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Football

Nick Martin follows in brother’s footsteps as captain

| Thursday, November 20, 2014

09062014, Michigan vs. Notre Dame, Martin, Caroline GencoCaroline Genco | The Observer
For most of their childhood, senior offensive lineman Nick Martin and his brother Zack just couldn’t get along. They bickered and fought constantly, with Zack often getting the better of his little brother.

“I hated him,” Nick joked. “Well, no, I never hated him. We definitely fought a lot when we were younger though.”

Things changed quickly, however, when Nick joined Zack on the offensive line of Bishop Chatard High School’s football team in Indianapolis. Through football, the brothers found common ground and became so close that when Zack left for Notre Dame, Nick followed two years later.

“We don’t have [a sibling rivalry],” Nick said. “The day I started playing high school football it really just clicked. … He’s why I came here.”

Together, Nick and Zack helped anchor the offensive line for the Irish in 2013, starting the first 11 games of the season at center and left tackle, respectively.

Nowadays, things have changed. Zack departed Notre Dame at the end of last season and was picked in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, where he now starts at right guard.

“It’s definitely weird, not having him around,” Nick said. “But it’s also great. He’s doing great things. I’m proud of him. I knew the whole time how good he was.”

Meanwhile, Nick has stepped up, not only to fill his brother’s spot in the lineup, but also to take on a leadership role for an offensive line that lost three of last year’s starters and went through a midseason shuffle that changed almost everyone’s role along the line.

That leadership role for the offensive line expanded at the beginning of the season when Irish head coach Brian Kelly announced that Martin would serve as one of the team’s four captains.

“During summer practices, I just sort of became the leader of the O-line,” Martin said. “[I] just started running drills, and that snowballed into me becoming a captain and a leader for the whole team.”

Three games into the 2014 campaign, Kelly overhauled the line, which had allowed six sacks, including four to Purdue on Sept. 13. He shuffled four players into new positions and brought in a new center while Martin switched to left guard.

While the move was difficult for Martin, it is something he said he has learned to take in stride. After sitting out his freshman season, the 6-foot-4, 295-pounder spent his sophomore year mostly playing special teams while backing up the tackle positions. A year later, he shifted to starting center for the first time in his career.

“It’s actually a great experience,” Martin said. “You want to able to play as many positions as possible. I had never played center before last year … and I fell in love with it immediately. But you’ve got to move around. You’ve got to put what’s best for the team first, and I’m playing guard, and I’m starting to get the hang of that. So it’s nice to play multiple positions.”

The Irish have also had to acclimate to the return of senior Everett Golson to the quarterback role. While Golson missed the 2013 season, the offensive line worked with the now-graduated Tommy Rees, who tended to stay in the pocket, Martin said.

“It’s definitely different,” he said. “They each have their strengths, and we just need to adapt to them. The biggest difference is the play extension. You’re blocking all seven, your man takes off and gets behind you, Everett is going to extend the play. You just block for him, because he’s going to make a big play.”

Despite the numerous changes, the line remains close as a unit, Martin said.

“We’re the tightest group on the team,” he said. “We’re always with each other and doing stuff together inside of football, outside of football, whatever. A lot of food is involved. I live in a house with [senior offensive linemen Matt Hegarty and Conor Hanratty], and we’re always bringing over the younger guys and just hanging out, barbecuing, really anything.”

Most of Martin’s leadership style comes from what he learned from Zack when he was an underclassman adjusting to college life, he said. Apart from helping him adapt to the speed of college football, Zack also provided Nick with an example of the strong friendships the team can build, he said.

“Just going off to college and having family there made the transition unbelievable,” Nick said. “I became friends with all of his friends. … Leadership-wise, he also taught me a lot of things: consistency, how to lead by example, when to speak up and when not to. [I] just really watched him.”

Together, Nick and Zack are just the second pair of brothers to both be named captains in program history. That, combined with the year they spent starting together, is an experience Nick said he still does not fully appreciate yet.

“[Starting alongside him] was unbelievable,” Nick said. “That’s one of those things that probably won’t hit me until we’re older, especially now that I got the chance to be a captain. That, too, probably won’t hit us until we’re older.”

The similarities between Nick and Zack do not end there. With an extra year of eligibility remaining, Nick said he plans to return for another year at Notre Dame. If he is named captain again, he will join Zack in the elite group of two-time captains.

After college, Nick said he plans to once again follow Zack, this time into the NFL. Is another reunion along the same offensive line in the cards for the two?

“That’s the dream.”

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About Greg Hadley

Greg Hadley is a senior from Rockville, Maryland, majoring in political science with a minor in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. He served as The Observer's Editor-in-Chief for the 2015-2016 term and currently covers Notre Dame baseball and women's basketball.

Contact Greg