Almost right up to the time it happened, Korbin Martino never planned on ending his freshman track and field season as the second-fastest ninth-grade 400-meter runner in the country.

The Canal Winchester High School standout finished 12th in 49.67 seconds in the Division I state meet June 1 at Ohio State, a mark that at the time had him ranked third in the nation among freshman 400 runners by MileSplit.com.

Martino's family already had planned a vacation to Hilton Head, South Carolina, within the next few weeks -- a destination that just happened to be about 300 miles from where the New Balance Nationals Outdoor was being held June 15-17 at Aggie Stadium in Greensboro, North Carolina.

"We figured, why not go?" Martino said. "Hilton Head (Island) High School opened their track for us to let me train. The track was so hot, my shoes were literally melting.

"The Wednesday (June 13) leading up to the race, I ran a couple 200s. I went 23.6 and then around 24-flat. I didn't think I would run a 47 (in the 400), but that was encouraging."

Martino led for most of the race June 15 but finished second in 49.61 seconds, .02 of a second behind Andrew Brown of Antioch, Tennessee. They were the only two runners in the race to finish in under 50 seconds.

"I got out fast and when I looked up at the video board on the back stretch, I didn't see anybody near me," Martino said. "(Brown) didn't catch up with me until maybe the last 10 meters and had just enough to pass me.

"I came into the season just wanting to make the state meet. If I got to the final, I got to the final. If not, I (was) just a freshman. This was definitely a learning experience, an awesome experience."

Indians coach Kurtis Robinson had encouraged Martino to take his chances at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor.

"Everything he did this season was a gift," Robinson said at the state meet. "He kept getting better and better. It's exciting knowing we have him back for three more years."

Martino inherited athleticism from both sides of his family.

His father, Kyle Martino, and two uncles, Thad and Todd Helber, helped Amanda-Clearcreek win the 1999 and 2000 Division V state football championships and comprised three-quarters of the Aces' first-place 1,600 relay at the Division III state track meet in 2001. They also were on the sixth-place 1,600 relay a year earlier.

Martino's mother, Dawn -- Thad and Todd's sister -- was runner-up in the 400 at the Division II state meet as a junior in 2001 after placing fifth in 2000.

Korbin Martino paid homage to that championship relay by bleaching his hair blond, just as his father, uncles and teammate Jason Heminger did 17 years ago.

Martino was junior high state champion in the 400 as an eighth-grader, winning in 51.62 - .03 of a second ahead of the runner-up.

"I was born into the 400," Martino said. "I love it. I always have. I'd be the kid racing on the playground when I was younger."

However, Kyle Martino credits much of his son's conditioning to swimming. Korbin Martino is a member of the Greater Columbus Swim Team of Ohio club team and was a Division I district qualifier in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke for Canal Winchester last winter.

"He loves track, but a lot of his success on the track is because he swims," Kyle Martino said. "Korbin is focused and determined. He's hard on himself."

Korbin Martino, who plans to play football for the Indians in the fall, already has times in mind for next spring.

"He got below 50 seconds early this year, quicker than we thought he might," his father said. "Next year, the goal is to make the state final and run 47, hopefully."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave