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Former East star Martin lands with Penguins

YOUNGSTOWN — Life wasn’t working out exactly how Dawan Martin planned soon after he graduated from East High School in 2019.

The former standout football player signed a National Letter of Intent to play at Bowling Green State University, but there was a problem with his transcript. A class he took at a high school he attended prior to East wasn’t accepted, and the big defensive end said he wasn’t able to enroll.

Years of hard work looked wasted. His future was in jeopardy, and he wasn’t sure what his next step would be. What he did know was that he wasn’t about to give up.

“I just knew I had to deal with it, so I kept my head high,” Martin said. “I kept working out. I knew I was going to go somewhere, end up somewhere.

“It was easy to feel bad for myself,” he added. “(But) I didn’t want to feel bad for myself and just give up. I wanted to keep at it.”

Once again, his perseverance paid off.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Martin signed with Youngstown State University last week, joining his former East High School teammate, Chris Fitzgerald, a defensive tackle for the Penguins. The two were the driving force behind a dominant defense that powered East to the OHSAA playoffs in 2018.

It was a rejuvenating season for an East program that was coming off a 1-9 campaign the year before. Now, Martin joins a Penguin program looking for some rejuvenation as well.

“I’m really excited,” Martin said. “YSU was the first college (football) game I’d ever been to. My grandpa took me. It’s going to be amazing to play in that stadium and for the community. I’ve lived here my whole life.”

A big reason Martin is now with the Penguins is because of a former Penguin player.

Youngstown City Schools head of athletics Rick Shepas, who played for YSU from 1983 to 1986, got in touch with first-year Penguins coach Doug Phillips soon after Phillips took the job in February. Phillips said Shepas told him about Martin, who continued to stay in shape and work for a living after things didn’t work out with Bowling Green.

“The ties of having someone like Rick Shepas, who played at Youngstown and the relationship you have with coach (Brian) Marrow at East, that went a long way,” Phillips said. “It wouldn’t have happened without them.”

Aside from Martin’s size and athleticism, which Phillips called “tremendous,” the new coach respects Martin’s wherewithal.

When adversity struck, Martin, an 18-year-old kid at the time who had lost a Division I scholarship because of one high school class, responded by fighting — not cowering.

“Here’s a young man who didn’t make it where he thought he would be,” Phillips said, “but he continued to work a job and continued to work out. Sometimes you take football away, and it’s real life — you’re not in college and you’re working every day … you take football and going to school for granted until it’s taken away from you. Then you realize this is where you want to be.”

Martin wasn’t the only player to join the Penguins this past week.

Deamontae Diggs of McKeesport (Pa.) Area High School was a highly-sought-after tight end/H-back. The 6-6, 225-pound Diggs was a two-sport star for the Tigers. He caught 14 passes for 424 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior. He also averaged 20.3 points and 12 rebounds per game in basketball.

Two schools where Phillips used to coach were after Diggs as well.

“I got calls from Iowa State and Cincinnati, two schools that were very interested in him,” Phillips said, “and they were just like, ‘Man, you guys got a good one there.’

“To get guys that have length and are athletic, they’re tremendous on the outside. It was a big day for us.”

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