, finishing 9-5 overall. Albany didn't have a fall 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it's scheduled to compete in an abbreviated conference-only spring season beginning March 6.

“Basically they just said to come in, and if I can prove that I'm the man, I could get a full ride right away," Martinez said. "I’m working for that starting spot.”

Having already obtained an associate's degree in business administration, Martinez plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in the same area of study while at Albany.

“I definitely feel like it’s a blessing," he said. "I feel like God knows this was meant for me. ...I’m more motivated now than ever."

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