Every time the Oakdale Mustangs varsity football team takes the field, right after the jumping jacks, the team members chant: “Mustang born, Mustang bred; gonna be a Mustang ‘til the day I’m dead!” No one personifies that chant better than the new head varsity football coach of the Mustangs, Garrett Martin.
An Oakdale product, the 30-year-old Martin graduated from Oakdale High School in 2010. During each of his four years in high school, Martin was part of the Mustang football program, playing as a hard-hitting outside linebacker and safety. Under the heading of “hard-hitting,” it is noteworthy to recall that during his senior season, on a clean hit, he knocked a Sierra running back out of the game during a play in The Corral.
Academically, Martin was at the top of a class of nearly 400 students and earned recognition as class valedictorian. His former Advanced Placement (AP) United States History and AP Psychology teacher – who is also the author of this article – believes that Martin is one of the more intelligent high school students he taught in his lengthy career.
“I honestly believe that Garrett has an eidetic memory,” said the now-retired teacher. “He vividly remembered every key point I made in class and was able to articulate those points exceptionally well on tests, including national-level tests where he earned the highest possible scores.”
Those assets may prove to be very valuable as he takes the plunge into the realm of head coaching.
Martin went on to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley in 2014 where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history but did not play football. His goal was to return to his high school alma mater to teach history and coach football. Unfortunately, there were no OHS history positions open at the time. However, there were positions open in the Mathematics Department. So, Martin simply took the California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET) in mathematics, passed, and was hired in the fall of 2015 to teach math. He continues to be a math teacher to this day. In keeping with the Mustang born and bred theme, Martin is married to the former Savannah Stender, another native Oakdalean, who teaches English Language Arts at Oakdale High School and serves as the highly successful head boys’ water polo coach for the Mustangs.
In 2014, right after graduating from UCB, Martin became an assistant coach for the Mustangs under legendary head coach Trent Merzon. A year later, as a full-time teacher at Oakdale High School, Martin continued coaching linebackers and defensive backs. At the start of the 2017 season, Merzon elevated Martin to defensive coordinator and asked him to also help teach the early morning weight training class the team members take.
As the new head coach, Martin joins an illustrious line of former head Mustang coaches, many of whom are local and regional legends, including Dale Clipper, Marc Malone, and, of course, Trent Merzon. When asked his thoughts about being the latest head coach in that amazing line, Martin said, “I’m just hoping to live up to those (high) expectations, but at the same time making sure you don’t let those expectations get the best of you. I just have to continue with what I’ve been given and try to make sure that the program continues to get better and thrive.”
Martin said that he will serve as his own offensive coordinator and is buoyed by the fact that most of Merzon’s assistant coaches, including long-time coaching mainstay of Mustang football, Tim Meyer, are remaining on the staff. Martin plans on elevating his younger brother, Justin, a Mustang football alumnus who has the record for the longest field goal (52-yards) in school history and who was a four-year player for the University of Wyoming Cowboys, from the junior varsity staff to the varsity where he will serve as defensive coordinator. The younger Martin had served as the varsity defensive backs coach during the 2019 season and, as such, is well-versed on the Mustang defensive philosophy. The big void the new head coach will have to fill is the crucial position of offensive line coach, with veteran coaches Gary Osmundson and Zach Quaccia having stepped down.
As he looks ahead, Martin feels some of his greatest challenges as head coach will come from off the field.
“As the head coach the biggest challenge will be establishing a new role and discovering all of the new administrative tasks that go along with it.”
He anticipates spending “...much more time and energy managing the culture of the team and the student athletes off the field. Part of me will miss the pure football that came along with only being a coordinator, but I’m excited to take on some of the more program-wide tasks as well, like scheduling and implementing a program in the weight room – all the administrative stuff.”
Martin plans no changes in the general philosophy and methodology of Mustang football: “I hope to continue what we have done. We’ve built a great program. The system we use allows us to play above our talent or ability level at times. Obviously, we’re going to try to add new things; we’re always adding new wrinkles – Coach Merzon was always adding new stuff over the past nine years. We have a system that we fit to the kids we have that year. So, there are different things you can bring back or add in or take away.”
Martin is a natural fit for the head coaching position with an amazing combination of intellect, experience, and dedication mixed with good old fashioned football sense. Those traits, along with his Mustang pedigree, signal that good things are likely in store for Mustang football fans as they look to the future.