"He doesn't say much, but then there are times before a game (they) are banging heads against each other as hard as they can for 10 or 15 minutes, and I don't know why," Gerhart said during the 2009 season of Martin.
Just as Martin matured from a wild young buck to one of the nation's best offensive interior players, it's indeed important to keep the theme of humble beginnings in mind when discussing him and the three other former Cardinal stars who were picked in the NFL Draft's first two rounds.
There are four more pillars added to Stanford's resurgent foundation. Now, contrast this newfound stability with where the program stood when the quartet was being recruited to The Farm.
It wasn't that long ago that the idea of reaching consecutive BCS bowl games, producing Heisman Trophy runners-up in three consecutive years, or filling its home stadium to 97 percent capacity throughout a season seemed like absurd fantasy for the Cardinal.
Landmark recruiting classes from both 2008 (which included David DeCastro, Andrew Luck and the aforementioned Martin) helped break down barriers and reach those previously unheard of milestones. And it would be a specific member of the 2007 class who arrived just in time for the program to hit a new low.
Talk about an awkward intro. Stanford didn't even have a head coach – Walt Harris had just been shown the door – when Coby Fleener arrived from Illinois to make his official visit in December of 2006. Tara VanDerveer hosted his campus tour. And though the ranks included Owen Marecic and Matt Masifilo, very little was expected of the incoming freshmen who arrived on The Farm alongside Jim Harbaugh.
But just as the 2007 season saw the Cardinal improve from 1-11 to 4-8, something special was also taking shape on the practice field. The rookies who formed the scout team were busy making their veteran teammates take notice in a big way. Among the neophytes was Fleener, who turned heads at wide receiver while typically being the last player to leave the practice field.
"The guy has been consistently one of the best playmakers on the scout team this year," center Tim Mattran said of Fleener, days before Stanford ended Cal's five-year ownership of the Axe with a win in the 2007 Big Game. "I can't wait to see if he can carry that over into the Saturday games."
Mark Bradford took it a few steps further. He saw future: "Coby Fleener will be the man."
With youth, of course, comes mistakes, and even this group wasn't immune to errors. The 2009 loss at Wake Forest featured a pair of costly DeCastro holding penalties, one of which wiped out a 39-yard touchdown toss to Chris Owusu. The same game saw Luck throw his first career interception, an errant spiral he naturally took the high road in explaining. "It was a foolish, immature throw by me," he said.
Yet the tide turned in a hurry. DeCastro and Martin cleared a path that nearly led Gerhart to the Heisman Trophy. Luck drew comparisons to John Elway that only grew with time. Stanford had been known for producing top-flight tight ends since the days of Bill McColl, but nobody had ever seen a skill set like the one Fleener owned.
Here's to their bright futures, but also their modest beginnings. It's all worth celebrating. Or maybe even head-banging.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!