(MCT) SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Opposition defenses ran stunts and blitzed and the coaches might be a series or two behind, puzzling out the schemes. There were no eyes overhead, no cameras to capture the action. But there was Zack Martin. And when he trotted to the sideline, he reported in detail what he saw, that everyone else could not.
So coaches immediately pursued adjustments. Linemen knew what to do because Martin effectively told them. Thus the St. Matthew Warriors of Indianapolis CYO football solved problems via a player who was no tackle dummy: Zack Martin, who was also about 12 or 13 years old at the time.
“He just had this knack for picking up the little things,” said Keith Martin, Zack’s father, who was a defensive lineman at Kentucky as well as the coach that benefited from his fifth- and sixth-grade son’s wisdom. “He always had that ability to learn not only his position but what the other people around him are supposed to be doing as well.”
Martin is Notre Dame’s best offensive lineman two years running, on his way to a third, a sturdy 304-pound left tackle who thrives on mind games. It may be no accident the Irish run game has hummed when the line’s anchor rarely encounters technical difficulties — or meticulously stamps them out through repetition when he does.
He graded the highest of any lineman in 2011. He has graded the highest, evidently by far, in 2012. He is, basically, a force of nurture.
“He makes sure everything he does is perfect,” Irish center Braxston Cave said. “If he’s not, he does it again. You watch him on film, and it’s kind of the same thing over and over and over. He has his things down to an exact science, and he prides himself on that.”
Cave deemed Martin a “perfectionist.” That’s difficult to believe when viewing the clothes, cups and bottles strewn about the bedroom of a self-confessed “slob.” Aside from a desire to do well in business courses, to recite quotes from movies accurately and to watch every episode of “Sons of Anarchy,” Martin’s stickler streak may not translate everywhere.
But there is no room for football negligence.
Well before high school, Martin sat with his father and assessed hand position and body lean of defensive linemen. And here’s what made Martin work 15 minutes of overtime after a recent practice: He was, incorrectly, swinging his left foot back when defenders looped around him. He wouldn’t move forward until his foot didn’t move back.
“It’s so much more than brute force, that’s for sure,” Martin said. “High school it’s more you can kill the guy in front of you, just run him over. In college, you take a bad first step, you’re fighting to get back into balance.
“You miss with your hands, you’re fighting. There’s a lot more technique and finesse in offensive line play than people think. Sure, there are plays where you get off the ball and try to kill someone, but there’s a lot of technique in it too.”
During preparation for the Oct. 6 Miami game, Martin noticed that when Hurricanes defensive ends had one of their hands down, they often slanted inside. Martin told Irish guard Chris Watt that he would shout an alert when he saw it, so Watt would know what’s coming.
That night, the Irish surrendered zero sacks and ran for 376 yards.
“He has a plan for every play,” Watt said. “Those keys he sees in film — like the defensive ends’ stances, or where the safety is aligned — help him in the game, kind of give him the solutions already to the test.”
The next test — Notre Dame or the NFL — is the next question. General perception is Martin has solid second-round potential, perhaps as an interior lineman. Martin said he’s taking things game by game. Keith Martin adds only that he knows his son “really enjoys college football.”
“I’m a technician, I like to get things right,” Zack Martin said. “But then again if we’re running power, I want to be in there and double-team and knock someone out.”
Not shockingly, Irish coach Brian Kelly said he would welcome Martin back for one more season. The most essential part is knowing, snap after snap, exactly what Notre Dame is going to get.
“One word: Consistency,” Kelly said. “He’s lapping the field. He is that good on a consistent basis.”