University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Bishop Chatard High School
It was only fitting that Martin holds the rare distinction of being an Irish two-time captain. After all, he is the longest tenured starter in the history of Notre Dame football, having 52 games of coming out on the field with the first unit. Save for two appearances at right tackle vs. Western Michigan and Pittsburgh during his freshman year, he has been the cornerstone of the front wall at the demanding left tackle position throughout his storied career.
Martin has been "front and center" as the Irish came out of their rebuilding program and their recent success is a direct link to the Bishop Chatard High School recruit arriving on campus. In each of his four seasons in the lineup, Notre Dame won a minimum of eight games. During his time as a starter, they recorded a record of 37-15 (71.15 winning percentage).
His predecessor at left tackle, Paul Duncan, did not have nearly the success that Martin experienced in the trenches. During Duncan's last three seasons starting for the Irish, the team compiled a 16-21 record (43.24%), a period some alumni refer to the "dark ages," as Duncan was part of the few senior classes in school history to end up losing more games than they won.
Martin is the consummate team player and one that takes greater pride in his leadership ability than wondering if he would receive recognition from the media. Yet, the postseason honors have come his way and for good reason – his proven track record as a winner on the field and a leader in the locker room. It is that leadership role that he wears like a true badge of courage.
To appreciate what Martin has become to the Notre Dame program and to the players that surround him is to understand the "heavy load" he carried as a two-year captain. While he does shun the limelight, the media, the professional scouts, the opponents, the coaches and teammates alike recognize that his success on the field leads to victory. The two-time All-American, four-time team Guardian of the Year, the two-time ESPN.com All-Bowl Team selection, are just some of the recent honors bestowed upon him.
With all of those accolades, it was fitting how Martin closed out his career, being named the Most Valuable Player of the 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl. The last time any offensive lineman was named an MVP in a bowl game was Penn State center Jay Huffman, who was the award recipient in the 1959 Liberty Bowl, when the Nittany Lions beat Alabama, 7-0.
That prestigious and rare MVP honor tells you the extent that Martin's playing ability has evolved over the years, but the one "trophy" he is most proud of is the "C" on the side of his jersey, for being captain of the team is the ultimate compliment, at least where Martin is concerned.
What separates Martin from most youngsters is the maturity and work ethic he displays. Scouts liken his presence to that of Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, indeed high praise. Even when the season has yet to begin, Martin takes the captaincy role into his everyday life.
Martin is always looking for a way that he could help his team. Preparing for his senior season last summer, he felt that he needed to be cutting out sweets and soda from his diet. This would cost him 10-15 pounds. But this would make him a more versatile threat, as he could start as a two-way lineman and soak up more knowledge of a game that, by most standards, he seemingly already had mastered.
This was also in fifth or sixth grade, when Martin was hoping to slide under the weight limit for defensive players at St. Matthew in Indianapolis. "I said, 'Hey, let your body do what it needs to do,' " his father, Keith Martin, recalled. "He felt like that was important to him and ultimately the team's success. He took that on himself and said, 'Hey this is what I need to do.' "
Roughly a dozen years have gone by since Martin first embraced the game of football, and all that has happened since is 52 consecutive starts for Notre Dame, where he served as only the 18th two-time captain in program history. He shoved away NFL riches and bypassed the 2013 draft as an early entry to return to a unit that named him its top performer for three years running prior to his final campaign.
For the past four seasons, Martin lined up each day next to his best friend, Chris Watt, and his younger brother, Nick Martin, the Irish's new starting center. In 2013, the Irish enjoyed a 9-4 campaign, thanks to Martin heading up a deeper, more mature front wall group — one that benefited from countless hours of overtime spent chaperoning rookies to and from classes and workouts this summer, an initiative head coach Brian Kelly described by saying: "Doesn't happen. That just does not happen."
Martin is always looking for a way that he could help his team, and once found, will simply go about doing just that. "The best leader I've ever been around is Olin Kreutz from the Bears, and Zack's in that category," said offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, formerly of the NFL, referencing the six-time Pro Bowler. "Zack's in that conversation. Zack brings it every day."
Before the 2013 season, Martin and Watt talked about getting the five-man freshman class of linemen more involved. The fifth-year seniors thought back to their initial semesters on campus, wishing that they could have had the ice broken for them sooner. So following 3:30 p.m. workouts each day, Martin and the rest of the regulars made it a point to stick around the football complex for upward of 90 minutes, waiting to integrate the newcomers trickling in for their 5 p.m. weight-lifting sessions.
The accelerated learning curve paid huge dividends, as several youngsters, like Steve Elmer and redshirt freshman Ronnie Stanley have had to step up and join the first team when injuries hit the offensive line. Elmer replaced Watt next to Martin at left guard and Stanley emerged as the bookend tackle on the right side. Following the "lead" of Martin, that unit did an outstanding job, as the eight sacks allowed by that unit ranked as the second fewest total in the nation in 2013.
"Making them as prepared as possible," Martin said. "They're talented, and we know that they're going to have an opportunity to help us, if not this year, then they're going to be the guys in the future. So anything we can help when coach Hiestand can't be there, we'll do." And the senior leaves behind two players in Elmer and Stanley that were taught the "Fighting Irish" way by their captain.
Nick Martin admires the consistent example that Zack sets every day, but he can be forgiven for taking a little longer than most to embrace his brother's demanding ways. The youngest of three Martins — the oldest, 24-year-old Josh, played at Div. II Indianapolis — Nick grew up often bearing the brunt of being the last in line, be it from friends Zack would bring home after school or even from Zack himself.
But 6-foot-4 1/2, 295-pound redshirt sophomore has come a long way since the days of Zack mercilessly unleashing "the typewriter" on him without fair warning. (Picture one person pinning another down while repeatedly poking him in the chest.) Nick, whose growth spurt did not come until his junior year of high school — two years later than Zack — spent his first two years at Notre Dame working all over the line in a reserve role before emerging as the Irish's top option at center this past spring.
The two are now separated by a mere 13 pounds. (Nick is actually a half-inch taller.) Strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo said that when watching the offensive linemen run this summer, he saw "610 pounds of Martins running 15 yards in front of anybody else side by side." "Very similar," Longo said of the brothers. "Obviously there's not much of a difference between the two; that's a good thing, because that means we'll have another Martin for an extra two years."
Watt and Zack Martin have lived together throughout college, with Nick often hanging at their apartment to make it a family affair. Keith Martin joked that Nick is the little brother that Watt never had. The camaraderie played a large role in tugging Zack Martin back for his fifth and final year. "You could tell inside, in his gut, he wanted to come back," Nick Martin said, adding, "[He's] been starting with his best friend at left guard the last three years, too. Finishing out with him, playing with me — I think in the end he knew what he wanted to do."
After not playing during his first season at Notre Dame in 2009, Martin was one of four offensive linemen among a total of 11 total Irish players to start all 13 games in 2010. Despite playing on a line that featured veteran center Braxton Cave, guards Chris Stewart and Trevor Robinson, it was Martin who received the Guardian of the Year Award, given annually to the team's top offensive lineman. Martin would capture that honor a record four times before concluding his Notre Dame career.
As a sophomore, Martin's drive blocking skills helped Irish ball carriers average 4.8 yards per tote, as a unit, the best average by a Notre Dame team since 1996. The following year, the junior left tackle received All-American honors, leading a team that just missed out on winning the national title and going undefeated when Alabama handed them their only loss for the 2012 campaign.
Despite the team playing "musical chairs" with their auditions at quarterback and two starters missing on the offensive line, along with struggles by a slew of running backs to establish a true number-one ball carrier, Martin had his finest season in 2013 and was a consensus All-American. He faced seven defensive ends that would go on to receive national honors, but combined, they managed no sacks and just five stops of runners behind the line of scrimmage when matching up vs. the left tackle.
Martin would conclude his college career by playing in the 2014 Senior Bowl. There was some debate whether he would play guard or tackle in the NFL, but during the week-long practices in Mobile, he emerged as the best performer among all offensive linemen in attendance. He was very effective shuffling his feet to square, punch and mirror some of college's premier pass rushers.
While Martin did line up at both guard and tackle, no matter where he played, scouts saw an athlete who routinely stymied the competition with quickness, power and overall technique. He also showed very good ability at keeping his feet underneath him while keeping his pad level low to handle both speed and power.
Martin holds the school career-record by starting 52 consecutive games at Notre Dame…Save for two appearances vs. Pittsburgh and Western Michigan at right tackle in 2010, all of his starting assignments were at left tackle…Became the first player in school annals to win Guardian of the Year honors (team's top offensive lineman) four times…For his career, Martin delivered 47 touchdown-resulting blocks and 416 key blocks/knockdowns.