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Fennelly: Don't overlook Freddie Martino's story in Bucs' win

TAMPA — He has been on and off NFL teams, on and off practice squads, waived, signed, waived, signed. It has been no different with the Bucs. He has been cut twice since the start of September. He has been up through the practice squad twice. He joined the 53-man roster on Oct. 22.

But then came Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. There was Bucs receiver Freddie Martino, from tiny North, South Carolina (yes, North, South Carolina) waiting on an NFL football to come down in a real NFL game.

"I ran the route the way coach wanted," Martino said. "I looked back and saw Jameis (Winston) throw the ball. That ball was in the air a long time. Slow motion. I was just, 'Catch the ball, Freddie, catch the ball.' "

Freddie caught the ball. And made his first NFL touchdown, 43 yards. And in front of his mother and father, Yolanda and Freddie Sr., and his girlfriend, Brittaney, and their 1-year-old daughter, Laiyah.

"They all came down for this," Martino said.

Maybe his story was a little lost in everything else that happened in the Bucs' 36-10 win over the Bears. In fact, the play before Martino's touchdown grab in the third quarter was the play of the game — Winston's circus scramble and throw to Mike Evans.

But there was still room for Freddie Martino.

Freddie Martino. Sounds like a name straight out of "The Rat Pack." Frank, Dean, Sammy, Joey Bishop and Freddie Martino at the Sands.

No, it was Freddie Martino, 25, who wasn't drafted into the league, who comes from the small town with the odd name, population 754. Freddie Martino, who starred at receiver for the Division II North Greenville University Crusaders.

Martino just made his first NFL catch on Nov. 3, against Atlanta, which first signed him as a free agent in 2014. Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was with the Falcons when they signed him.

"That was awesome for Freddie," Koetter said. "Freddie's my guy. Freddie was with us in Atlanta. He's from an unbelievably small school. He had a gazillion catches in college."

"Let me tell you about Freddie: If you guys stick after practice, the last persons I'm throwing to is Cam Brate and Freddie Martino," Winston said. "He's out there working, because you never know when your time will come. You never know when your time is going to be taken away from you, so take advantage of it."

Back to Martino's days at North Greenville University, located in Tigersville, S.C., with an enrollment of 2,312. As a senior in 2014, Martino set a Division II record with 146 receptions. He was the pride of North. Actually, there are other prides of North. Singer Eartha Kitt was born in North. So was Chuck Darby, a member of the 2002 Super Bowl champion Bucs.

Martino talked about his hometown, which he says is a 25-minute drive from Columbia, the state capital:

"One stop light, three gas stations. We've got a Family Dollar, we've got a Dollar General, we've got a Chinese restaurant. You've got to go to Owensburg for the McDonald's."

He called it the biggest catch of his life. Runnerup might be the 67-yard preseason touchdown he scored for Atlanta in 2014, or last preseason, when he caught a touchdown from Tim Tebow in the final preseason game —Tebow's last NFL TD throw.

"When he first got picked up with the baseball stuff and that, I was kind of bragging to the trainers and all that," Martino said. "I pulled it up on my phone. When he hit that home run, I was making a big deal. 'Hey, I caught his last touchdown.' But I guess this one, since it counted, means the most."

It was a Bucs win filled with stories.

And Freddie Martino was one of them.

"I'm going to try to frame it somehow," he said of the TD ball. "I might give it to my mom. Still to this moment, I really can't say I believe it happened."

Fennelly: Don't overlook Freddie Martino's story in Bucs' win 11/13/16 [Last modified: Sunday, November 13, 2016 10:52pm]
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