Notre Dame football: Martin's impact will linger

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - There's legacy, and there's impact.

Big difference between the two.

Zack Martin's impact on the offensive line will last way beyond his time with the Notre Dame football team.

That's the ultimate legacy for a guy who has put his heart and soul in the game for five years.

The 6-foot-4, 308-pounder from Indianapolis will make his 50th consecutive start next Saturday when the Irish play their final home game against BYU.

He looks the part of a grizzled veteran. Scruffy facial hair that used to be a beard last week; a body that stubbornly fights against getting in and out of a chair; and a mature approach to one of the toughest positions in college football - left tackle.

"He's been terrific ... He's done so much more," said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. "He's a model in that offensive (meeting) room as to, this is how you do it. That offensive room, the line room, has got the groundwork set for years and years and years in terms of practice and weight room and how to do things.

"Martin has set that. For that he'll always have a legacy here, in my eyes, as to how offensive line play will continue to grow here at Notre Dame."

In 10 games this season, that Irish offensive line led by Martin has yielded just seven sacks - and that's with a rela-tively sedentary quarterback in Tommy Rees. Rees is accomplished at getting rid of the ball quickly most times, but he's not going to get out of many tight predicaments with his legs.

The line's job is to keep those predicaments to a minimum.

Notre Dame has averaged about 150 rushing yards this season, though the ground game is far from having the consistency it takes to be a reliable weapon.

The BYU game will be a significant challenge for Martin and his teammates. Besides running into a quality opponent and dealing with the emotions of Senior Day, it will be a game in which a BCS opportunity isn't in the balance.

It's been a while since that has happened.

The Irish played the last five games of 2011 - winning four of them - after they had been eliminated from BCS consideration.

"We still have a lot to play for," Martin said. "We play two great teams to finish up the season. Our only focus is to beat BYU.

"You need to remind (the young players about that focus), but our seniors and our leaders do a great job. They realize we have a huge game coming up in a couple weeks and for a lot of us it will be the last time we'll be running out on the field.

"We're going to (have to) play our best football to win. There will be a lot of emotions going on that day.

"It's kind of weird here at Notre Dame, a lot of guys have two Senior Days (Martin was honored last year, then came back for a fifth year). My parents will be out there. It will be a good day."

It will be the culmination of an impressive - and at one time considered unlikely - career with the Irish.

"It exceeded all my expectations," Martin said of his Notre Dame experience. "I was never a Notre Dame fan growing up. The first couple recruiting visits here I wasn't that big of a fan. The care you get here, the education, and the experience you get playing football - with the tradition, the fans, and the guys on the team - is an experience of a lifetime; something I'll never forget."

"The last visit I took, I didn't even see the coaches. I just hung out with the guys. That's the reason I came."

Martin, a two-year captain, took it upon himself to be the example of excellence within the program.

"I hope I showed some of the younger guys, especially on the o-line, what it takes to be a starter; to be a good player," he said. "It takes a certain desire to come out to practice every day and go 100 percent. To be good, you've got to come out and give it your all every day.

"My dad played a huge part (in developing a work ethic), the things he taught and instilled in me since I was little. I really don't know any different. My high school coach is the same way.

"Getting here, I brought it. Then, when (offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand got here, that's pretty much what he pounds every day. It's what he preaches all the time."

He will leave Notre Dame with an entrepreneurship degree. When football's finally done, no telling how many years down the road, Martin will be equipped for the future.

Hard work and desire won't go away once the helmet's hung up.

Success hasn't happened by accident.

Notre Dame's Zack Martin (70) will make his 50th consecutive start when the Irish play BYU next Saturday. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN