Feb. 13, 2018
DENTON - In some respect, it's a good thing Kason Martin left Manvel when he did.
The freshman quarterback enrolled early at UNT just two weeks after playing in one of the most talked about high school football games in history.
He said he couldn't walk around town without people asking him about the game - the Class 5A Division I state championship game, which his team lost in heartbreaking fashion after coming up literally a yard short of winning as time expired.
He figured with a relocation to Denton, he'd be able to walk around campus without people asking him about the game that was still weighing heavily on his mind. He was wrong.
One of his first days in Denton found him eating in the cafeteria at his new dormitory when an upperclassman student-athlete came up to him.
"Hey, you're that Manvel quarterback, right? I saw you in that game."
"You've gotta be kidding me," Martin thought.
Less than two months removed from Manvel's 53-49 loss on Dec. 22 to Highland Park, which was quarterbacked by Arkansas signee John Stephen Jones, the grandson of Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, and Martin still can't escape it.
The game is still shown in regular rotation on television and there was a four-minute segment on ESPN's Sportscenter that night that went viral on Twitter and still pops up in Martin's notifications regularly.
"I see highlights of it all the time," Martin said. "It's basically on repeat on Fox Sports. Every time it comes up, it really hurts to watch because I know the outcome. I'll start watching and find myself thinking, `Maybe we'll win this time.'"
It wasn't just what Martin did on the field, throwing for 483 yards and five touchdowns on just 16 completions. Martin also made a name for himself in the postgame, as video of his impassioned speech to his teammates went viral.
"My dad [Manvel head coach Kirk Martin, who recently took the quarterback coach job at Syracuse] was about to say a few words and I just had to say something from my perspective," the former Manvel quarterback said. "Sometimes hearing it from a teammate is different than hearing it from a coach. I just wanted those guys to know that God has a greater plan and I also wanted to say it, so I could hear myself saying it. It was kind of cathartic. I was saying it to them but also to myself. That was definitely the hardest thing that's ever happened to me in my life. If that's the hardest thing that's happened to me in my life, then I've had a pretty good life."
Mean Green head coach Seth Littrell praised Martin's leadership abilities in his signing day press conference last week and had a bit of a laugh when confessing he missed the final quarter of the game but obviously saw it later.
"What a great young man," Littrell said. "He's a coach's son, has a great family and is just a student of the game. He's not only a great football player, but a great person, as everyone in the country has seen who has seen any of the media stuff on that game.
"We're looking forward to him coming in here and continuing to develop as a leader and hopefully be the leader here one day."
There was also a video of Jerry Jones consoling Martin and congratulating him on a game well played that was viewed more than 30,000 times.
"I was just ready to get out of there. I didn't want my silver medal," Martin said. "All the sudden, I look up and there's ol' Jerry Jones and I was like `Holy smokes!' He came up to me, and I was brightened up a little bit because I've been a Cowboys fan my entire life and I always thought he was a pretty cool guy. That was a neat deal to speak to him.
"He told me that was the best game he'd ever seen on that field - Cowboys, college, anything - and that felt good to hear," Martin added. "He told me no one deserved to lose that game and that I played a great game. That cheered me up for a second, but then it was back to reality when he walked off. That was a little bit of sunshine in the clouds, though."
After that brief respite from his somber mood after coming so close to his ultimate goal and falling short, Martin took some time to lay low - something that was difficult in Manvel when all anyone wanted to do was talk about the game.
He and his family went to visit family in Lubbock after Christmas where he was able to go mostly unrecognized. Then, he reported to UNT on Jan. 10, and again, it was back to reality.
There was the encounter in the cafeteria, his fellow freshmen asking him about the game and the constant reminder on his television screen. When he does watch it, there is one play in particular that still eats at him.
It was third-and-9, and Manvel had a 10-point lead with four-and-a-half minutes to play. The call was a post-dig to the left side. The outside receiver ran a post, while the inside receiver ran a 10-yard dig route, which was open. Martin, who had enjoyed remarkable success with his play-making receivers on deep routes that night, took another shot.
"I was getting kind of cocky and aired it out like I had been all game," Martin said. "I just launched it, and he dropped it. I just thought, oh well, there's four-and-a-half minutes left. The defense can get a stop. We're good.
"After that play, I didn't touch the ball until there was 34 seconds left in the game," he added. "I was sitting there beating myself up. `If I'd just thrown the dig. If I'd just thrown the dig.' So I learned there just to take what they give you and don't take plays for granted and play as hard as I can. I'll remember that forever."
Something else he'll remember forever is his epic head-to-head battle with John Stephen Jones, who signed with Arkansas last week, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
As much as he wanted to despise the Highland Park senior after the way he turned Martin's dream come true into a nightmare, Martin couldn't.
"After the game, we talked a little bit. We were both crying - different kinds of tears - but he's actually a pretty good kid. Sometimes, you wish you could hate somebody because they beat you. But he's a good guy. He DMed me on Twitter later on and just told me how impressed with me he was and we had a little conversation. We haven't talked since then but we'll probably be Twitter friends forever. It'll be cool to see him down the line."
In fact, North Texas has a Week 3 meeting at Arkansas next season, and Martin said he'll definitely be on the lookout for the Arkansas freshman after the game.
"I'll definitely look for him," Martin said. "I know he'll never forget my name, and I'll never forget his, you know? That's pretty cool. That game was big-time. It'll be in my brain forever, that's for sure."