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Despite a tough road, college football is on the horizon for Reseda WR Mario Martinez: 'I got a movie that nobody knows about'

“I was planning on being 18 and working at Foot Locker,” Martinez said. “I’m 18 and colleges are looking at me talking about changing my life and my family members’ lives."
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It’s the end of July and the sun is beating down on a Tuesday afternoon Reseda High School football practice. The team is doing conditioning -- up-downs to be specific. The group jogs in place.

A whistle blows.

Everyone goes down for a pushup.

A whistle blows again.

They bounce back up and continue to jog. The whistles keep coming until every player gets to 40 up-downs. The majority of the team finishes with the exception of a few linemen who look like they’d rather spend every day of the upcoming school year in detention than touch their bellies to the grass again. Finally, they finish too and plead for water from the team managers.

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Working out in the back row, senior receiver Mario Martinez was one of the first players to wrap up in the group. His face is sweaty and stern; he executed the up-downs with anger, scowling the majority of the time.

Before ending practice, Reseda head coach Alonso Arreola huddles up his team and asks that his players help clean up the field. There are cones and empty water bottles sprawled from the 50-yard line to the near end zone.

When Arreola concludes making his request and the team
breaks apart, Martinez bolts to the locker room. He was late for practice and
is nursing a toe injury he suffered over the weekend trying to do a backflip.

“He’s 100 percent his own worst enemy,” Arreola says of Martinez.

“He’s 'off' for sure once a week.”

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Mario Martinez

Mario Martinez

Martinez remembers it vividly.

“Want to see
this new gun I got?” Mario’s twin brother Michael asked him.

“What!?” Mario responded.

Michael pulled the gun out of his backpack to show his brother. The two were sophomores living with their mother in an apartment in Reseda. For the most part, Michael had stopped going to school and was spending the majority of his time on the streets.

The two brothers had entered their freshmen years at Reseda with the intention of both playing football. Mario played and Michael quit. That decision led to a string of bad choices for Michael.

“He started
off on his own lane in life, ditching school, smoking, fighting and all that,”
Mario said of his brother.

“Then tenth
grade, gang-banging and then eleventh grade gang-banging got a little more
serious with guns.”

Today,
Michael is in jail waiting to be sentenced for an armed robbery. Mario hasn’t
seen him in eight months.

“It’s hard because he’s my twin,” Mario said. “I came into the world with him and [now] I don’t even know him … It’s like hell.”

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“Mario has a
genuine heart,” Arreola says after the summer practice. “The loving and caring
kid is there, but there are so many scars.”

Martinez’s parents divorced when he was three. His father joined the army and hasn’t really been in either of his sons’ lives. Growing up, Martinez’s mother rarely had a job and was a heavy drinker. She could become abusive and would tell her boys that they were going to end up “in jail or dead.”

“I had a hard upbringing,” Martinez said. “It hurts, but everybody goes through
something.”