Thursday, October 29, 2009
Best friends, Canon-McMillan overcoming obstacles
CANONSBURG – Mike Martin always wanted to be part of the Canon-McMillan High School varsity football team and, in his senior year, the tall, slender and loyal Big Macs booster has found several roles to fill.
Martin (6-3, 178) backs up classmate Zach Hoffman at quarterback. In spot duty, Martin has completed three of seven passes for 53 yards.
He's also Canon-McMillan's third outside linebacker, meaning Martin is one of the first defensive replacements to enter a game. With his holding duties on extra points and field goals, Martin is one busy player at practice.
"Mike has progressed very nicely. I feel we would not be at a disadvantage with him at quarterback if something happened to Zach," Canon-McMillan coach Guy Montecalvo said. "He's come a long way."
And, for most of that journey, Martin has been joined by Big Macs' ballboy and best friend Grant Chupinka.
"He's been my best friend since third grade," said Martin, who wakes up at 5 a.m. most mornings to help rebuild the family barn. "We played football outside our houses because he wasn't allowed to play real football."
Chupinka, a senior at Canon-McMillan, is blind in his right eye and losing the sight in his left. Six months into his life, Chupinka was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer that occurs in the chest and lungs.
With the cancer long gone, Chupinka plans to attend CCAC next fall and eventually work with his father's real estate company. For now, he's enjoying the view from the Big Macs sideline.
One of his favorite moments came during a 37-7 loss at Woodland Hills. Martin scored Canon-McMillan's lone touchdown on a 33-yard interception return.
"Oh yes, that was awesome," Chupinka said.
That play came a little more than a month after Martin's older brother Andrew, a former Canon-McMillan football player, was seriously injured in a dirt bike accident. Martin was flown to UPMC-Presbyterian for treatment.
Adversity is nothing new for Mike Martin. Maybe that's why he maintains a calm demeanor during one trying football season.
Not much has gone right for Canon-McMillan (1-3, 3-5) as the Big Macs prepare for the regular season finale at Great Southern Conference rival Peters Township (0-4, 4-4).
"We're just taking it one game, one step at a time," Martin said. "We're trying to stay healthy and work through everything."
Staying healthy has been the Big Macs' problem.
Canon-McMillan opened the year without Ohio State recruit Chad Hagan, who missed two games recovering from Wolff-Parkinson-White disorder. Key players Dom Broglia (stingers) and Karon Adams (hip) have also missed significant time and both are questionable, at best, against Peters Township.
Adding to the woes last week was a team-wide illness.
Canon-McMillan could not practice last Monday in preparation for defending WPIAL champion Bethel Park and, on Tuesday, 22 players missed school.
"It was the most pervasive case I've ever seen," Montecalvo said. "We tried to get as much done as we could but when you can't practice it greatly impacts preparation."
One of the affected players was Penn State recruit Mike Hull, who is still recovering from the flu.
Hull played against Bethel Park and made 22 tackles (20 unassisted) but was so fatigued when the Big Macs were on offense that he had trouble standing.
"We can only worry about our squad and our health," Montecalvo said. "(Hull) wasn't even allowed to go to the Mt. Lebanon game but we can't worry too much about what's happened. We're trying to field a healthy football team."
Despite the adversity, Canon-McMillan can still qualify for the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.
The Big Macs must beat Peters Township coupled with a Baldwin loss at Bethel Park.
"We've hit a few rough patches but we're a good team and we feel we should be in the playoffs," Martin said. "We just need to get there."