Notre Dame football counts on another Martin

COMMENTARY

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

CULVER, Ind. — Forgive the roller. That’s all about rust.

It’s been a while.

One hundred minutes into Notre Dame’s first preseason football practice Monday, it was finally time for an 11-on-11 experience. Team activity, good vs. good: Full speed, though very limited contact.

For the first time since Nov. 23 — the BYU game, when he was injured — Nick Martin made a “pistol” snap with relatively live bullets around him. The feeble attempt didn’t make it off the ground, bounced a couple times, and finally rolled to a stop nowhere near quarterback Everett Golson, the in-tended target.

Whistles blew, stopping the play before it started. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s loud objections directed toward Martin were unmistakable.

“I’d been out for a while; it happens; it’s football, you know,” said Martin, able to laugh about it nearly 15 minutes after the fact. “Take a thousand reps, snap after practice, and get it right.”

Martin, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound redshirt junior center didn’t let that one miserable moment spoil his day. Above all else, he was back in his comfort zone — on the field and in the midst of his best friends.

A far cry from where he was on Nov. 23.

Early in the BYU game, Martin was part of a late-season rash of injuries along the offensive line. He went down with what was diagnosed as a medial collateral ligament tear and chipped cartilage in the left patella.

Surgery put him on the shelf, in terms of actual football activity, until Monday.

“It’s tough, when you have a passion for the game. Sitting out, it’s not easy,” said Martin, who was nothing more than an interested cheerleader during the spring. “You have to stay involved; not necessarily on the field, but in meetings, in the film room. You have to keep pumping those guys up as much as you can.”

The injury didn’t have an impact on that area of Martin’s role with the Irish. Besides being an integral part of a unit that needs to improve on its 406 yards and 27 points a game from last year, he assumes the job of leader of the pack from his brother Zack.

“The strength of the offensive line is in the pack,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly. “It’s the group. But the one guy (who will be the leader replacing Zack Martin) is the guy with the same last name. (That) hasn’t gone very far.

“Nick Martin is the leader of that group. It’s pretty clear.”

It’s more than just the name. Leadership doesn’t happen by heritage. It’s not genetic.

A sharp guy, while earning his stripes through the program, Nick Martin knew when to speak and went to sit back and lis-ten.

“I learned my leadership from (Zack), along with my other brother, Josh, and my dad,” Nick said. “When you’ve got a leader like that doing everything right all the time, you’d be dumb not to learn from it.

“The biggest thing (that Zack had) was consistency. No matter what circumstances, what happened, he was going to get his job done.”

That’s where that roller doesn’t fit in.

“We have very similar personalities,” said Nick, comparing him and his brother. “We were raised in a house of three boys. We got along, then we wouldn’t get along; but we were brought up the same way.

“When you have guys like Zack Martin and Chris Watt in your position group — starting three, four years — and being that rock on the o-line, you’ve gotta take that opportunity to learn from them. You’ve gotta step up when it’s your time, but when you’ve got guys like that, all you can do is learn from them.”

Nick’s mandate this season, now that it’s his time, will be to get his group in high gear. Kelly insists this year’s offense, with either Golson or Malik Zaire at the controls, is going to feature an up-tempo approach that could put defenses on their heels. A fast-paced at-tack can be as taxing on an offensive line as it can be on a defense.

“You’ve gotta come in in condition,” Mar-tin said. “Kelly likes to get things going. Our practices are always so fast-paced, which is great. You’ve gotta be in shape.”

It’s up to Martin to make sure his guys are up to the challenge.

“When you get a limit set in front of you, you want to exceed it,” Martin said. “Get to it and go past it. It’s a passion for the game. It’s a love for it.”

Take the game away for about eight months and see how the passion lights up a guy.

Even a roller won’t spoil his day.

ALesar@SBTinfo.com

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