SAND HILLS — The annals at Bozeman will forever carry the names Chandler Burkett and Jacob Martinez. How they shape their eventual legacies is yet to be determined.
The pair became not only Bozeman’s first Division I football signees but the school’s initial athletes to accept scholarship offers on the NCAA’s highest level. Burkett was on the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision radar longer than Martinez, but both now will have opportunities to set their gaze on an even bigger stage, Burkett at Maryland and Martinez at the University of Buffalo. (Click here for photos from area signings)
Bozeman celebrated the achievement on a large stage of its own, as the student body filled the gymnasium to watch the signings on Wednesday. Softball players Kinsley Faulkenberry and Nicole Migliori also soaked in the atmosphere by signing with regional junior colleges. All four were lauded for having the ingredients needed for success.
“It takes academics, athletics and character to move on,” Bozeman football coach and Athletic Director Loren Tillman said. “They set goals in all of those phases and that’s what it takes.”
Burkett and Martinez have grade-point averages of 3.3 and higher. The seniors also hold the distinction of being named to three all-Bay County teams and were honored as all-state members the past two seasons. Their play on the field drew interest, but they said that Wednesday meant more as a representation of who they are.
“I’m really appreciative and honored to be a part of this,” Burkett said. “This will help me make a name for myself, but I also have a family name to uphold.”
Burkett verbally committed to FIU prior to last season, but a coaching change prompted the 6-foot-4, 225-pound defensive end/linebacker to re-open his options. Maryland was immediately in the hunt for his services and he quickly switched his allegiance.
Maryland is making a move from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big 10. The Terrapins will begin play in their new conference in 2014, which also will be the debut for Burkett, who said he will be redshirted next season.
“I look at that as a good thing,” Burkett said. “It will help me get physically and mentally ready to play at that level and help me get set in my studies.”
Burkett will major in kinesiology. Martinez will enter the exercise science field. That decision might have been the most difficult one the electric quarterback has made in the past month.
Interest in Martinez gained momentum over the final weeks of the playoff season. Northern Arizona, a team from the Football Championship Subdivision, was the frontrunner early. The University of Buffalo, which plays in the Mid-American Conference in the FBS, came into the picture later and Martinez didn’t pass up his chance to showcase his skills despite the prospect of trudging through mounds of snow in the New York winters.
Other suitors, including Fordham, wanted Martinez to play defense. He said he will be used as a slot wide receiver, return man and in the least a Wildcat formation quarterback at Buffalo.
“They wanted me on offense, they told me they want me to a be a multi threat,” Martinez said. “It’s been my dream to play Division I football, to be able to play against big-time competition.”
Buffalo receives that kind of opposition yearly with the rise in schools such as Northern Illinois, which earned the conference’s first Bowl Championship Series berth last season. Buffalo also has steadily improved under coach Jeff Quinn.
Martinez conceded he won’t know the magnitude of this day for some time.
“It’s exciting to be a part of it,” Martinez said. “It’s about taking it all in right now and I’m glad I have this chance.”
Both joined their softball classmates in a showcase in front of the faculty and student body. It was a celebration of their hard work and emphasized how players from a small Rural Class 1A school can achieve a measure of success.
“This is what I planned on all along, to sign with a big school on Feb. 6,” Burkett said. “Hopefully I can influence them (fellow students) in the right way and that they can be the best they can be.”
Added Martinez: “They can see this, understand they can be exactly like me and they can do what I did.”
Faulkenberry, Migliori partake in the big day: Migliori secured her future at Wallace State-Dothan, Ala., in mid-January when coach Eddie Munn made a trip to the Sand Hills, but she took part in the festivities on Wednesday. Faulkenberry will stay closer to home after signing with Gulf Coast State.
Migliori has amassed 117 hits, including 38 doubles, with 76 runs scored and 69 RBIs for Bozeman heading into her final season. The first baseman was named the team’s offensive MVP (.447 career average) in each of the past three seasons and carries a 3.7 GPA.
Faulkenberry, who has a 3.6 GPA, is a catcher for Bozeman, but likely will move to the outfield for the Lady Commodores. Faulkenberry has a .484 career average with 123 hits, 98 runs, 62 RBIs and 29 stolen bases while sharing offensive MVP honors with Migliori over the last two seasons.
“This was a big day for all of them, but I’m not sure who it was bigger for,” Tillman said. “This was so big for our county, for the school, for our community. All four of these kids deserved this.”