Notre Dame football: No One takes Nick Martin for granted

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - Can't assign value to versatility.

That's why nobody on the Notre Dame football team is even tempted to take Nick Martin for granted.

Except maybe coach Brian Kelly.

While discussing the early development of the Irish offensive line Monday, Kelly did a double-take when asked about the two new starters in the trenches.

One will come on the right side - either guard or tackle, depending on whether Ronnie Stanley (tackle) or Conor Hanratty (guard) makes the most progress - and the other is Martin at center.

"When you mentioned ... about two first-time starters, I thought, who (are) you talking about?" Kelly said. "I even look at Nick Martin, I go, 'He doesn't seem like a first-time starter; the way he handles himself. It seems like he's been in there for a couple years.'"

Somewhere between compliment and pressure is the challenge that comes with such an assessment from the guy in charge.

The 6-foot-5, 295-pound junior (with two years of eligibility after this season) had tinkered at every position along the line - except center - during his first two seasons at Notre Dame.

Now he will join his big brother Zack (left tackle), Chris Watt (left guard) and Christian Lombard (right tackle or guard) as a mainstay on the offensive line.

"At first, I was all for (the move to center)," said Martin. "Any way I could get on the field was fine with me. Once I started playing, it felt like my natural position. Right away I felt, 'I can get this job done; I can do it well.'

"Honestly, I did not (line up at center at all before last spring). I feel natural there. When I got in there, it just felt good; the technique; the steps; playing inside; being able to talk; knowing what everyone's doing.

"At first, (the shotgun snap) was definitely different. We work on it every day. We run so many plays that you pick it up as you go."

As the saying goes, it's one of those "pig taking to mud" situations. Martin was tabbed as the heir to the spot Braxston Cave occupied the last three seasons.

Besides offering an opportunity to out-grow the sporadic playing time he managed last season, he also gets a chance to play on the same line with Zack, a fifth-year left tackle. Both Martin boys were standouts at Chatard High School in Indianapolis.

"It's a special thing to be able to play at this level with a brother," Nick said. "We're really close; a big reason I came here. To actually get on the field with him is going to be pretty surreal."

Legacy consideration hardly factored into Nick's place on the Irish depth chart. He has earned his spot as a starter, though the daily tests don't get any easier.

"(Nick Martin's) workings are with that whole five," Kelly said. "It's not just that one guy. He's scooping left, scooping right; calling protections left and right.

"He's given us the opportunity to evaluate him against one of the best nose guards in the country in Louis Nix. He holds his own. Goes against great competition. Knows the offense very well. Doesn't make mistakes. Extremely conscientious. Very fit. Can play every play. Plays to the echo of the whistle. Very mature kid."

"(Nix) is one of the best in the country," Martin said. "It's nice to be able to go against him every day."

Nice ... in a very physical sort of way.

"The first two years (at Notre Dame), I was moved around," Martin said. "Now, being in the middle, I know the angles; who (the others on the line) are going to get. It's nice to know where everyone is supposed to be.

"Reps are reps, you get evaluated, no matter where you are. Snapping is obviously a different dynamic. But when it comes down to it, it's just you. You're only blocking one man each play. It's you going against another guy."

At the same time though, it's good to know there are three veterans on the line - especially a big brother - to watch his back.

"Playing with them makes me a better player," Martin said. "If I miss a call, they make sure it gets there. We're all communicating. We see everything with one set of eyes."

Versatility helps keep it all in focus.

Notre Dame's Nick Martin is not performing like a first-year starter. South Bend Tribune/ROBERT FRANKLIN