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Martinelli making big blocks for Kaneland football’s run game

MAPLE PARK – Zack Martinelli snagged Kaneland’s first touchdown during last season’s Week 9 trip to Morris.

He’s equally eager to make a play when the Knights host the Redskins tonight, but also knows he could help decide the Northern Illinois Big 12 East title another way.

Being a Kaneland wide receiver in 2012 brings a slightly different job description. While the Knights still pass effectively with their vaunted spread attack, coach Tom Fedderly has ramped up the running emphasis behind a veteran offensive line. For Martinelli, that means touching the football about as often as he clutches a defensive back – legally, of course – as he helps spring a running back into the secondary.

“We all got taught pretty well on how to block,” Martinelli said, “and with us running so much this year, it’s kind of made a big impact in us getting to the next level and making big blocks downfield.”

A senior, Martinelli enters tonight’s battle of unbeatens with team highs in receptions (27), receiving yards (499) and touchdowns (eight). Kaneland’s leading receiver in 2011, recent graduate Quinn Buschbacher, boasted respective totals of 59, 1,079 and 15 in those categories.

Buschbacher accumulated his numbers in 13 games – not eight – and Kaneland is again hopeful to surpass last season’s trip to the IHSA 5A state semifinals when the playoffs begin next week.

Still, the emergence of junior running back Jesse Balluff and the increased running threat of quarterback Drew David – who added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason anticipating more carries – has added up, too.

During the summer, wide receivers coach Ryan Gierke spent extensive time instilling and drilling the basics of stalk blocking, which begins with a strong burst off the line of scrimmage. A good pass route starts the same way, fitting given Fedderly’s observation of Martinelli and fellow receivers such as Dylan Nauert and Kyle Pollastrini.

“It’s got to be attitude,” Fedderly said. “They’ve got to have some toughness and they’ve got to be really unselfish and playing hard every play for their teammates. Really, that’s what we stress to everybody on the team, but for them, sometimes not getting the ball a whole lot, it says a lot about their character in stepping up and blocking.”

Martinelli packs a strong balance of speed and size in his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame. He’s adept at both tangling with defensive backs and getting to the outside and simply outrunning them.

Also the Knights’ primary punt returner, Martinelli has had no regrets about his final high school season to this point, falling in line as the program’s latest deep threat after the graduation of Buschbacher and Sean Carter.

“I knew I needed to step up with Sean and Quinn leaving, and I knew I needed to step into the role of trying to do the best I can and make the plays when I get opportunities,” Martinelli said. “I’ve got the opportunities this year and I’ve done the best I can to make big plays out of it.”

Sometimes, that has meant selling defensive backs on the pass, then eating their cushion until they plant their feet to play the run. That never was a foreign concept to Martinelli, who Fedderly called one the team’s top outside blockers even a year ago.

A more balanced offense at Peterson Field, however, does have some novelty to it. Just not dissension.

“We’re almost 50-50 for the first time in I don’t know how long,” Martinelli said, “and that’s fine.”

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