Greer Martini defies expectations en route to final Notre Dame home game

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Greer Martini cannot be contained.

Take the back porch, for example. Attached to the second story of the Martini home in Cary, N.C., there is a porch, which connects to the family’s kitchen and living room. Naturally, Doug and Vanessa Martini worried that their relentlessly active 4-year-old son, Greer, would wander out of the house or take a tumble over the edge.

So they added a gate, and the builder confidently concluded, “That kid’s not going to be able to get out of the back porch.”

Guess what happened next.

“He flipped a rope up over the gate and swung down like Tarzan,” Vanessa Martini said with a laugh on Monday. “So we just gave up.”

From then on, Greer Martini was always moving. He played football, basketball and baseball. On Friday nights, Doug — a sports medicine doctor — took his oldest son to the high school football games he worked at and let him stand on the sideline and soak up the scene.

Once the metaphorical gate swung open, Greer took off, and he hasn’t stopped since.

“He truly loved being outside and playing sports,” Vanessa Martini said. “The kids would be inside sometimes playing video games, and he would get bored after about five minutes and be outside shooting baskets.

“Or we had this (baseball) pitch-back (target), and I swear he could pitch the ball into that pitch-back a thousand times. That’s just what he liked to do.”

If it wasn’t football, it was basketball. If it wasn’t basketball, it was baseball.

And what about when Greer quit the baseball team his senior year in high school to enjoy the final few months before enrolling at Notre Dame?

“It was his last free three months,” Vanessa Martini said. “And I swear, he played golf every day.”

***

It started with a sweatshirt.

“Out of the blue when he was in elementary school he asked his grandparents for Christmas to give him a Notre Dame hoodie,” said Vanessa Martini, who still doesn’t entirely understand where that fascination started. “We didn’t know where that came from.”

So, Greer, where did that come from?

“Yeah, I think from an early age I was kind of always intrigued with Notre Dame and the prestige behind it,” the senior linebacker and team captain said on Wednesday.

It didn’t matter that Greer lived in North Carolina, roughly 700 miles from South Bend, and didn’t know another Irish fan in school or in his family. It didn’t matter that his father, Doug, played football at William & Mary and then attended medical school at the University of Virginia, where Vanessa also went.

It didn’t matter. He watched Notre Dame football and wore his green Irish hoodie every Saturday all the same.

So, when Notre Dame offered Greer a scholarship between his sophomore and junior seasons at Woodberry Forest School, where Irish alums C.J. Prosise and Doug Randolph also attended, there wasn’t much of a deliberation.

“He said to us, ‘I’m the luckiest guy,’ ” Vanessa Martini recalled. “ ‘I’m just going to stop (the recruiting process). For me to get to play football at Notre Dame, that’s just what I’m going to do.’ ”

That’s what he’s done. In nearly four seasons at Notre Dame, the 6-foot-4, 236-pound linebacker has collected 169 tackles with 14.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

The finance major in the Mendoza College of Business has played in 47 of 48 possible games.

For his mother, none more memorable than the first.

“He was a freshman and they were playing Rice, and I just couldn’t believe it. I could not believe that my son was out there,” Vanessa Martini said.

“There is nothing like seeing your son step on the field at Notre Dame. There just isn’t. I’m just a big crybaby, so there is absolutely nothing like that.”

***

His first game may have been against Rice, but Greer Martini’s first start came against Navy.

Labeled an “option specialist,” he made his name against Navy. And his last game inside Notre Dame Stadium, of course, will be played against — who else? — Navy (6-3).

The irony is not lost on Martini.

“It's always been kind of a big game for me,” Martini said. “That's kind of what I did my first couple years was play the triple option. So it's definitely fitting, I think.”

But now, same as then, Greer Martini cannot be contained. He can’t be trapped in a box, or on a porch, or with a label.

He’s an option specialist, sure. But he has evolved into so much more.

“I think, when you talk about captains, one of the dynamics that you're looking for is selflessness, and here's a guy that plays on all of our special teams,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said.

“One of the things we want to instill in our players is the ability to not just play on your own defensive unit, but how you can do anything and any job to help your football team, and that's been Greer.”

In his senior season, while rotating at the buck linebacker position with junior Te’von Coney, Martini has started five of nine games and contributed 53 tackles, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception for No. 9 Notre Dame (8-2). He tore his meniscus during a bye week practice, then missed just one game before returning in an Oct. 28 victory over N.C. State.

When Greer plays his final home game on Saturday, his parents will be there. His sister, Grace, and his brothers, Cole and Jack, will be there. His uncle, Sonny Lim, will fly from his home in Switzerland to be there.

And if they need to bundle up, he’s got the perfect thing.

“I think I still have it at my house,” Martini said of the green Notre Dame hoodie. “It just goes to show that I've always loved this place. I still love this place.

“It's going to be really emotional for me after this game to walk off that field.”

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mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’ linebacker Greer Martini (48) celebrates forcing a fumble during ND's 38-18 victory over Michigan State, Saturday at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)