Zack Martin will play and start his 50th game next Saturday vs. Brigham Young. Blessed with good health, he'll play his 51st thereafter in Palo Alto, a program record. A 52nd will be notched during bowl season which means no future Notre Dame player can break the mark without playing in the newly created Final Four championship playoff -- while likewise not missing a contest or bowl game through four seasons on the field of play.
The team's best offensive lineman since he first stepped between the lines vs. Purdue for Kelly's debut game in 2010, Martin will leave more than records in his wake.
He'll leave a legacy of work ethic and an approach to emulate.
"He's just been terrific," said Kelly of his two-time captain. "He's a model in that offensive line room, 'This is how you do it.' That offensive line room has the groundwork set for years and year and years in terms of practice and how to do things. Martin has kind of set that. For that, he'll always have a legacy here, in my eyes, as to how offensive line play will grow here at Notre Dame."
From Unimpressed to Irish for LifeA 2009 four-star prospect from Indianapolis Bishop Chatard High School, Martin wasn't exactly born bleeding blue and gold. Until late in his 17th year of life, the kid that became one of Notre Dame's 18 two-time team captains cared little about the Irish football program.
"This place exceeded all my expectations, I was never a Notre Dame fan growing up," said Martin of his recruitment by former head coach Charlie Weis. "The first couple visits I took here I wasn't that big of a fan, actually. (But) the care you get here, your education and experience you get playing football, the tradition and fans and the guys on the team really make it an experience of a lifetime.
"It's something you'll never forget."
It's something he almost never experienced.
"The last visit I took, I didn't really see any coaches, just hung out with the guys and that was the reason I came."
He's since won more games, 35 and counting, than any Notre Dame enrollee since the 1992 freshmen class (36). Martin's goal is win No. 36, 37, and with a bowl game ensured, 38 thereafter, a possibility most of the Irish faithful have all but abandoned after a sobering upset loss in the Steel City.
"Stick together as a team," said Martin of his message to the squad. "We still have a lot to play for with two great teams to finish up the season. It's far from over and right now the focus is BYU. We have a huge game coming up, and for a lot of us, it'll be the last time we're running out on that (Notre Dame Stadium) field.
"There are a lot of emotions going on that day. Last year was a little different because I was pretty sure what I was going to do," said Martin of his decision to return for a year of graduate school rather than entering the 2013 NFL Draft. "It's kind of weird here at Notre Dame because you can have two senior days, that's a little different. My parents will be out there, it'll be a good day."
Only One WayMartin broke into Kelly's starting front five by the mid-point of the coach's first spring practice session. A redshirt-freshman-to-be, Martin beat out senior Matt Romine for the position and never looked back.
A second team All-American in 2012, Martin's approach over the last few seasons will be evident long after he's gone.
"I just hope I showed some of the younger guys and the guys on the O-Line especially what it takes to be a starter, a good player," he said. "It's a certain desire to come out and to practice every day, go 100 percent. We have a lot of examples on this team and they do a great job too. To be good, you have to come out and give it your all every day. I hope I left that for the offensive line and the rest of the team."
It was easy for Martin, he's never known another way.
"My dad (Keith) played a huge part. The things he instilled in me from when I was little. I really don't know any differently. My high school coach (Vince Lorenzano) was the same way. Once (offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand got here, that's pretty much what he pounds home every day. I was very used to it when he came in and that's what he preaches.
"You can be goofing around, you can be doing your own thing, but when it's your turn to take a drill, your turn to take a rep, you're 100 percent focused, you're doing your job, and you do it 100 percent right there.
"It's not 100 percent serious all the time, but when your number is called, it's time to go."
From the beginning, Martin never stopped.