Nick Martin: Line Leader
Greg Hadley | Friday, October 9, 2015
Nick Martin: the centerpiece of Notre Dame’s offense.
Not sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer, not junior receiver Will Fuller, not even senior running back C.J. Prosise. It’s graduate student center and captain Nick Martin that propels the Irish attack forward.
That’s not Martin’s opinion. It’s what his teammates say.
“He’s the guy that makes it go,” Prosise said of Martin. “Without him, we couldn’t have a well-oiled machine like we do. And just his leadership on the field and what he does for our team has been amazing.”
As Martin goes, so does Notre Dame’s offensive line. And as the O-line goes, so does the Irish offense. Through the first four games of the year, the front five dominated, opening up massive holes for Prosise to run through for 600 yards and six rushing touchdowns and protecting the quarterback to the tune of just five sacks.
With Martin at center and senior Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, the Irish line features what many pundits consider future NFL talent. Add that to one of the best rushing games in the country, and Notre Dame seemed primed to ride the run all season long.
“As an [offensive] lineman we love to run the ball,” Martin said Sept. 30. “We like when we have success. Going back to our running backs, the way they run … it’s unbelievable. Up front, we work our butts off to try and make holes and do our best.”
Then came last weekend’s game against Clemson. In the pouring rain, Martin and the line struggled, allowing four sacks and five other tackles for loss in a 24-22 defeat to the Tigers. Prosise had 50 yards on 15 attempts and was hit at or before the line of scrimmage on 44 percent of his touches, according to ESPN.
Prosise did not blame the line for Notre Dame’s rushing struggles, and Martin said the Irish were bound to experience a setback at some point.
“I can never say our O-line did a bad job in that game. They did everything they could. When you’re running the ball and there’s a safety in the hole that I’m running to every time, it’s hard to block that guy. They’re not accounting for that guy, there’s only five of them,” Prosise said.
“We played this game a long time, and you know you’re not going to be able to rush for 200 yards every game, that’s not reality,” Martin said.
After the game, Martin’s fellow graduate student and captain Joe Schmidt said no one on Notre Dame would smile for the next week. On Wednesday, the linebacker said he was still “livid” over the loss.
Martin was also upset after the loss, saying the Irish were “too good of a team to come down and lose this game.”
But by Tuesday, he said, he had turned his focus to Navy, refusing to let the defeat bother him anymore.
“Yeah, anger, you know,” Martin said of his emotions following the game. “It was definitely not easy to lose. But you win a game, you lose a game. You sit down, watch the film, learn from mistakes. Go on and get ready for Navy.
“[I] definitely have a chip on the shoulder. But I put it to rest after Monday.”
That determination to move on is key to Martin’s leadership style, he said. After five years at Notre Dame, three starting and two as a captain, he has learned to stay level-headed and consistent for his teammates.
“I always look to give the same every day. Whether it’s adversity [or] good times, people have to be able to rely on you to be that same guy,” Martin said. “I try to be the same guy every day.”
Toiling away, Martin has been about as consistent as anybody else on the line this season so far. And that makes him invisible to most fans. Almost always, the only time an offensive lineman’s name is spoken during the game is when he is called for a penalty. So far, Martin has been flagged just twice this year, both for false starts.
But that anonymity doesn’t mean Martin’s teammates don’t recognize his consistent play in the trenches.
“He’s always the same, he’s always out there, the same leader, the same guy every day,” Prosise said. “He’s always encouraging, he’s always motivating. It’s great to have him as the leader of our offense because we can always look to him to be positive and look to him for that leadership. He’s an amazing guy, and I’m glad that’s the guy I get to run behind every day.”
That consistency has helped to put Martin in a small circle of two-time captains for Notre Dame. He and senior defensive lineman Sheldon Day joined that group at the beginning of this season, bringing the total to 21 in program history.
“[It’s a] very special sense of pride,” Martin said of the honor. “It’s probably one of those things that won’t hit you until you leave. Just to represent all those people that came before you, I think, is the biggest thing. You look up on the wall, and you see all those amazing people that came before you, and you represent them.”
One of those people who came before Martin is his older brother, Zack. Another two-time captain, Zack Martin last suited up for the Irish in 2013 and has since become an All-Pro lineman with the Dallas Cowboys.
By watching and playing alongside Zack, Nick grew into his own as a leader, he said. He also developed an appreciation for the consistency of Notre Dame’s offensive line — not only from week to week, but over the span of years.
“It’s about the people that come before you,” Martin said Sept. 30. “The O-lines, having guys like Chris Watt, Zack Martin, Christian Lombard, those guys, and even before that, the O-line at Notre Dame, especially in the ’90s and ever since then, has always been a sense of pride, and we just try to carry that on.”
Carrying on meant weathering a positional shuffle in 2014 after three games, as Martin transitioned from center to left guard. Then, in spring practice this year, he went back to center, even as question of to whom he would snap the ball — Everett Golson or junior Malik Zaire — remained up in the air.
For the most part, Martin and the offensive line has been spared the injury bug that overtook Notre Dame early this season. But they did have to deal with big changes in personnel around them, as Prosise and Kizer took over in the backfield. Still, Martin emphasized consistency when it came to adapting to those changes.
“It’s business as usual. We like to keep things the same up front, we have to prepare the same way, and we gotta play the same way. Doesn’t matter who’s behind us,” Martin said after Kizer took over for the injured Zaire.
Keeping the offensive line humming along is not much of a challenge for Martin. Dating back to the days of his brother, the unit has always been close-knit on and off the field, and as a leader last year, he spent time with the younger lineman talking about life outside football.
But as the only offensive captain this season, Martin has expanded his role in that regard to include other position groups. His consistency and skill on the field, though, are not quite the same in the other pastimes he shares with his teammates.
“I’m not a big video game guy,” Martin said. “ … I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, but we had a league, [and] Will Fuller literally beat me by about 100 points in Madden. So that explains to you how bad I am.”