Kevin Gorman: Record-breaking defensive end Marcus Martin a Rock star who's not satisfied
Marcus Martin maintains the secret to his success is he's never satisfied.
Not when the Slippery Rock senior defensive end was named PSAC West Defensive Player of the Year three years in a row.
Not when he broke the NCAA Division II records for sacks and tackles for losses, then the NCAA sacks record for all divisions.
Not when he was named winner of the Gene Upshaw Award as D-II lineman of the year Wednesday to join Brandon Fusco, the former Seneca Valley and Slippery Rock star now starting at right guard for the San Francisco 49ers.
And not even when that news was followed an hour later by the announcement that Martin was a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, the D-II equivalent of the Heisman.
“It's surreal,” said Martin, a 6-foot-1, 255-pounder who finished his career with 56 sacks and 92 1⁄2 tackles for loss. “It's cushioning the fact that I've played my last game at Slippery Rock. It's easier for me than the other seniors, who know that football is over for them. It's nice to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all this labor coming in. Every time there's a new award, it feels like the first.”
Speaking of firsts, Martin is the first defensive player in a decade to be a Harlon Hill finalist and the only defensive player of the 10 finalists this year. It's a humbling end to his college career, almost as humbling as how it began.
“When you're young, you have to accept the fact that it's not going to come quick,” Martin said. “It's going to take a lot of hard work and sacrifices. You have to perfect your craft. It would have been easy to get comfortable. I strive for perfection.”
That's where Martin's story only gets better.
The West Mifflin graduate drew D-I attention after leading the Titans to the WPIAL Class AAA final as a senior but needed to redshirt as a freshman when his eligibility was jeopardized by a missing core course. That was Martin's wake-up call, when he realized how much academics and athletics went hand in hand.
“I was one of those kids that didn't give as much effort as I should,” Martin said. “That's one of the turning points for me. Maybe that's why I got overlooked. I came to Slippery Rock and decided I was going to give it all I have. I did have the smarts. I just had to put it together.”
No wonder Slippery Rock coach Shawn Lutz talks about having to pinch himself: Of all the players in the history of college football, the all-time sacks leader is a Western Pennsylvania product who plays for The Rock.
“Everybody talks about the ‘student-athlete,' ” Lutz said. “That's Marcus Martin. It doesn't get any better than him. He accomplished everything you could possibly want as a student-athlete.”
That's why Martin does have a sense of satisfaction when the safety management major talks about his 3.56 GPA and being one of 13 finalists, along with Carnegie Mellon running back Sam Benger, for the William V. Campbell Trophy. It is presented by the National Football Foundation to the “absolute best scholar-athlete in the nation” in honor of the late Homestead philanthropist who was chairman of Intuit and also has the football stadium at Steel Valley dedicated to him. All finalists receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship.
“That's even more personal for me,” said Martin, whose family roots are in Munhall. “I've worked out on the field when nobody was watching so many times that you wouldn't believe it. I'm standing there looking at his name, and a week from now, I'll be looking at a trophy with the same name on it. It all started in the same place that I've started.
“That award is more of a testament of being a man as any award you can get. That's an all-around guy. It's easy to show up on the field and do what you've got to do. It takes a real man to do it when nobody's watching, sacrificing your time for your studies. That's the true testament of what I think the trophy is about, being an all-around gentleman. It feels good to be able to pave the way for all of these small-school guys. They might think they don't have a chance. Younger guys say, ‘You don't know what you're doing for us. You're opening up everybody's eyes.' ”
Martin is anticipating an eye-opening experience Tuesday in New York City, as the Campbell Trophy will be presented at a banquet also honoring a College Football Hall of Fame class that will induct the likes of Marshall Faulk, Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson and one of Martin's idols, Brian Urlacher.
“It's unreal. I have his football cards and limited-edition jerseys. I was messing around and saying I might wear my jersey under my tuxedo and pull my shirt off and have him autograph it,” Martin said with a laugh. “I am going to embrace every single part of it. It means a lot more to a guy like me, from a D-II school. It's something I'll take to the grave. It's memories I'll remember for a lifetime.”
First, Martin has more goals to pursue. His accolades drew automatic invites to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game, where the undersized end hopes to impress NFL scouts.
“My one goal, even today and for the future: I want to have no regrets,” Martin said. “I put in all the hard work I could. There's not a day I wish I'd done something differently, not a practice or a game, even my redshirt. I'm happy the way it happened and how it happened. To have the numbers to back everything up — the numbers don't lie. It means a lot now, but it will mean more when I have kids and want to tell people about my college career. I'm looking forward to that.”
For Marcus Martin, that would be very satisfying.