"He came out for the team as a freshman and it was actually his first year playing football," recalled La Salle head coach Tom Grippa in an interview this week with IT. "And he didn't even start early. He started after the first game. So it was September before he even started playing. They had already been practicing three weeks and played a game. Starting off he didn't know what he was doing. He was just a big kid who ran around. He didn't make a lot of plays. He didn't know how."
Martin showed his inexperience while running around as a raw rookie, but he also displayed his athletic ability and his impressive speed.
"His sophomore year we said with his athletic talent and speed we needed to at least give him a chance to start on the defensive line," Grippa said. Low and behold he took to it like a duck to water. He did all the things that you need as far as speed and talent. What he showed that surprised us was he was pretty tough. Being in only his second year of football he was willing to mix it up and be physical. When they ran right at him he was good. He was shedding 300-pound blockers and he was weighing about 200 pounds."
That set the stage for Martin's breakout junior campaign in which he recorded 71 tackles with 15 sacks playing defensive end.
"His junior year he blossomed into a stud player," Grippa said. "One-on-one he was one of the best players in Ohio."
The better Ben Martin got the more attention he drew which, in turn, led to another position change.
"This year we did move him from defensive end to inside linebacker because we had changed from a 4-3 to a 50-defense," Grippa explained. "So we moved him to his feet because what was happening the last half of his junior year is that everybody was just running away from him. And they were cutting him. In fact we were playing Louisville Butler and they had some crummy guy who cut him and sprained his ankle trying to keep Ben from making a tackle. For three weeks he wasn't playing 100 percent."
Martin was indispensable to the Lancers' defense and shifting him to linebacker helped free him up to purse the football and wreak havoc.
"We were looking at our team this time last year and I said you know if Ben is going to impact our defense why don't we try him on his feet," Grippa said. "If you've ever seen him play basketball you know he's athletic and can run really well. We tried him at linebacker this year. He wasn't a natural inside reader. But at the outside backer he got to play like he would if he was in the three-point stance over a tackle and he played really well, had a great year. Now he's one of the best players in the country.
Martin posted over 100 tackles with eight sacks as a senior, earning All-American honors. He bench presses 325 pounds and squats 450 which are respectable totals for someone with limited strength training. He has run a 4.6 flat in the 40 and routinely turns a 4.65. He needs to add weight but he's already heavier at his age than a famous former Vol.
"I think Tennessee likes him as a weak -side defensive end," Grippa said. "They told us he's bigger than Leonard Little was when he played there. And he'll end up being bigger than him. That's saying a lot. "
Martin is an excellent student and is off the charts when it comes to the character and leadership skills.
"Tennessee is lucky," Grippa commented. "They've got a real jewel. If Ben plays four years he'll be a captain his fourth year. He's that kind of kid. He'll be an asset for Tennessee like Tennessee will be an asset for him."
Having Martin on the edge is like money in the bank.