Tatuo Martinson exhibits all the behavior of a nice young man.
He is polite, gregarious and impossible to overlook as he walks the hallways of Del Oro High School, a big man on campus who never views himself bigger than his team.
But sometimes he towers above the rest as something of a force of nature in a helmet and shoulder pads.
The two-way lineman for the Golden Eagles is deemed a “defensive nightmare” by his coach, Jeff Walters, beyond his 17 tackles for loss this season. Martinson can transform from nice chap to one with a nasty disposition when crashing into opponents in the trenches.
He regularly pile drives the man in front of him as a key cog for an offensive line that has led the charge in Del Oro’s return to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship, which kicks off at Sacramento State against Central Catholic of Modesto on Saturday at 2 p.m. Both teams are 11-1.
“He’s pretty special,” Walters said of his senior leader. “He’s dominant and he’s been great for us.”
Said Del Oro senior two-way star Dawson Hurst, “Tatuo talks to everyone on campus, freshmen, people in the band. Everyone likes him, and then he gets on the football field ...”
If the skill players at any level of this sport are the ones who reach the end zone and garner the headlines, this also remains true: The linemen are often the difference makers.
Be it Kaden Richardson and Tyler Hardeman of section Division I favorite Folsom, or Jonathan Boyd, Will Buck and Shane Semeit of 12-0 Capital Christian in D-III, or Blake Baughman and Joey Capra of 12-0 Placer, also in D-III, the big guys matter.
Martinson, by any measure, is big. He is 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, tough, strong and agile. He’s about as easy to move as a set of bleachers.
He’s made plays as a defensive end or drops back in coverage in the role of linebacker. And he has a needed intangible for any championship program.
“I’ve always had a motor,” Martinson said. “I played with or against older kids growing up, so I had to have that motor. If I wasn’t bigger or stronger, then I was faster and had more endurance.”
Martinson plans to play in college. He has been in contact with Sacramento State, but it boggles Walters’ mind that the senior has not been contacted by more schools.
Recruiting is a cut-threat competition. Colleges want to see game film, transcripts and a big body.
Martinson is a 3.5 GPA student and has film that pops, but he is not the prototypical massive lineman big-time programs seek, such as Capra of Placer, whose 6-foot-4, 285-pound frame and skills landed him a scholarship to Oregon. Baughman is 6-5, 265 and is off to Nevada on scholarship.
The Folsom and Capital Christian linemen of note have generated recruiting interest but have not committed to any programs yet.
Martinson isn’t stressing over his future. He’s focused on right now.
He plans to stretch the season into December, right on down to Cerritos College in Norwalk for a CIF State championship game.
“If Tatuo was two inches taller, he’d have 50 scholarship offers, but this is a height and weight game in college,” Walters said. “He can play. He’s got that awesome motor and he’s an even better person than he is a player.”
Martinson’s good nature makes him a natural to coach, much like Bill Sherman.
The Bee’s Defensive Player of the Year for Del Oro in 2005, Sherman went to Sac State on scholarship and came full circle into teaching and coaching, including now at Del Oro. This could become a familiar path for Martinson.
Martinson said he enjoys coaching players on Del Oro youth feeder programs, including mentoring kid brother Akio, a lineman.
“I’ll definitely wind up coaching,” Martinson said, his eyes lighting up when asked if Del Oro could be that ultimate destination.
Should Del Oro defeat Central Catholic, the Golden Eagles may host a Northern California championship game in Loomis.
“I’m ready to play, ready to go,” Martinson said. “I’m eager to play. You want to get in as many games as a senior as you can.”
Sac-Joaquin Section football championships
Division I (Sacramento State)
No. 1 Folsom vs. No. 2 Monterey Trail, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Division II (Sacramento State)
No. 1 Del Oro vs. No. 2 Central Catholic, 2 p.m. Saturday
Division III (Whitney High School)
No. 1 Capital Christian vs. No. 2 Placer, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Division IV (Whitney High School)
No. 1 Rio Linda vs. No. 3 Casa Roble, 2 p.m. Saturday
Division V (Nevada Union High School)
No. 1 Colfax vs. No. 3 Bear River, 7 p.m. Friday
Division VI (Turlock High School)
No. 2 Hilmar vs. No. 4 Ripon Christian, 7 p.m. Friday
No. 1 Denair beat No. 3 Golden Sierra 43-21 for the title on Nov. 24.