Adversity has molded Martavious Collins. Instead of buckling under a series of struggles he has faced in his young life, the hardships have somehow only hardened his resolve to work his way into a better life.
"I think what separates me from a lot of other guys is that I get my inspiration from knowing I haven't been as fortunate as them," said Collins, who is No. 6 on this year's Dynamite Baker's Dozen countdown of the Chattanooga area's top 13 football players entering the 2023 season.
"I used to go to friends' houses, and I'd see how they had a dad they were close with, and I knew that my dad left my mom before I was even born," Collins added. "It got so bad at one point that my mom sent me and my brothers to live with my aunt in Alabama. Since I could remember, me and my family moved from place to place and never really had a set home to live in. All of that made me want to make something for myself.
"Thankfully, God has given me the ability to play football, and I promised myself I will use that gift to keep going until the day I can't anymore."
It was a winding and often frustrating road that led the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Collins to South Pittsburg High School, where he transferred for his senior season. After playing his first three prep seasons at Rome, a region and state power in northwest Georgia, Collins transferred to Calhoun last spring but was declared ineligible by the GHSA after it was discovered his mother received payment from someone associated with the program to help with the move.
The ruling meant Collins would not be allowed to play for any GHSA program. Realizing his mother accepting the money could cost him his senior season, it also caused a family dispute that led to Collins no longer living at home.
He began living with friends as he also checked across the state line in Tennessee for an alternative to finish out high school. After meeting with coaches from five private schools in Hamilton County, Collins -- who plans to graduate in December to allow him to be an early enrollee at Auburn -- was told by each that they do not accept one-semester transfers.
Having known South Pittsburg senior receiver AJ Wallace from attending some of the same college camps, Collins reached out to collect information on the school. His first question to principal Paige Hill was to find out if the school would allow him to graduate early.
"That was really the biggest thing I had to know," said Collins, who carries a 3.2 GPA. "Once I was told that I could do that, then I found out the school also offers an introductory course for engineering (Project Lead the Way) which is great because that's what I plan to major in and a lot of other schools didn't offer it.
"I saw that South Pittsburg was near the Alabama border, so I knew it was closer to some family, too, so it was like everything finally fell into place for me."
The Tennessee State Board of Education recently granted Collins status under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that, among other things, grants rights and services to homeless youth.
Since he arrived at his new school, Collins has impressed South Pittsburg coaches as much with his attitude as his athleticism.
"He just has a different approach than most kids his age," Pirates coach Wes Stone said. "Once he got here, we sat down and talked about what all he's gone through, and it makes you realize why he's got a more mature approach than most kids. He's had to grow up and handle some real life problems that nobody his age should have to deal with.
"You watch him at practice or when we've scrimmaged, and that work ethic stands out. He goes hard every snap, and I'm sure a lot of that is just him feeling like the field is where he can let go of some frustration."
Although the three-star prospect was recruited to play tight end in college, Collins' physical approach also means he will see action on the defensive line for the Pirates. He admitted after the struggle to just find a new home to play for, he appreciates not coming off the field much.
"When you grow up with nothing, like I did, you want to take advantage of every opportunity you get because you understand something positive that you love and need in your life could have been taken away," Collins said. "Honestly, it's been really hard. It can definitely sort of break you mentally and make you wonder if things will ever work out or if you should give up.
"But I've just kept working and trying to keep a positive mindset and try to find ways to make myself better, because I knew football was my way out."
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].