Curtis Martin to honor Allderdice as Hall of Fame high school
When it comes to constructing an eclectic list of successful alumni, few schools in Western Pennsylvania, if any, can match Taylor Allderdice.
Graduates from the Squirrel Hill high school range from local broadcasting legend Myron Cope to superstar personal injury lawyer Edgar Snyder.
There’s a pair of former mayors of Pittsburgh in Richard Caliguiri and Bob O’Connor and the Ruth and Gehrig of the Pittsburgh hip hop scene, Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller.
There’s also longtime star NFL running back Curtis Martin, who will bestow a special honor on the school Thursday.
Martin is in town as part of a program called Hometown Hall of Famers presented by Ford Motor Company. Players who have been enshrined in Canton present a commemorative plaque to their alma maters as a thank you for the role the schools played in their formative years.
Dan Marino dedicated a plaque at Central Catholic in 2015 and Joe Namath did the same at Beaver Falls in 2011. Now, it’s Martin’s turn.
“There’s no way in the world I think I would have played football if I had not gone to Allderdice,” Martin said Wednesday. “The head coach, whose name was Mark Wittgarner, he just stayed on me because he saw the talent in me and it was talent I didn’t see myself. He finally convinced me to play football and commit to it. I’m grateful to be able to go back and honor the school.”
Martin moved around quite a bit as a kid, living in Homewood, Wilkinsburg and Duquesne and spending a lot of time in McKeesport. As a teenager, he and his mother settled in Point Breeze, which proved to be a pivotal moment in his life, although he didn’t realize it at the time.
“I grew up as a young, little wild kid in the hood,” Martin said. “I didn’t really know how to appreciate things. That was something I learned a little later in life.”
While Wittgarner encouraged Martin to play football, going to Allderdice encouraged him to take his schooling more seriously as well.
“Going into Squirrel Hill to go to school had a positive effect, just mentally and emotionally,” Martin said. “I went to school with a different attitude than if I had gone to Westinghouse or Wilkinsburg. It’s a different mentality going into Squirrel Hill. That whole environment made you act different and perform differently, in my case.”
If Martin is asked to say a few words as he presents the plaque at Allderdice, his speech will sound a little different than the average retired NFL player’s.
Martin had remarkable success in the game, rushing for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first 10 seasons in the NFL and ranking fifth on the league’s all-time rushing list, but it wouldn’t be accurate to say he was ever head over heels in love with the sport.
When the New England Patriots picked him out of Pitt in the third round of the 1995 draft, he wasn’t sure he would even sign a contract.
“I didn’t really enjoy football that much to commit myself to it and make a living and do it as a job,” Martin said.
He changed his mind when he decided that football could be a vehicle to do other things he wanted to do in his life.
“Which was to serve people and help people and impact people’s lives in a positive way,” Martin said.
Martin doesn’t encourage kids to play football because of the thrill of a dramatic victory or a long touchdown run. He does encourage kids to play, though, because of the lessons the game can teach.
For example, it taught him that doing things the right way is its own reward.
“Especially growing up in the hood, you’re taught almost to take shortcuts or to get things done however you have to get them done,” Martin said. “I believe there’s a right way and there’s a wrong way, and many kids choose the wrong way. I’ve lived it out and I’ve come to understand. The message that a lot of the kids get, especially in the hood, is that the good guy never wins. But I believe that I’m living proof. I’m not calling myself good, but I’m saying doing things the right way is the right way to do it.”
Martin, who serves on the NFL’s player safety advisory panel, said he also believes the game will be safe enough for future generations to play thanks to improvements in rules, technology and technique.
“I would definitely allow my child to play, and if a kid has a knack and wants to play football, let them play,” Martin said. “Football was almost like a third parent to me. Football has taught me things my parents didn’t know to teach me or didn’t know how to teach me. I would have never become the hard worker and have a value set that has been able to carry me beyond football.
“People always ask me if I miss playing. My answer is always no. The one thing that I do miss are the lessons that I’ve learned on a continuous basis in the NFL.”
There’s another thing people sometimes ask Martin when they find out he’s an Allderdice grad.
And the answer is yes.
He does know Khalifa.
“I probably spent more time with Myron Cope than Wiz Khalifa, but I have a lot of respect for what Wiz Khalifa has done,” Martin said. “A lot of people may look at it as just rapping, but to compete at such a high level and be considered one of the best and accomplish what he’s accomplished, people don’t realize how hard that is.
“That is a testament to his work ethic. A lot of people don’t think it takes a lot of work, but being very familiar with the entertainment industry, I know how difficult it is to reach the level that Wiz Khalifa has reached. I take my hat off to him and I’m happy for him.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .