‘He’s our captain’
By BRANDON HURLEY
As a community mourned, football brought them together.
A touching tribute immortalizing a child taken from the world far too soon.
Landon Martin, a 12-year-old Greene County Middle School student, passed away last Thursday, losing his battle to brain cancer just as hundreds of students made their way to the first day of school.
He was a young boy who captivated many, sharing a love for family, God and the outdoors.
That perseverance is what inspired the Greene County High School football team to show a struggling community what sports really are about. For Ram captains Bryce Hoyle, Brock Wuebker, Clay Smith and Brent Riley, honoring their adopted brother wasn’t even a question.
The quartet, to the delight of visiting fans, silently carried Martin’s jersey out to midfield prior to their season-opener Friday night in Perry, seven days after he graced Linduska Field as an honorary captain at a preseason scrimmage.
Hoyle clung tightest to Martin’s special-edition No. 23 jersey, with Captain Landon stitched across the back.
Outside of Martin’s family, it was perhaps the senior who was closest to the young Jefferson native.
Hoyle quietly raised Martin’s jersey toward the visiting crowd as kickoff neared and he returned to the sideline. The veteran lineman later celebrated the rivalry win over Perry by ducking into the locker room with the pristine uniform in tow.
He took pride knowing they paid tribute to Martin’s passing with a gritty victory.
It was the least they could do to bring the community a bit of solace.
“We grew up as neighbors. So I knew him from when he was little,” Hoyle said after the game. “We’ve always had a special connection, he’s just like my little brother. He was a great person in the community. He did great in school. He did the right things on and off the field.”
Martin was laid to rest Monday morning following memorial services at Abundant Life Ministries in Jefferson.
He exuded passion and a will to fight after learning of his diagnosis in March. He cherished his role of big brother to Kimber, Crew and Callie, spending hours making them smile and laugh.
Martin thrived off his fishing outings with his dad, Bryce Martin, as the two often brought home hearty bass, sharing laughs and stories along the way.
As the high school football team adopted Martin as a brother and a teammate over the last few weeks, it gave the family and community a sense of hope, culminating with his appearance at the Aug. 17 scrimmage against North Polk.
He led Greene County onto the field, powering his electric wheelchair in front of friends and family. It was a touching moment that trickled its way into opening night.
With just one day to process his passing, Hoyle and the Rams embraced Martin’s desire to live. Martin wouldn’t have allowed the team to sulk — he would’ve pushed them to play hard, to take advantage of the opportunities they were given.
Emotion gave way to a higher power Friday night.
Hoyle could sense it.
In an offensively challenged game, the highlight came at the tail end of the contest. With the Rams facing an almost impossible third and long in their own territory, clinging to an eight-point lead, they converted a miraculous screen pass that gained the necessary yardage. From there, they strung together several more first downs, all but sealing the victory.
Hoyle swears it was due to an extra boost from a young man up above.
“I don’t know if it was tough as much as there was motivation,” Hoyle said. “We knew that he was with us and that’s what brought us to victory. I believe it 100 percent.”
Unprovoked in the postgame huddle, fellow Greene County captain Clay Smith anointed Martin as honorary captain for the foreseeable future.
“We all know that Landon will be our captain for the rest of the year,” Smith said as he addressed an emotional huddle of Rams.
The young athletes closed out the emotional game by chanting “For Landon” before departing for the showers.
“He loved football,” Hoyle said. “We’re going to keep him a part of the family for the whole season.”
Friday’s Cowbell triumph wasn’t pretty, but it was the moments before and after the game that defined the spirit of an entire school district.
“Everything that Landon embodied and what he stood for is what our team has taken a grasp to,” Greene County head coach Mitch Moore said. “This was big. Landon was a huge part of our community and to lose a guy like that, we are playing for him this season.
“It’s great to get a win when it’s a rivalry and it’s especially great to get a win when you’re doing it for somebody like that.”
Carl Behne, Greene County Medical Center CEO, varsity soccer coach and a youth league organizer, coached Martin several times over the past six years. There was never a moment when the young man failed to uplift his teammates.
“He always made his teammates smile and played with joy everyday, no matter the sport,” Behne tweeted Sunday night. “You will be missed, Landon, but never forgotten. Thank you for all the memories.”
Moore was touched to see his athletes and the community embrace a tough situation and use it as a rallying cry. It allowed their true character to shine, he said.
“We’ve been talking about it since really the beginning of this year, player-driven leadership is going to win championships,” Moore said.
Compassion was the real victor Friday night, and the Greene County community came out on top in a landslide.