Austin Martz is one of several new players that will be donning a Wilmington Hammerheads FC jersey in 2016 as first-year head coach Mark Briggs looks to put his personal stamp on the program. Briggs, who was with Wilmington as an assistant last season, hopes to improve on a disappointing 2015 by building a roster full of talent and character. Austin Martz checks both of those boxes.
The May graduate of Georgetown University played in the shadows of some big names in college. For example, teammates Joshua Yaro and Keegan Rosenberry were selected second and third, respectively, in the most recent MLS SuperDraft. Consequently, Martz’s accomplishments at Georgetown went largely unheralded. There are some in the soccer community, though, that rate Martz higher than many of the blue-chip prospects that have come from the Hoya program in recent years.
Martz earned a varsity letter in soccer all four years he attended Georgetown, but did not have a breakout season until his senior year. He tallied four goals and three assists his final season, garnering the team’s Most Improved Player Award. He credits a reinvigorated mentality and redoubled training and preparation after his junior for the improvement.
“It just felt like I really needed to be a leader and my senior year really I really needed to be the best teammate I could be. By focusing on that, everything else just kind of fell into place,” Martz said.
Martz recalls that he was ready to move on from playing the sport after his final game against Virginia. He had begun applying for jobs and nearly accepted an offer to intern with Grassroots Soccer for a year in South Africa. He prayerfully considered his options and took into account the advice of friends and family, especially his father, who wanted to see his son give his playing career one more year. The nudge to turn professional came when an agent, believing in Martz’s ability, expressed a desire to represent him.
His first chance to join a professional club came in June, when the USL’s New York Red Bulls II invited him to trial with them for a few days last June. An offer to join the club was not extended, but Martz was encouraged by the experience. NYRBII manager John Wolyniec was impressed with what he saw in Martz, but it was too late in the ongoing season to find space in the budget or the roster.
“You’re not always going to get the first chance you’re given. That’s when I realized I’m not going to give up yet. I’m just going to keep pushing,” Martz said.
It was not long before Martz was given another opportunity. During a showcase tour through Sweden and Norway, he signed with Pembroke Athleta FC, which was promoted to the Maltese Premier Division for the 2015-16 season. Martz hit the ground running and scoring. He earned the league’s player of the month honors in August and again in October, and his name hovered near the top of the league’s top goal scorers.
Martz said, “I even kind of shocked myself. New culture. New league. Language barriers. All sorts of stuff. That was tough and a challenge.”
The excursion through the Mediterranean turned out to be a direct route to Wilmington. Mark Briggs played in Malta for a few years and maintains contacts on the archipelago. When Briggs heard that Martz was interested in returning to play in America, he began doing his homework. It was a matter of time before Briggs reached out to Martz’s representation to begin the process of making Martz a Hammerhead.
Through the first two weeks of preseason camp Martz has not disappointed his new head coach. Briggs assesses that Martz will easily make the adjustment from the Maltese Premier League to the USL, if any adjustments are necessary.
“Luckily, Austin has got the physical attributes that he is able to adapt. Due to his speed and his strength, he’s able to adapt and he’s able to cope with the physical side of the game in America. I don’t think he’ll have to make too many adjustments to be quite honest,” Briggs said. “Austin has impressed me so far. He’s done very well. He’s very good in front of goal. He’s very sharp. He’s looked very good.”
Martz has the tools to play forward, but he is particularly suited to play the 7 and 11 position in Briggs’s three-man front line.
Briggs said, “For me, he’ll be coming in front the left or coming in from the right, utilizing his speed, getting in behind people.”
Beyond physical attributes and skill set, Briggs has been impressed with Martz’s attitude. Character is important to Briggs, who desires to steer clear of some the negativity that permeated the Hammerheads locker room last season. Briggs hopes to see bonds formed between teammates because he believes players are more likely to make sacrifices and put their bodies on the line when they are playing for someone other than themselves.
Martz said, “I’m working my but off to earn a starting position, but whether I’m given that or not, that won’t slow down my work ethic. That won’t determine the kind of teammate I’m going to be. My philosophy in general is to do whatever helps the team best. Whether that’s in the starting XI or on the bench, I’m going to be as encouraging as I can to the guys around me. If I’m not in the starting XI, I’m going to make sure those guys are earning those positions every week, pushing them to be better and better through practice. If I am, I’m going to stay on the field and help make sure we get the results that we need.”
It would seem Briggs has found exactly the kind of player he needs in Austin Martz.
Here are some additional Wilmington Hammerheads FC nuggets that were gleaned through conversations with Austin Martz and Mark Briggs.
- Wilmington finished last in the USL Eastern Conference in 2015, winning only three matches and scoring the fewest goals in the league. Where should fans set expectation levels in 2016? Briggs takes a pragmatic approach of taking each opponent as they come and hoping to make progress from one week to the next.
“That’s where we’re at right now, and to talk about the playoffs and to talk about titles and to talk about whatever else I think would be way off the mark,” Briggs said.
Martz opined, “I think that with everything that Briggs is turning around with the program, we’re not just expecting to be good this year, I think we’re expecting to a lot better, to exceed a lot of expectations for us.”
- Wilmington has renewed its affiliation with NYCFC this season. Far removed from Wilmington, it appeared that the Hammerheads gained very little from the partnership last season. Briggs explained that last year was a learning curve for both clubs, particularly with it being the first season for NYCFC in MLS. Briggs has held conversations with Patrick Viera and Claudio Reyna, communicating parameters for the type of players that Wilmington hopes to receive on loan. Viera and Reyna have also expressed their own desires.
Briggs said, ” I expect it to be a much more profitable relationship for both parties.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: When Scratching the Pitch originally posted this story, it contained information regarding a contract dispute between Pembroke Athleta FC and Austin Martz. The source for this information has recanted and asked for that section of the article to be removed. StP obliged.