Oct. 19, 2012
By Joe Wirth
Football runs in the blood of the Martin family; not only is senior co-captain Zack Martin a star for the University of Notre Dame offensive line, but his father, Keith, played at the University of Kentucky, while his younger brother, Nick, is a sophomore for the Irish and hopes to one day follow in his older brother's footsteps.
Martin began playing football at a very young age and has been motivated by his family throughout his career.
"I started playing football in the third grade," Martin says. "My dad played football in college and I just came from a football family. I have had brothers and cousins play - everyone plays football in my family."
Although football has been influential in the Martin household, an appreciation for learning and academics are also key to the family's values.
While a standout on the gridiron for the Wildcats, Keith Martin also excelled in the classroom. The elder Martin was not only a 1982 Academic All-SEC pick, but also received an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. He has always stressed the importance of academics to his sons, including Zack, who is currently enrolled in the Mendoza College of Business, majoring in management entrepreneurship.
"My dad has always been pushing me through my whole life to be successful, not only on the field, but off the field as well," Martin says. "He expects me to give my best in the classroom and he is always impressing on me to keep my grades up. He provides that extra motivation."
Martin grew up in Indianapolis and attended Bishop Chatard High School. His scholastic career was filled with outstanding individual accomplishments, but Chatard's back-to-back Indiana Class 3A state titles during his sophomore and junior seasons left a much stronger mark on his future with the Irish.
Many on the Notre Dame roster have experienced similar successes in high school, and Martin believes the expectation of winning and success is beginning to manifest itself on the field.
"Like many guys on this team, I know how to win," he says. "And like a lot of guys who played high school football and won state championships, they know how to win. We have a group of guys on this team who have won before and it is translating into winning this year."
Martin's individual accolades in high school included being named first-team all-state in 2008 by the Indianapolis Star and Associated Press. He also was rated 110th in the ESPNU150, as well as the 10th-best offensive tackle in the country, according to ESPN.
Martin had offers from a who's who of the top programs across the country, but his decision eventually came down to Notre Dame and one of its long-standing rivals, Michigan.
"Coming out of high school it really came down to choosing between Notre Dame and Michigan," Martin says. "The people at Notre Dame really set it apart. I came up and visited when Braxston [Cave] and Mike [Golic Jr.] were freshman. I was able to hang out with them, and those guys really helped me make my decision."
After not playing as a freshman in 2009, Martin experienced some anxious moments following the departure of head coach Charlie Weis, who had recruited him to Notre Dame.
Despite the change, Martin remained dedicated and loyal; his commitment to his school and teammates never wavered.
"I never considered leaving, the thought never crossed my mind," Martin says. "I did not come here for a coach, I came here for the school and the people."
Along with fellow seniors Manti Te'o, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Tyler Eifert, Martin is one of four captains on this year's team.
In previous years, head coach Brian Kelly would alternate captains by week, but this year he decided to designate captains for the whole season. It is a testament to the leadership of those four men.
It is an honor that Martin does not take lightly.
"I feel it is a great honor and a great responsibility to be a captain on this team," Martin says. "I am very excited that the coaches think of me as a leader. I am doing my best, along with the three other captains, to lead the team."
With a young quarterback at the reigns in sophomore Everett Golson, one may think Martin has to take on extra responsibility as a leader and take command of the offensive huddle, but that has not been the case. Golson's leadership ability is unquestioned as he continues to learn and get better each week.
"Through camp and through the first couple of weeks of the season, Everett has been growing every week," Martin says. "I definitely have seen him become more of a leader and I just try to do my job."
A unique aspect to the Martin family story is that Zack's younger brother, Nick, also is a member of the Irish offensive line. Zack enjoys having a family member so close. It is a unique opportunity for the brothers to get the most out of one another.
"It is great playing with him and having him here every day," Martin says. "It is nice having a family member with me here at Notre Dame. It's even more special that Nick plays football. It's a unique opportunity for both of us. I just love having him here."
Although both Martin brothers currently stand 6-4 and weigh more than 290 pounds, it hasn't always been the case that both have been similar in size. Growing up, it was always Zack who had the size advantage so the skirmishes were few and far between. But, once the younger Martin started to grow, the battles ensued.
Martin has started 32 consecutive games for Notre Dame -- every outing since the start of the 2010 season. He has captured Notre Dame's Guardian of the Year award each of the last two years as the top Irish offensive lineman.
Martin has certainly left his mark on the football program. But as he is quick to point out, he and his teammates are far from done this year.
"I want to be remembered as a guy that came to work every day, a guy that people respected and a guy that led Notre Dame to a BCS game."
Martin's football bloodlines wouldn't have it any other way.