Former National Football League (NFL) star and Sky Sports analyst Cecil Martin stopped off in Billericay, Essex, last week as part of a national tour to further American football at grassroots level.

Martin has been meeting American football youth teams, coaching training sessions and speaking to fans all in the name of promoting sport and a positive attitude among young people.

Popular | Youngsters from the Essex Spartans pose with former NFL player Cecil Martin. (Image | Emma Webb)

Most valuable player | Youngsters from the Essex Spartans pose with former NFL fullback Cecil Martin. (Image | Emma Webb)

In the dimming dusk at Hannakin’s Farm, Martin was infinitely charismatic and friendly. He personally introduced himself, shaking hands with every parent and helper on the sidelines before taking group photographs for his Twitter page.

The youngest child in attendance at Wednesday’s session was just nine years old, sporting a Miami Dolphins jersey. Other kids aged between 10 and 15 years old were engaged in a rigorous four-station hour of coaching that introduced them to drills relevant to a host of positions.

Dean Payne, 37, a senior Essex Spartans player accompanied on the field by his two young sons, spoke about his experience of, and love for, sport in the UK.

He said: “For the kids there’s nothing like it around here. I come all the way from Stansted to play. I think it’s just great.”

His 10-year-old sons expressed much excitement about following their father into pads and onto the field in years to come, ensuring that a legacy for the Spartans is already in place.

With effortless leadership, Martin circulated around the pitch motivating and encouraging the young hopefuls with lessons from his years of experience.

Paying particular attention to the very youngest boys starting out on the field, he made instant role models of the older players and athletes of the very young.

Sitting down later for a question and answer session with the coaching staff, fans and players of all ages, Martin spoke of his humble beginnings and the obstacles he faced when trying to break into the sport.

The 37-year-old said: “People told me I wasn’t good enough to play football at the next level, that I wasn’t smart enough to make it to a college or university.

“My family didn’t have a whole lot and the message was sometimes: ‘You don’t have a lot, so you’re not going to achieve a lot’.”

However, achieve he did. Martin graduated with a degree from the University of Wisconsin after being made captain of their football team, earning a co-Most Valuable Player award and being drafted into the NFL to play for the Philadelphia Eagles upon completion of his education.

Wise words | Speaking to the assembled audience, Martin advocated a strong community focus. (Image | Emma Webb)

Wise words | Addressing the audience, Martin advocated a strong community focus and spoke of his passion for helping young people. (Image | Emma Webb)

An exceptional mentor for young people, Martin spoke of how he values his education above all other accomplishments and gifts, and passionately demanded the same attitude from his young audience.

Martin is a self-confessed “community activist at heart”, and has won awards for his commitment to serving communities and work with young people. At the epicentre of his passion is a mantra for success that he is preaching across the country: hard work, focus and perseverance.

“In this game of football you get knocked down, you get back up”, he said. “In the game of life sometimes things don’t work out and that’s OK.

“You keep going, and you keep working, you keep digging, you keep doing the best that you can to be the best that you can be, because that’s all you need to be in order to do great things.”

Refusing to leave until every individual requesting such had a photograph, autograph or a question answered, Martin was not and is not merely an advocate and a spokesperson for the sport he loves.

Moreover, as an athlete, a gentleman and the ultimate role model for young people, Martin has pulled communities up on to their feet and made many run for a touchdown they now know they can achieve.

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