Area 40-something helps Vermont teamcapture national semi-pro football title
By KEN MURPHY
Andre Martineau decided to try and go out on top. Knowing that he was in the twilight of his semi-pro football career, one of the original members of the Monadnock Marauders opted to play what was likely his final season with the Vermont Ice Storm.
A former rival of the Marauders in the New England Football League, the Ice Storm compete in the Empire Football League in the AAA Division, the highest level of semi-pro football.
Putting his 44-year-old body through some tough practices, as well as his BMW 328i through a grinding, 320-mile round-trip commute, paid off for the 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end. Last weekend, the Ice Storm downed the D.C. Explosion 17-12 in the USA Bowl in Miami to win the Division I AAA national championship.
It was quite a season for Martineau who, if he does retire, will go out as a national champion — and as the Ice Storm's reigning rookie of the year.
Vermont practices and plays in Colchester, Vt., which is 160 miles from Martineau's home in Roxbury. When the Storm asked Martineau to join the team, coaches told him he could come to one of the two weekly practices.
Martineau, a computer systems engineer for C&S Wholesale Grocers, trekked to Vermont every Tuesday after work from the time practices started in late May until the final playoff game in October.
"Everyone was very impressed and loved him dearly for coming up and doing all that driving," said Ice Storm Coach Doug "Doc" Perez, who knew Martineau from his Marauder playing days.
Perez, taking advantage of a semi-pro rule that allows teams to add players for the postseason, initially contacted Martineau to play for the Ice Storm during the team's 2006 postseason run. Martineau played for Vermont, and then returned to the Marauders for the regular season. Last season, Martineau played for Vermont in the Division I AAA Bowl Game in Miami — which the Ice Storm lost — before he agreed to suit up for Vermont throughout the 2008 regular season.
"We had played against him, and he was just a mountain man from our days in the NEFL," Perez said. "He went down to Florida with us last year and had a good time, and that's when the idea crept in that if he was going to play one more year at 44, that he'd play for us."
The idea, as it turned out, had merit.
"People couldn't go around the outside on us," Perez said. "The team voted him the rookie of the year — at 44. This past year he worked out like a banshee. He rode a mountain bike six days a week. Whenever he wasn't here he was riding a bike or lifting weights. He was just amazing."
Martineau, who hadn't played a down of organized football before joining the Marauders at the age of 38, said that he joined Vermont to play at a higher level of competition.
"The competition level was the top reason I wanted to go there," he said. "To play at the AAA level and a nationally ranked team — you don't get that opportunity too often."
Given the opportunity, Martineau said he became re-energized, largely due to the efforts of defensive coach Mike LaBarre.
"When he saw me, he told me that he wanted me to play like he thought I was capable of," Martineau said. "He said that he'd kill me in practice and that I'd want to hit him at the end of every one. He just instilled in me a new passion for football and got me excited. … I love playing football, but he'd get you in a frenzy and so excited to play. He's a large part of the reason why I stayed up there."
LaBarre, of Plattsburg, Vt., died in August at 43. The Ice Storm's home web page dedicates its championship season to his memory.
Martineau said that the tough practices conducted by LaBarre, Perez and the rest of the coaching staff were legendary.
"Every practice was full hit to the ground, " Martineau said. "We never went easy. Every practice was almost like playing a game."
After the Empire Football League season ended — the Ice Storm lost to the Quebec Titans in the Empire championship — the team had a few weeks off before preparing for the bowl game. Perez said that Vermont, despite the loss to Quebec, was selected to play in Miami because of national rankings.
"The coaches were really focused on getting us ready for what we had to do," Martineau said. "Because of the long layoff, we were almost playing games in practice. It was a game atmosphere so we were ready for when we went down (to Miami).
"Our philosophy was to be in better shape than the other team, and for the most part it was really evident and I think that was the case (against the Explosion)," Martineau said. "They weren't used to getting hit that hard, that fast."
Now that the national championship is in hand, Martineau likely has delivered his final hit.
"I've already told the team I'm pretty much done," he said. "And I'm already getting the pressure to go back. To stay with these guys who are right out of college, though, is tough. Most likely this has been my last year."
Martineau said he will fill the void with a lot more mountain biking, some travel, scuba diving and a lot of golf.
"And maybe some basketball, C league maybe," he said.
Maybe there's another rookie of the year award at the age of 45 in Martineau's future