SAN ANTONIO – The tight bond Steele quarterback Xavier Martin and wide receiver CJ Williams share on and off the field – they even get haircuts together every Thursday during football season – started long before they got to high school.
Martin and Williams met when they were sixth-graders at Jordan Intermediate School, and began playing football together the next year at Dobie Middle School. Martin and Williams were teammates one spring on a youth football team that went all the way to San Diego, Calif., to play for a national championship. Even then, Martin played quarterback and Williams was a receiver.
“They’ve played a lot of football together, going back all the way to little league and junior high,” Steele coach Scott Lehnhoff said. “Last year was when they got together as full-time starters here for the first time. They did a great job and they’re continuing this season.”
Now high school seniors, Martin and Williams are inseparable and still connecting for big plays on the football field. They eat lunch together every school day and take ice baths after practice every Thursday during football season.
“We think of each other as brothers,” Williams said Thursday. “I’m kind of quiet but he’s more outgoing, and it just kind of works for us. We laugh at the same stuff and we like the same shows, the same clothing.”
Martin and Williams are so close that they almost can finish each other’s sentences.
“CJ is, by far, my closest friend,” Martin said. “I’m with him almost 24/7, and it’s been like that since the seventh grade. Our families are also close. We’re just always together.”
Martin and Williams will play key roles for Steele (10-1) when it meets Austin Vandegrift (6-5) in the second round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs at 7:30 Friday night at Rattler Stadium in San Marcos. The Steele-Vandergrift game is one of 14 second-round playoff matchups scheduled Friday and Saturday that involve Greater San Antonio teams.
Steele won the Class 5A Division II state title in 2010, lost in the state final a year later and has advanced to the state semifinals three times in the past four seasons.
“Everybody is stepping up and working hard to prepare for each game,” Martin said. “The way that we’re practicing and handling ourselves is a lot better than it was at the beginning of the season, and I’m really proud to say that.
“Our leaders are stepping up. Our players are stepping up and our coaches are stepping up. Most of the seniors on this team have been playing together since we were in the seventh grade. We really want it (state title) and we’re going to go get it.”
Martin, who committed to Texas Tech before his junior year, has rung up some impressive statistics this season despite missing one game and all but three plays of another with an ankle injury. Martin has completed 99 of 163 passes for 1,483 yards, with three interceptions, for 14 touchdowns, and has rushed for 589 yards and eight TDs in 71 carries (7.1 average).
“He’s got some God-given whip in his arm,” Lehnhoff said of Martin. “He’s always had that. For him, it’s been a footwork issue. As a sophomore, he’ll admit, the footwork and the mechanics weren’t quite what they needed to be. But he had the whip and the accuracy, and the ability to throw it on the run with some accuracy, which is difficult for a lot of kids. The footwork has come.”
Williams has been one of the best receivers in the area this season, catching 57 passes for 729 yards and seven TDs.
“CJ is a guy that’s always in the right place,” Lehnhoff said. “Even when the ball isn’t supposed to come to CJ, he’ll find a way to put himself in the right spot in order to make the play. It’s a knack, it’s an intelligence deal. It’s busting your tail on every play.
“Most guys know when the ball is supposed to come to them or not. Are you going to take a play off because it’s not supposed to come to you? CJ doesn’t do that and because he doesn’t do that, all of a sudden he’s in the right spot and he’s making the right play.”
Williams is the younger brother of former Steele quarterback L.G. Williams, who graduated in 2015 and now plays at Texas State. Ivy League school Brown is about the only college that has expressed an interest in CJ, an honor student.
“I think any school that doesn’t recruit CJ is stupid,” Martin said.
A sprained right ankle hampered Martin in last year’s playoffs, and the injury finally sidelined him in the first half of the Knights’ loss to Katy in the state semifinals. Martin has had problems with his left ankle this year, spraining it on the last play of Steele’s 24-17 win over Smithson Valley in their District 27-6A opener on Sept. 16.
The injury kept him out the Knights’ game against Judson the next week, but backup Cody Massey helped lead the team to a 30-9 victory. Martin returned to the lineup the following week when Steele beat New Braunfels 38-7, but he was in the game against New Braunfels Canyon a week later for only three plays before hurting the left ankle again. The Knights struggled to pull out a 21-14 win.
“He’s such a big part of our offense that it hurts when he has to come out of a game,” Williams said.
Being the consummate team player and leader he is, Martin praised Massey for stepping up when he was sidelined. Massey completed 8 of 17 passes for 181 yards and two TDs in the win over Judson
"He's one of my best friends and then for him to go out there and do what he did, I was real proud of him," Martin said. "I tell him that all the time. I tell him I love him all the time. He's probably the one that I work out with the most. He has that same mentality that I have. If anything happens, he's the one who's up next week, so he works hard, if not harder than me.
Massey hit 11 of 22 passes for only 81 yards against N.B. Canyon and didn't have a TD strike, but he didn't throw an interception, either.
In the end, Martin always saves his highest praise for Williams.
"He's football intelligent," Martin said. "He's really smart in school, but he's intelligent on the field, too. He knows what everybody is going to be doing on the field, and that's not even at just receiver or quarterback. He knows what the O-line is doing, what the running back is doing."
The synergy Martin and Williams have developed is grounded in their familiarity with each other and the countless hours they've worked out together.
"During the summer, we'd come up here every day and throw routes," Martin said. "We always worked on drills where I'm just running around like I'm scrambling and looking to where he's going to be."
When a pass play breaks down during a game, chances are good Williams is going to wind up with the ball.
"We talk about certain situations and what he would do," Williams said. "I just know what he's thinking, what he's seeing in the defense, during games. I just go to a spot and he's good about finding me."
Williams laughs now when he recalls how he felt about Martin when they met.
"To be honest, I didn't even like him at first," Williams said. "But then we started playing football together. We started bonding in seventh grade and we drew closer when we were in the eighth grade. He's always been my quarterback."
And Williams always has been Martin's go-to receiver.