Since 2009, Dr. Phillips High's football team has performed the Haka before its games. The ritual is a family affair, passed down from Phillip Amone to cousin Lorenzo Martinez to brother Alesandro Martinez.
It’s one of the foremost values coach Rodney Wells impresses upon his football program at Dr. Phillips High School.
Not only are the players on the team to be a family, but a player’s actual family is also to be revered, and several families have left an imprint on the program. The Meeks brothers come to mind, as well as the Powell twins who are currently terrorizing opposing ballcarriers.
And then there is the family that introduced the team to the Haka — a traditional Māori war dance sometimes used in sports as a way to intimidate an opponent and pump up one’s own team.
The dance came to the program in 2009 by Phillip Amone, who graduated from Dr. Phillips in 2012 and is currently a junior linebacker for BYU, after serving a two-year mission trip.
Amone passed the tradition of leading the dance down to his cousin, Lorenzo Martinez, a standout offensive lineman for the Panthers from 2011 through 2014 who served a mission trip to Chile after graduation in 2015.
Two other cousins came through the program, but Lorenzo passed the tradition — which now spans nine seasons — to his younger brother, Alesandro Martinez, currently a senior captain for Dr. Phillips (2-0). Alesandro has led the pregame ritual the past three seasons.
“I have a great joy in leading (the dance),” Alesandro said. “It’s a thrill that I get before the game — it brings it back to my family and my roots.”
Those roots go back to the Tonga Islands, near New Zealand, from where the Martinez’ grandparents emigrated (his family also includes Mexican ancestry, hence the last name). Although the Haka originated from a different Pacific island (Māori), the brothers’ father, Lench Martinez, said it was the easiest to teach the team.
Lench is also the defensive line coach for the Panthers and has served on the staff the past seven years. Seeing an elite varsity program such as Dr. Phillips embrace his family’s tradition has been quite a thrill, he said.
“It just talks about how the boys have made an impact on the team and how they’ve bought into the DP culture,” Lench said. “I always get goosebumps on the sideline, because it means so much more to me.”
The family came to Florida from California and ultimately settled on the Dr. Phillips area because of a family tie.
“We’re blessed to be a part of the program at DP — when we first moved out here, my wife had graduated from Dr. Phillips, so it was her desire for the kids to go to high school there,” Lench said. “That they had such a great program, and that the boys were athletic enough to play, is the cream of the crop.”
The Martinez family connected instantly with the value system that Wells instituted.
“Coach Wells preaches family — no matter what we do in life, it’s religion, family, education and then football,” Lench said.
Playing on the offensive line at Dr. Phillips also has meant the Martinez brothers have been able to block for many of the program’s dynamic speedsters now playing on Saturdays in college.
“Coach (Rodney) Wells preaches family — no matter what we do in life, it’s religion, family, education and then football."
— Lench Martinez
“It’s a real privilege — not many other programs have the athletes we have at DP,” Alesandro said. “It makes me want to do better.”
That drive to do better hasn’t gone unnoticed. In addition to being a standout with high hopes of playing collegiately after his own two-year mission trip, Alesandro is widely regarded as a leader on the team.
“There’s a reason he’s a team captain — voted on by his peers,” Wells said.
Wells celebrates the fact that family has become a cornerstone of his program, noting it goes beyond the Martinez/Amone family.
“Family is everything around DP,” Wells said. “Ninety percent of these guys have been play DP Pop Warner since they were 5 or 6 years old — I’ve been watching the Powell twins since they were in fourth or fifth grade.”
It’s unclear if the Haka will continue after this season, once Alesandro has graduated. Alesandro said he does not know for sure yet, but in some preliminary talks teammates have suggested they would understand if it was kept within the family and discontinued after this season.
As Alesandro prepares for his final stretch of games as a Panther, though, he harkens back to his brother as his inspiration for wanting to continue to improve.
“(Lorenzo) was an offensive line technician — he did everything right,” Alesandro said. “It makes me want to do better than he did.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected]ps.com.