CULVER — When two-time team captain Zack Martin graduated, Notre Dame lost invaluable leadership and a stalwart presence on the offensive line.
To find someone else to carry the yoke, Brian Kelly didn’t have to look outside of the Martin family.
“I think the strength of the offensive line is in the pack. It's the group. But the one guy is the guy with the same last name,” Notre Dame’s head coach said Friday. “So it hasn't gone very far. Nick Martin is the leader of that group, all right, it's pretty clear.”
It’s high praise for someone who, one year ago, had never started in a college football game and had never snapped a ball before spring camp last year. But after observing Nick Martin at center last season, Kelly sees the same cool-headed consistency he saw in Martin’s older brother.
“That’s one of the best compliments you can have in football — consistency,” he said. “It’s no matter what happens, no matter what circumstances, he’s going to get the job done.”
Martin started 11 games at center last season before tearing his MCL in the home finale against BYU. The six-month recovery process kept Martin out of spring ball, too.
Monday, Aug. 4, marked both the opening day of Notre Dame fall camp and Martin’s first time anchoring the offensive line since November. During 11-on-11 scrimmage, Martin uncharacteristically fumbled the opening snap.
“Hey, hey, I’ve been out for a while,” he said when a reporter mentioned the snap. “It happens. It’s football. You take 1,000 reps and get it right.”
Leadership comes naturally to Martin, who incubated behind his older brother, Chris Watt and Braxston Cave. After three years of prepping behind what Martin called “the rocks of the O-line,” he is ready to take the reins.
“You’ve got to take the opportunity to learn from them,” he said. “You got to step up when it’s your time, but with guys like that, that’s what you have to do. You have to learn from them.”
“A lot of that has been passed on from Zack,” Kelly said. “That's why I consider him one of the great captains of my career, because he passed on so much of that and they are just following from a lot of what he passed on.”
Part of Nick Martin’s leadership qualities may come from a shared last name, but another part of it comes from a desire to be great.
“It’s a pride thing. When you get a limit or something put in front of you, you want to exceed it,” Martin said. “You want to get to it and go past it.”