Zack Martin has no qualms about assuming extra responsibilities, a trait that led to the fifth-year senior becoming just the 18th player in program history to be named captain twice.
Fifth-year senior Zack Martin (center) enters his fifth season as the undisputed leader of the unit.
After a full season of captaincy and a trip to the BCS National Championship Game, it might have been easy to rest on a previous year’s laurels. Martin did just the opposite — he elevated his game and his leadership to another level during the offseason.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly praised Martin for his physical attributes at Thursday’s Media Day, but said it was the left tackle’s leadership that struck him the most since last season ended. A successful offensive line requires cohesion and the rhythm of its own collective heartbeat, and Martin not only took the initiative with elevating the starting unit’s familiarity with each other, but also in introducing the freshmen to the program.
“I think we measure greatness in so many different ways but I think one of those areas is to up the game of the others around you,” Kelly said. “I think his ability to bring the play of the line around him to a higher level (made a difference). The stories that I’ve heard are absolutely incredible.
“As a unit the starting offensive line would stay together driven by Zack to wait for the freshmen to get out of class this summer. The workouts do not coincide. … Zack would keep the vets around for upwards of an hour or an hour and a half so they could work out together. That doesn’t happen. That just does not happen. Because of him, he’s been able to up the play of all of our younger players exponentially. He’s made others around him better.”
While the offensive line will receive a cameo appearance from freshmen here and there, the bulk of their contributions will arrive in future years, when Martin is no longer wearing an Irish uniform. That didn’t stop him from participating in the extra workouts with the freshmen to expedite their development.
“We had five new guys coming in and I know five new guys that are really talented,” Martin said. “Any extra that me and Chris (Watt) and some of the older guys could give to them when Coach (Harry) Hiestand obviously wasn’t able to help them, you can definitely tell they were more prepared than they would’ve been. Trying to catch them up a bit was what we were working for.”
What resulted was a summer that Martin called the best for any offensive line unit during his time at Notre Dame, which should not only benefit the fresh faces, but also the starting unit. As the stronghold of the offensive line as the left tackle, Martin and left guard Chris Watt formed a dominating duo that created the majority of holes for Irish running backs in 2012.
A primary focus heading into this campaign involved creating balance along the offensive line, which is no easy task, considering two of the five starters are new and another — Christian Lombard — will likely start at a different position in 2013.
“The right side has done a great job and we’ve had a bunch of different guys playing there and they bought into what Coach Hiestand is teaching and what we’re looking for. We’re looking for the best five guys and they’ve definitely taken a big step this camp.”
The Irish program itself took a big step last season, and if it remains among college football’s elite, much of the success will be due to the two-time captain’s example.