TAMPA — Plant senior cornerback Javonte Martin has a way of introducing himself.
Take, for example, Martin’s freshman season in 2006, when he was a JV callup playing on the Panthers’ scout team in the middle of a state title run. He wore No. 9, the same number as then-Plant standout quarterback Robert Marve.
On one play at practice, Marve scrambled down the sideline. Martin closed in and saw that Marve wasn’t slowing down. Martin didn’t either, and the freshman corner and record-setting quarterback hit into each other.
Martin popped up. “Now you know who the real No. 9 is,” he yelled. Marve liked it and the two became immediate friends.
Then there was the time when the Panthers went to Oregon for the Nike national 7-on-7 tournament two summers ago. All the participating players gathered before the tournament and got to meet all-pro cornerback Champ Bailey.
Martin asked Bailey, one of his idols, a question, but not before he introduced himself by his self-proclaimed nickname: “Lockdown.”
The remark left the Plant coaches shaking their heads and the other receivers salivating, but Panthers coach Robert Weiner said Martin lived up to his name, earning all-tournament honors.
“When he said it, we were like, ‘Javonte, are you kidding me?’ ” Weiner said.
“But in 50-minute games, on 100-yard fields against six of the seven best teams in the USA, not one person caught one ball against him in two days.”
Tonight, the Panthers head to Lakeland, where the Dreadnaughts have won six state titles and two national championship, for a Class 5A semifinal.
The Dreadnaughts (13-0) run twice as much as they pass, but if their game film is any indication, Lakeland likes to go for a big pass play early, so Martin’s performance will be huge.
And going into a place like Bryant Stadium, an atmosphere where high school football meets insanity, confidence will be key.
“He’s two things you want a defensive back to be,” Weiner said. “You want him to be confident bordering on cocky. He is that to a T. And he has no memory. You make a play on him and he’s going to line up and tell you again that you’ll never make a play on him.”
Martin leads the team with 16 passes defended and is second with three interceptions. But Martin isn’t your prototypical cornerback. He’s liberally listed at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds, but as Weiner said, he plays bigger.
“That’s just from playing street ball with all the guys,” Martin said. “Even since I was a young’un. I had older brothers, so I was always playing with people older than me. I wasn’t always a good football player, but eventually I got better, smarter, faster.”
Coming to Plant, he was a running back, but moving to safety as a freshman was his way onto the field. And through the years, he had to guard the Panthers’ top receivers in practice — Derek Winter, Cornelius Gallon, Orson Charles, Allen Sampson — which made him better.
“How can you not get better?” Martin said.
He said he has toned down his talking this year, but Martin still is in a receiver’s ear.
“I’m always the first to start talking,” Martin said. “If I’m walking back with a guy, I’m talking to him. I just want to get in a guy’s head, get him upset. I learned it from playing in the street. When you get a guy upset, his mind is off his task. He’s just trying to make you look bad.”
And that’s when Martin thinks he’s won.
“He plays like that guy with a chip on his shoulder,” Weiner said. “That’s what you want in a DB. I have not seen better than him in 22 years of coaching. There have been people who have caught balls over him, because they’re bigger, but I’ve never seen guys catch balls because they’re open. They’re never open against him.
“He’s the opposite of Denny’s. They’re never open.”