Jemir Martinez's passion for going fast began at a Sprint store.
There, the Greenbrier High School senior said, he met an NFL safety. Martinez told him he wanted to play football. The player, whose name Martinez could not recall, suggested he also run track.
"I was like 'OK, I'll go out and try it,' " said Martinez, who signed a full scholarship Wednesday to run track for Kennesaw State University.
He talked to Wolfpack coach Kati Smallwood, who told him he could go out and be timed. Martinez, then a sophomore, was clocked with the third-fastest time on the team.
"I fell in love with it," he said.
That was the point Martinez saw potential in himself, his coaches said.
"We knew he definitely had potential," said Greenbrier sprint coach Steve Epperson. "Once they see they have potential, it goes exponential."
Martinez said Smallwood recommended Kennesaw State University. Martinez filled out a questionnaire on the school's Web site and waited only a couple of days before hearing back.
The Owls liked Martinez's times and invited him for a visit. They offered him a four-year scholarship, but Owls coaches urged him to take his time and talk it over with his parents first.
"That's it," Martinez remembers his parents saying. "You don't have to ask us."
The signing capped a comeback of sorts for Martinez. He tore a quadriceps muscle midway through his sophomore season, halting his fast start.
The setback caused him to miss the region meet that year and a chance to qualify for state. Martinez said he was itching to get back as soon as the injury was diagnosed. He tried to numb the pain to the point he could run.
The time off showed him what he needed to work on.
"The thing he learned from that was how to prep properly," Epperson said. "It showed him some weaknesses in his running. I don't want to say it was a good injury, but he learned a lot from it."
Martinez runs the 100 meter, 200 meter, 4x100 and 4x400. At Kennesaw State, he'll also compete in the indoor 55 meter and 60 meter.
He said Owls coaches already have told him what preseason workouts he can anticipate.
"They said they're going to have my body looking nice," Martinez said. "I'm ready to do it."
It is unclear whether a breakfast of cake and chicken wings will be allowed as part of Martinez's training regimen when he steps on campus, but that's what was on the spread during Wednesday's 7 a.m. signing.
"Teen-agers will eat anything," Smallwood said.
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