By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL - Though just a teenager, Marty Haley already feels like a father of two.
No, not actual children. Just his two passions in life, which, according to Haley, are like his children.
"Football's my baby," Haley said. "I love it. I look at it as my little child. I'd do anything for it."
Basketball wasn't a main sport for Haley "until I started on varsity my sophomore year and just fell in love with it. Basketball is like my stepson."
This season Haley is giving his "stepson" more attention, and after sitting out last year for the Wildcats, is back for his final season to help lead his team.
Haley's obsession with basketball started when he was just a little boy, when he would travel with his father, Leroy, to watch his dad play semi-professional ball. While his dad was busy on the court, Haley would occupy the side rim, taking free throw shots and then practicing his jump shot. On occasion, his father would take Haley to an open gym, where he'd blindfold Haley and tell him to dribble down the court with one hand, switching hands on command.
Over time, and with the help of his dad, Haley improved his skills on the court and grew more passionate about basketball. At the same time, however, Haley was focusing on football, getting stronger and faster in the weight room and on the field. It seemed like a perfect one-two combination. Haley would play football in the fall, then switch over to basketball after that. But before his junior year, Haley sat down with Warren County football coach Tony Tallent to talk about the possibility of giving up basketball and focusing solely on the gridiron.
Following that talk, Haley went home and spent the entire weekend contemplating his decision, and seeking advice from his mother and father.
"I just thought about it all weekend," he said. "I didn't do anything. Me and my mom and my dad just sat there and talked about it. How it could help me and how it could hurt me in life ... coach Tallent thought I'd go farther in football if I worked my way up lifting weights, getting stronger. I think it worked out for the best."
While his friends and teammates competed on the court, Haley spent the time in the weight room getting stronger. With an offseason dedicated to bulking up behind him, Haley entered this season with the intention of playing both football and basketball, and after a successful football campaign, is back on the court for the Wildcats.
"He's an athlete, number one," Warren County boys basketball coach Vernon Mathews said. "Number two, he's really worked hard. I've been with him since he was a sophomore and he's really matured into a better player and better teammate. Now he realizes he is part of the team. When we need a spark and things have gotten stagnant, he's been the one to make things happen."
So far this season the Wildcats have struggled, amassing a 1-4 record heading into Saturday's Daily Classic boys basketball tournament semifinal matchup against Broadway. Meanwhile, Haley admitted the time away from the court had mixed results. While he said getting stronger allowed him to conquer his fear of driving into the paint, the year off also leaves him at a disadvantage at times.
"You will never lose your shot and you will never lose your handles," Haley said, "but the fundamentals and the passing, it's faster. I'm used to being on JV and this is my second year on varsity.
But if I would've played, it would've been a whole lot better."
Still, Haley looks back on the decision to skip his junior season as one that will help him down the road, and despite his occasional setbacks on the court, he's spending his senior season spending time with both of his kids.
Like father, like son.