‘Let the journey begin’

Coastal Point • Tripp Colonell: Indian River High Schools seniors George Martin, left, and Jared Arlett, announced their official appointments to the United States Naval Academy at IR on Thursday.Coastal Point • Tripp Colonell: Indian River High Schools seniors George Martin, left, and Jared Arlett, announced their official appointments to the United States Naval Academy at IR on Thursday.After moving to Delaware from Severna Park, Md., in the sixth grade, George Martin walked into Mrs. O’Shields’ sixth-grade science class on his first day at Selbyville Middle School, not knowing anyone, and sat down next to a young baseball-player-turned-wrestler by the name of Jared Arlett.

Little did either Martin or Arlett know then that their first conversation that day would end up being first of many more just like it, and one that would end up foreshadowing both of their hopeful futures.

“We were talking, and I asked him where he was from. At the time, I had no idea where Severna Park was,” Arlett recalled with a laugh. “He told me it was right outside of Annapolis, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s right by the Naval Academy. I think I kind of want to go there.’”

“Yeah. I think I kind of want to go there, too,” is how Martin had answered.

As the classic credo of the academy’s Midshipmen goes, “Let the journey begin.”

Fast-forward some seven years later, and what was once a sixth-grade daydream has since turned into anything but, with Martin and Arlett becoming the first students from Indian River High School to join the country’s “First in Defense” and officially receiving their letters of appointment from the United States Naval Academy.

“It’s an honor,” said Martin. “It’s still starting to set in. I’m more than honored to be a part of the Navy tradition and to be able to represent and serve my country. It’s not something that everybody gets a chance to do.”

“To be able to represent our school, our community, and now our country, is such an honor,” said an equally honored Arlett.

Since their days at SMS, both 4.0-GPA students and three-sport athletes (after Arlett convinced Martin to join the wrestling team for their senior seasons and Martin convinced Arlett to do the same in joining the lacrosse team) have gone on to put together decorated careers both on the field and in the classroom.

But despite stacking their résumés with accolades while lettering in football, wrestling and lacrosse, trading off student council presidencies during their sophomore and junior years, and upholding an array of extracurriculars, the two embarked on the Academy’s intensive year-long application process well aware of what it was going to take.

Historically, the Naval Academy has ranked alongside the Ivy League when it comes to selectivity, requiring a congressional nomination to even apply and mailing out about 1,300 letters of appointment to brigade hopefuls across the country, and the world, in 2016.

Going by the numbers, if the odds of one of those letters making its way to a small school in Delaware was slim, the chances of two of them addressed to the same small school in Delaware was even more so.

Interestingly enough, it was in statistics class where those odds were detailed on the exact day that they’d be defied, during what would be the second-most foretelling conversation between the two now-seniors at Indian River High School.

“I was sitting next to George in one my classes, and that day he goes, ‘Jared, you need to find out if you’re going to the Naval Academy, because I’d really like to know,’” Arlett recalled with a laugh of yet another “G-Mart” pre-class anecdote.

After receiving a phone call from U.S. Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) with the congratulatory news of receiving a LOA (letter of assurance) in December — somewhat ironically, during his first career wrestling match — Martin was hopeful that his long-time friend and teammate would soon receive his own similar-natured news.

“I told him, ‘Hopefully, I’ll hear from them soon.’ At this point, it had been awhile since I finished my application," said Arlett. "Then, when my dad got home that day, he told me the Navy coach called. He hadn’t told him anything but said that I needed to go online and check, so we both jumped up and ran to the computer.”

As the respected rallying cry of the Midshipmen goes: “Hooyah.”

Sure enough, the answer Arlett had been looking for was waiting for him there on the screen, cause for both celebrating surmounted odds and making phone calls to future fellow cadets and certain good pals from first-period statistics classes.

“I called George and invited him to dinner, and while we were there, the wrestling coach actually called me to congratulate me. He was at the NCAA tournament out in St. Louis, so I did not expect that. I thought that was really cool,” said Arlett.

“To get into the Naval Academy is just something that I didn’t know if it would ever actually happen,” he went on. “It started out with me and George talking about him getting his nomination. Then, a couple weeks later, I got mine, too. It just slowly got more and more realistic. As we got closer and closer to finally getting accepted, it was just like, ‘Whoa — we’re both actually doing this.’”

“Senior year, we said to each other, ‘If it happens, we can’t pass it up,’” added Martin.

Let the journey begin

While both Martin and Arlett will ship off to the Naval Academy ready to put both academics and the promise of a prestigious career in the military first, they’re both planning on taking their athletic talents to the NCAA at the Division I level.

In fact, Arlett will start heading to Annapolis to hit the mats with his new team as soon as later this month.

After helping lead the Indians to a state championship appearance as a captain during one of the team’s most successful seasons in program history, Arlett’s hopes as an NCAA student-athlete include making it to nationals and eventually cracking the All-American list by his senior season.

“Jared definitely has the work ethic to succeed at that next level. The talent is there,” said IR head wrestling coach Jeff Windish, who also coached Arlett on the football field.

“In my opinion, Jared is the epitome of a student-athlete. He does what he needs to do in the classroom, and he succeeds at a high level; the same thing on the wrestling side. I know he’ll keep working hard and that he’s going to succeed at whatever he sets his mind to. He’s just that kind of kid.”

Giving up baseball to take up wrestling in the seventh grade, Arlett noted that he hasn’t been around the sport as long as most Division I wrestlers, explaining that it was coaches early in his career, such as Windish, who helped him develop into an eventual state championship contender.

“I have to give that credit to my coaches for helping me get to where I am today,” Arlett said. “I still have work to do, and I still need to continue to improve, but that’s what’s exciting about going into a Division I program — I have the opportunity to learn and try to get to that next level.”

As for Martin, the All-Conference selection in both football and lacrosse had already verbally committed to Washington & Lee for both sports before receiving the news from the Naval Academy.

In addition to its academics, it was the possibility of the Bo Jackson aspect at W&L that had initially attracted him to the Division III program. But even with the school offering everything on his collegiate checklist, there was still one exception.

“It’s a great campus, great academic school, and it would have been great to play football and lacrosse there, but I explained to the coaches that if I got into the academies, it would be the one exception,” explained Martin, who was also accepted into the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“And then it happened. The Naval Academy is something you can’t pass up. The [W&L] coach actually has a son at West Point right now, so they were very understanding.”

Despite drawing early interest from the Navy as lacrosse recruit, among other programs, after being selected to play in the Under Armour Top 50 Uncommitted Showcase the summer before his junior season, this summer Martin will try out with the team, hoping to earn himself a spot in the Midshipmen lacrosse lineup.

While nothing is guaranteed, IR head lacrosse coach Jim Dietsch said that, after coaching him for the past four seasons, he has no doubts about Martin’s abilities to adapt to the Division I level.

“It’s my 45th year coaching, and George has got to be one of the top five kids I’ve ever worked with. I truly mean that,” said Dietsch, whose coaching résumé includes DI national championships with the University of Maryland. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he can play at the next level and be very effective.

“His biggest thing is his work ethic. He did the same thing with football — lived in the weight room, lifted, and all of a sudden he gains 1,000 yards. On top of that, he makes everybody else around him better. He’s just a character kid. He’s a kid that makes you proud to say, ‘I coached this kid.’”

“I’m excited about it,” Martin said of the opportunity. “I definitely need to push myself, because it’s far from being assured at this point.”

Not for self, but for country

As the perennial proverb of the Midshipmen goes, “Not for self, but for country.”

Both with a long lineage of military bloodlines, Martin and Arlett said they were proud to not only to uphold their respective family legacies but to be able to serve their country by embarking on careers with the military.

Martin plans on eventually going into aviation or special forces, with goals of graduating on the Commandant’s List, while Arlett plans on following in the footsteps of both his grandfather and father, Sussex County Councilman Rob Arlett, by becoming a surface warfare officer.

“I’ve always had an interest in that, ever since I was little. We would go visit the ships, and my grandfather would tell me stories,” said Arlett, noting that his grandfather had been the subject of one of his essays while going through the application process. “He had Alzheimer’s, but one of the things that he never forgot was his Naval Academy experience. He remembered it down to the day.”

“I’ve had military in my family my whole life, on both sides. Living up to the legacy that they’ve set is something that I aspire to and something that I want to be a part of,” said Martin, whose father, Lan Martin, also attended the Naval Academy.

“I’m a firm believer that you’re a product of your environment. Growing up in four different places, I’ve met a lot of different types of people and seen a lot of different types of personalities, and I feel like my personality is best fit for the Naval Academy. I really want to serve my country for as long as I can.”

No matter their future dreams, however, both Martin and Arlett said they are more than ready to let a journey that started out all those years ago in science class at Selbyville Middle School finally begin and ready to embrace whatever new opportunities it has to offer.

As goes the weathered saying of the sea, “You can't control the direction of the wind, but you can adjust the sails.”

“I always dreamed of playing college sports, but if it doesn’t work out, I’ll understand. That means I’m just going to have more time to dedicate to being a Midshipman,” said Martin. “No matter what, things will work out. I know that there’s a path for everybody.”