Staff Photo: Will Hammock Domenic Martelli is the first women's soccer coach at Georgia Gwinnett College. He was previously a longtime head women's soccer coach at Georgia State.
Domenic Martelli is the first head coach of Georgia Gwinnett College's new women's soccer program, which plays its first game Aug. 25.
Martelli, who grew up in Newburgh, N.Y., and played soccer at Ohio State, has lived in Lawrenceville since 2000. He was previously Georgia State's head women's soccer coach for 11 seasons and was an assistant coach at Army from 1993-2000.
He and his wife Kirsten, a teacher in Gwinnett, have two children, 13-year-old Brielle and 10-year-old Nicholas, who go to school in the Mountain View cluster.
In this latest installment of "Getting to Know ... ", sports editor Will Hammock talks with Martelli about the best Gwinnett player he's seen, his favorite Italian meal and his goals for the GGC program.
WH: You being a local guy, living here in Lawrenceville for years, this had to be a great opportunity for you.
DM: I followed the school when Dr. (Daniel) Kaufman was announced as the president (in 2005), with my ties to West Point and him coming from there. As I saw the college grow, I was excited about it just as a fellow Gwinnettian. As the college grew, my interest was twofold because of athletics. I love Gwinnett. I recruited very well in Gwinnett my 11 years previously. As I moved forward, when you project yourself as a coach in an area, you want to have a recruiting base. And Gwinnett County has a great recruiting base, not only high school but youth club base for players. It will show that in the next couple of years pretty quickly.
WH: Do you see your roster always being pretty Gwinnett heavy with local players?
DM: In the 11 years, just because I lived here, the club games and the high school games I went to may have been a little more in Gwinnett County. More than maybe Cobb County or Alpharetta or southern Atlanta. But I had a nice representation from all over Atlanta and we're probably going to get that way here pretty quickly, too.
WH: People always seem to know you at games. What's that like going out around here and being so familiar with everyone?
DM: It's great. I almost wear two hats every time I go out. One, I'm recruiting as heavily as I can and as best I can. But also I'm carrying the flag of the college. Being out, representing Georgia Gwinnett College, is also a great opportunity to get people educated on what we're doing here as a college, not just in athletics. It's also nice because of those relationships you've built through the years whether it's an older son or daughter or someone you've known through the system, that knows someone that would be a good opportunity to recruit. Or someone who just wants to go to college here and you can help facilitate that. I've always been interested in kids getting to the next level, whether it's just going to college as a student or going as a student-athlete. There doesn't always have to be soccer. That's a passion of mine. During the college prep camps, educating parents and students about the process of getting into college, whether it's as a student or a student-athlete.
WH: You've seen a lot of soccer in this area over the years. Is there one player who stands out as the best you've seen in Gwinnett?
DM: It's pretty amazing how you can go through the 11 years I've been here and pick probably five phenomenal, top Division I players and where they've gone to national teams and professional teams. Metro Atlanta has created a lot of talent. I'd have to say top to bottom, through the years of high school and coaching them a little on ODP, and seeing her play in college and professionally, I'd have to say Sarah Steinmann. She played at Providence and Top Hat and she was SEC player of the year at Auburn.
WH: And Sarah's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, too.
DM: I was just going to say that. When you talk about a student-athlete, she's a tremendous person also.
WH: How did you and your wife meet?
DM: I graduated from Ohio State and the company that hired me had a manufacturing plant and headquarters in upstate New York, in Ithaca. We were all housed out of a ski resort called Greek Peak. She was going to SUNY-Cortland, which is a very good academic school for teachers. She teaches in Gwinnett now. We were out eating a slice of pizza. There was a group of us and a group of her friends. We started talking and from then on, I think we're going to write a book about all the things we've done, all the travels we've had.
WH: What was your first date like?
DM: She surprised me. She probably ate more than I did. That's kind of a rare occurrence when you take someone out to dinner. We went to a restaurant called the Rusty Nail in Cortland, N.Y. We had a nice dinner. We dated for about six or eight months at a distance. After she graduated from college -- she was a year behind me -- we started dating more seriously.
WH: Are both of your parents from Italy?
DM: Yep. They both grew up there and came over in their late teens. My father was able to finish high school in the United States and go on to college. He played for a school called Hartwick College (N.Y.), which is a tremendous program, and was eventually drafted by the Atlanta Chiefs. But he had already chosen to go into the teaching profession and coached high school and college for many, many years.
WH: So you grew up in a typical Italian family?
DM: Yes, yes. We have a good amount of relatives in Atlanta, too, so it's also nice to have them here. They've all been involved in soccer, played soccer. My one cousin is coaching a women's club team called the Lasers. My other cousin has coached at AFU (Atlanta Fire United) and my brother still coaches at AFU also. ... My cousin Sal, I think is the vice president at AFU.
WH: Cousin Sal sounds Italian.
DM: Oh yeah. That's the close knit. Birthdays, holidays, we were always very close in New York. You talk about Italian tradition. That's us.
WH: Was soccer not even a choice? You probably had to play.
DM: In the metro New York area, soccer was very important to all youth. When you talk to people who grew up in the Atlanta area, sometimes soccer was either an afterthought or really didn't come on strong in the high schools until later. But the growth of Atlanta, half the high schools in Gwinnett weren't here 10 or 15 years ago. Where I played in the early 1980s were there in the late '60s. There were no new schools in New York. Everybody played the different sports.WH: What's your favorite Italian meal?
DM: I have a passion for family and soccer, but food is right up there. I think homemade manicotto, or manicotti as the Americans would call it, is my favorite. Whether it's my mom making it or at a restaurant, that's my favorite dish.
WH: What kind of traditions are you looking forward to starting at GGC?
DM: Playing college has many different spokes on the wheel. I'd like to create an environment where everybody has some input and some say. But I think when you start traditions and start your program by doing the right things, everybody will buy in pretty quickly. You have to have the academic pillar. You have to have the physical pillar. You have to have the tactical pillar. So the pillars we want to create, we'll do very, very early. When you do the right things, it becomes a habit for everybody. They'll want to work hard. We'll be wanting to have the highest GPA as a program. We want to have a successful program on the field in wins and losses and a successful program in the community. A lot of my former players of mine are coaching now and I take pride in that. They're going back and giving something back to the youth. If you keep that passion for the game, it's just going to radiate and continue. That is going to make our pillar of family we want to create much better when people have that passion for the game. In college, time management is very, very important. So a young 18-year-old will handle it much differently than a 22-year-old. How is that 22-year-old going to help that 18-year-old and how am I going to facilitate that communication among the players?
WH: What do you take from your time coaching at Army?
DM: It's funny. I always talk to former cadets and they don't know what they had while they were there. They don't appreciate it until after they're gone. I appreciated everything at West Point. It's something that will never leave me. The things that I learned there and the times I spent there. I was married in the Catholic church at West Point. I look at the traditions they had there and the commitment the individuals had not only to the program, but also to the college, what they were representing. I think that's what I'm taking here. We'll have that commitment to the program, but we're also representing Georgia Gwinnett College.
WH: Did you play much soccer after college?
DM: I did a little bit. Probably more when I was working right out of college my first couple of years. A little bit when I started coaching and working in my hometown. We opened a soccer store in 1991 as a family that we've had since then. Those were good times to do it. I tried to play in a men's league when we got here to Atlanta. But as a college coach, your games are Friday and Sunday. You're training. You're recruiting. You're traveling. The weekends aren't there. You have enough time for your family and to go to church. Then you're off to your game or traveling around the country.
WH: Did you have many injuries as a player?
DM: I had a bad ankle my whole career. I think the ankle goes to a knee and then to the hip and having total hip replacement earlier this year. But I'm looking forward to feeling better from that. And having a great opportunity here makes you feel rejuvenated.
WH: What's it going to be like to be GGC's first-ever athletic event?
DM: There's going to be pressure. Not a bad pressure, like you have to win or anything like that. It's almost like the planning and the organization of it will be the pressure. The game itself is going to be very, very easy because we're going to have a nice team with some great players. But leading up to it, you want it to be in line with what Dr. Kaufman has done, what (athletic director) Dr. (Darin) Wilson has done and everything Georgia Gwinnett has done. The game is going to be played at a level that everyone is happy with, we just want to make sure everything else comes along.