"Jersey" Joe Martinek is staying in New Jersey.
The state's all-time leading high school rusher was one of 10 undrafted free agents to sign with the New York Giants soon after the NFL Draft ended Saturday night. The former Rutgers rusher April 12.
Martinek said he looked forward to proving himself—a battle he's grown accustom to fighting since rushing for a state record 7,589 yards and 80 touchdowns before graduating from in 2007 and working his way off the Scarlet Knights' practice squad.
"It's just another challenge, another step," he said. "I'm part of another team now and now I have to establish myself again."
Martinek hopes to become the second Hopatcong graduate to play in the NFL. The New York Jets drafted former borough resident and Temple lineman David Yovanovits in the seventh round in 2003. Yovanovits also played with the New Orleans Saints, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.
The Giants beat out three other teams that were in the running late Saturday for Martinek, who scored 17 touchdowns while rushing 391 times for 1,770 yards while playing running back and fullback the Scarlet Knights.
The Houston Texans, Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers—coached by former Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano—each had contacted the 23-year-old in the days leading up to the draft and immediately after it.
But Martinek said the impression the Giants made during his workout separated them from the other potential suitors.
"It's close to home and, plus, the feeling when I went there—everyone was just so nice to me," said Martinek, who added he spoke with Giants running backs coach Jerald Ingram Saturday. "Everybody knew me. There was just a happy-go-lucky feeling throughout the [Timex Performance Center]. The winning feeling they had was something I wanted to be a part of."
Martinek said not getting drafted in the late rounds might have been a blessing.
"I was able to pick," he said. "Instead of getting a team that probably wasn't the best situation for me, I got to choose where I would be in the best situation. I got lucky with that."
That the pre-draft process had finally ended was the biggest relief to Martinek, who led Hopatcong to a 2006 state championship before being named Gatorade State Player of the Year.
"It was crazy," said Martinek, whose at Rutgers' pro day grabbed the attention of scouts. "It was very stressful and I'm glad that it's over now. I hate not knowing. Now I have a clear head and peace of mind."
That, actually, was what Martinek spent much of Saturday afternoon chasing. The 5-foot-11, 224-pounder traveled to Farmstead Golf & Country Club with his brother, Michael, and two friends. Martinek said he didn't want to give himself the chance to obsess over the draft on TV.
The group returned to Martinek's home near the end of the seventh round, which was when teams considering signing him after he draft began racketing up their pursuit, Martinek said.
And after talking it through with his family and agent Don Henderson, Martinek made his decision.
"He walked into the room and said, 'I'm a New York Giant," his mother, Roxanne, said. "It was just an incredible feeling."
Joe Martinek Sr., the running back's father, said his son would flourish with the Giants, who are looking to fill the hole left by the departure of running back Brandon Jacobs to San Francisco. New York drafted speedy running back David Wilson of Virginia Tech with the last pick in the first round Thursday.
"I believe in Joe," the elder Martinek said. "I've always believed in Joe."
Said Michael Martinek, "To see him have his dreams come true, it's just amazing."