Notre Dame freshman Greer Martini proving doubters wrong

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

Clint Alexander has heard the knocks, the observations that Greer Martini, his former player at Woodberry Forest (Va.) School and now a freshman linebacker at Notre Dame, wasn't athletic enough, not fast enough to play big-time football.

He's certain, too, that Martini has heard those words.

"And all he does," Alexander said, "is make plays."

Martini spent most of the season listed as the backup to star sophomore Jaylon Smith at Will linebacker, meaning playing time was going to be limited, at best. But when starting Mike linebacker Joe Schmidt was lost for the season in early November because of an ankle injury, Martini began working at that spot as well, finding himself listed as the top backup at both.

Martini actually made his first college start in the game in which Schmidt was injured, the Nov. 1 victory against Navy, Notre Dame's final win of the regular season. Because the Midshipmen run a triple-option offense, coordinator Brian VanGorder devised a defense geared toward stopping the run, and Martini fit that bill, leading the Irish with nine tackles that night.

When Morgan was suspended for the first half of the USC game because of a targeting penalty assessed the previous week, Martini started at MIKE against USC before leaving with an injury. He's expected to play in ND's Dec. 30 Music City Bowl clash with LSU.

Playing time this year will no doubt help down the road, much as it did when Alexander moved Martini to varsity as a freshman at Woodberry Forest. In fact, it was when Martini, a product of Cary, N.C., attended a camp at Woodberry Forest that Alexander saw a diamond.

"I told my wife, if he comes here he'll be the best linebacker I've ever coached," Alexander said.

Watching from a distance, Alexander has seen Martini put to use the lessons learned at Woodberry Forest. In fact, it's been heady play that has helped Martini smooth rough edges.

"If you play smart and you read right, you get faster because you're not taking negative steps," Alexander said. "If you've gotta take two corrective steps, even if you are fast, you're slow. We always talk about don't go till you know, then you don't have to recover. I think that's how he ends up looking like he's playing a little bit faster because he's not blocking himself."

It was early in Martini's high school career — he was moved up to varsity as a freshman so he could learn from a pair of senior linebackers and acclimate himself to the speed of the game — that Alexander saw Martini's commitment.

Fielding a kickoff, Martini had the ball swiped from him.

"And Greer turns and looks at me and he's already crying and he goes, 'Coach, you can pull me off this (kickoff) team,'" Alexander recalled. "It wasn't that he wanted off the field because he failed. He let everybody down. I just loved that he cared that much."

Martini played well enough early in his career that ND jumped on him relatively early. And ending things quickly was just fine for Martini.

"He did not love the recruiting process. Some kids love it. I've had kids that love it. He did not love it. He wanted to find the right fit and be done," Alexander said. "He didn't like all the attention. Once he made the decision he was kind of hunkered down.

"I think people are kind of looking at the next one."

What's next for the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Martini could be a late growth spurt. Alexander offered that Martini's dad played offensive line at William & Mary and that he believes Martini could play effectively at 245 pounds.

"He left here with about seven whiskers on his face," Alexander said. "To be (6-3) and 230 and not have any hair on your face, there's some future."

Notre Dame freshman Greer Martini started two games this season and acclimated himself to college football. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)