Martinez overcomes cancer, walks on to team
Vicky Jacobsen | Thursday, November 21, 2013
Senior defensive lineman Arturo Martinez had only played one year of high school football when he walked into the student section to watch Notre Dame’s first game of the 2010 season. He now admits he didn’t really know that much about football at the time.
But by the end of the 23-12 win over Purdue, Martinez decided he had no interest in watching another game from the student section.
“I got rid of all the rest of my tickets and didn’t go to another game until I made the team. I was like, ‘I’m not going back to the Stadium until I make the team,'” Martinez said. “I just had a passion, I had the drive and everything to try and make the team, and God had my back the whole time.”
Martinez enlisted the help of Darin Thomas, a former strength coach at the University of Richmond who was teaching Contemporary Topics at Notre Dame.
“He actually gave me the strength program that Richmond does, that he used to do when he was the strength coach there. So I got a real strength program, was able to stick to that for a whole school year,” Martinez said. “He would come in on Saturday mornings and train me, and I would run with him. He would bring his kids and everything.”
Although Martinez did not make the initial first cut in the spring of his freshman year, he was called back for camp before the fall of his sophomore year and has been a member of the team ever since.
Martinez says his dedication to the walk-on process stems from a diagnosis of Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma during his freshman year at Belen Jesuit in Miami.
“After that I kind of learned to take advantage of every opportunity, embrace everything,” Martinez said. “I came to Notre Dame and I saw that football was such a big deal, and I decided, ‘I’m healthy now! Full body, I’m just going to go, try my best, try and make the team.'”
Martinez said the news that the tumor on his jaw was cancerous came as a shock to him and his tight-knit family.
“I was a 14-year old kid, and you think, ‘Oh, only old people get cancer, only frail, weak people.’ I was an athlete: basketball, cross-country, baseball up to high school,” Martinez said. “It was a huge hit to my family and to me, because I never felt any side effects, never felt anything and then they did a surgery, found out, told us and bam, we just got thrown into it.”
While his health prevented him from playing football until his senior year of high school, not even cancer kept Martinez away from the basketball court.
“My whole life I was a big basketball player,” Martinez said. “I definitely wish I was better at basketball than I was. I’ll be honest: I wish I could play college basketball, D-I. But it was hard to get a Division I basketball scholarship. Obviously every kid that plays basketball wants that.”
Although Martinez had settled on walking on to the football team as the best way to leave his mark on campus, he’s done a little bit of everything at Notre Dame. His freshman year, he worked at Subway, Burger King and the Huddle and helped deliver mail on the side. Although he’s an accounting major, he also got a job in the Latino Studies office.
“[Working as a] mailman was the most fun; I had a lot of fun with those ladies,” Martinez said. “But when football started I would only work in the spring.”
And now that he’s a resident assistant (RA) in Alumni Hall, Martinez can add “authority figure” to his list of job descriptions.
“The first section meeting, I was introducing myself and I just said, ‘I’m an accounting major. I’m from Miami. I speak Spanish. I’m Cuban.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, and I walked on the team,’ and I kind of said it in the mix, and everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow,'” Martinez said. “But I think they all really like it. They respect it, and I think that helps me help them. They respect what I have to say, because people look up to football players, literally and figuratively.”
Martinez says that some of his best non-football experiences have come from working with Alumni rector Fr. George Rozum.
“He’s just such an awesome guy. I’m just lucky to be an RA working with him, just because he’s taught me so much already and he’s got stories,” Martinez said. “He’s been a rector for 36 years; he’s got so many stories about college guys just doing stupid things. And he knows, he’s a very smart and wise individual.”
His favorite football-related memory, unsurprisingly, came during Notre Dame’s trip to Miami, Martinez’s hometown, for the BCS National Championship Game in January. The Sunday before the game, the “Miami Herald” published a front-page story about Martinez’s journey from a cancer diagnosis to a spot on a national title-contending team.
“I know my mom and dad were extremely proud, because that was the front page of the ‘Miami Herald,’ so that made it all worth it,” Martinez said. “It kind of connected everything, and I realized why I put up with all the things I put up with on a daily basis. So that kind of put it together.”
Contact Vicky Jacobsen at [email protected]