As the line coach at Waunakee for over two decades, Paul Martin, like the players he coached, was rarely in the spotlight.
“Those guys don’t necessarily get the notoriety,” said Waunakee’s Head Football Coach Pat Rice of the Hogs, the affectionate term for Waunakee’s players in the trenches. “They’re the grinders. That reflects a lot on Paul… I think our offensive lines through the years reflected his personality.”
In 1992, Rice was named Head Coach for the Waunakee football team, and was tasked with taking over a program in the midst of upheaval. The Warriors, 8-16 in their previous three seasons, were transitioning out of the Capitol Conference and into the Badger Conference. One of Rice’s first moves was tabbing Martin to take control of both the offensive and defensive lines.
“We wanted to make two things important to the program,” said Martin. “One was the defense; one was the offensive line: the Hogs… I told them that they’re not going to get their name in the paper a lot... But the game is won because of those guys up front.”
The first and likely most crucial challenge Martin faced was how to create a culture of reverence for positions notoriously underappreciated in many places. Before that first season, Rice and Martin brainstormed ideas to make the position a special one in Waunakee’s program.
“We talked about the name ‘the Hogs.’ We did hog breakfasts; we did hog toasts at the breakfast...” Rice added. “We did a hog roast way back in the 90s… where we roast a hog in my driveway. Paul would cook it, and it would be a whole family ordeal.”
The ideas worked. To this day, the Hogs have a level of respect in the program that’s not difficult for the average fan to witness.
“At every game, you’re going to hear, ‘here come the Hogs’ or ‘go Hogs,’ you know?” Martin said. “It’s a respectful thing.”
Though Martin ensured the Hogs had respect from inside the program, respect from the teams in Waunakee’s new conference needed to be won on the field. Coming from San Diego, Martin brought with him a blocking scheme from his college days, overhauling the old system put in place by former Head Coach Gayle Quinn. More important than the scheme, however, was Martin’s ability to connect with his players.
“He understands scheme, and he understands the fundamentals of the game, but the reality is his relationships, how he relates to kids, and how the bond is; [it’s] something that’s hard to articulate…” Said Rice. “That’s been the magic of what he’s been able to do. He’s really built some relationships that are the pillars of who we are.”
In a sport renowned for stiff, callous coaches, from Vince Lombardi and Bill Parcells in the NFL to Woody Hayes and Nick Saban in college, Martin took a vastly different approach.
“Kids understood that he’s a real dude,” Rice added. “He’s funny, and they had fun playing for him. He wasn’t over the top, down their throat screaming. He was a guy that would pick them up and try to help them.”
That was the key to Martin’s success with the kids he coached: what you saw on the field and in practice was exactly who he was as a person.
“He’s not trying to be somebody he’s not; kids see through that BS stuff,” Rice said. “They see him as an honest person who works hard and cares about them a lot as a person. That’s how he’s been able to cultivate those relationships.”
With the Hogs buying into his ideas, Martin, along with the rest of the coaches, ensured that Waunakee’s program would be one that couldn’t be outworked. A normal football week for Martin involved over 45 hours of work, whether it was on the practice field, in the film room, in meetings, and beyond.
“And that didn’t include the game that we played Friday night, because that’s what you worked for…” Martin said. “The one thing: I’ve developed some great friendships with these guys. They are like brothers.”
After an 0-4 start in 1992, Waunakee finished the year strong, going 3-1 in their remaining four games. The stretch at the end of their first season at the helm foreshadowed the success that was in store for the Warriors.
Over the next 25 years, Waunakee turned into a state powerhouse. The Warriors won 17 conference championships, six state titles, were unbeaten at Warrior stadium for stretch that spanned 14 consecutive seasons, including a 48-game win streak between 2009 and 2012, tying the state record at the time.
In 2012, Martin was named the Assistant High School Coach of the Year by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association. The accolades, awards and trophies, however, aren’t what’s most satisfying to Martin.
“I keep these little cards or letters that I get from these kids saying, ‘Hey, thank you. You don’t know how much you’ve changed my life,’” said Martin. “That’s what makes my 26 years in it worth it. It’s not the rings. It’s not the gold balls in the case. It’s those kids that you get to see each and every day.”
Before the 2017 season, Martin took a smaller role in the program for the first time.
“Although he’s semi-retired from football, he still does some front-end film work for us,” Rice added. “He’s still involved in some parts of our program moving forward.”
Taking the reins as offensive and defensive line coaches were both former linemen who played for Martin: Jared Acker and Travis Triggs. Those are just two of many former players who make up Waunakee’s coaching staff, continuing to build upon the tradition they themselves were a part of.
“I think so many guys coming back into coaching is a great compliment to Marty [Martin] that they had a good experience,” said Rice. “They want to share that experience with other kids and be part of it still. That speaks a lot about how Paul is.”
Looking back, though Martin certainly put in an abundance of work over his 26 years coaching, he doesn’t quite see it that way.
“If you love something enough, it’s not work…” Said Martin. “I looked forward to the end of the [school] day, because that’s when I would walk out onto the field and tell the kids, ‘This is when my day is starting.’”
The example set by Martin continues to echo throughout the Waunakee football program. The Hogs remain a centrally integral part of the team, with Martin’s lessons seen at every turn. Perhaps no lesson is more important than the way the mastermind behind the Hogs went about his business day-in and day-out.
“If you find something you love, put your whole heart and soul into it…” Martin said. “That’s what I’ve done for the last 26 years.”