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A college sports blog from The Oakland Press, dedicated to covering Michigan and Michigan State athletics as well as former Oakland County athletes at other schools.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Finally healthy, U-M's Mike Martin ready to shoulder load on D-line

ANN ARBOR — This offseason, Mike Martin has been asked countless times who’s going to shoulder the load on the defensive line, now that Big Ten and two-time team MVP Brandon Graham has moved on to the NFL.

Every time, the junior nose tackle from Novi Detroit Catholic Central gives a very politically savvy answer, ascribing the unit’s ongoing success to group effort and improved depth.

Privately, though, it’s clear that Martin is just happy that he’ll personally be able to shoulder anything comfortably this fall.

The junior-to-be had offseason surgery on a shoulder that had bothered him since his freshman season, and is now finally pain-free.

“My freshman year, I hurt it initially, and the trainers just thought that if I rehabbed it, got strong, stayed in the weight room, it’d be fine. But every game, it would bother me,” said Martin, who still started all 12 games for the Wolverines a year ago.

“It was to the point where it would affect my tackling ability. If you can’t tackle playing defensive tackle, you know, what are you gonna do? So I was just trying to stick through the pain. I was probably playing at 80 percent some games.”

Something had to be done.

“It was something after the season that we talked about with my family and the trainers, and I took account of what (team physician) Dr. (Bruce) Miller had to say, and he kind of laid it out for me. Pretty much said it’s up to me in the end,” Martin said. “So I felt like it would be good for me to do it, since I felt that it did affect me a great amount last year.”

The surgery cost him all of spring practice, but has paid huge dividends now.

“This year, I feel great — 100 percent ... 110 percent. I feel great, so I’m really excited about this year,” said Martin, admitting he was a bit hesitant when he first stepped back on the field. “It was kind of weird. The first few days of camp, I was kind of like ... not afraid, but kind of like ‘Ah, man, I hope this holds up.’ Because you don’t know. First day of hitting, I was like ‘I haven’t felt it all day yet.’ I was expecting to feel something, but I went to the trainers, and was like, ‘Man, I didn’t feel anything. Woooo. It feels good to play healthy.’ ”

It’s a feeling he really hasn’t had since high school.

A three-sport all-stater in high school at Catholic Central — winning state titles in shot put and wrestling, and the 2007 Gatorade Player of the Year award for Michigan in football — Martin made an immediate impact for U-M, earning freshman All-American honors, leading all U-M freshmen with 20 tackles, adding a pair of sacks.

He contributed 51 tackles, 8.5 for loss, and two sacks last year, as well, but — with the exception of the Wisconsin game — didn’t dominate like his ridiculous weight room numbers would dictate. (Martin was one of the players singled out in the survey of the Big Ten’s top workout warriors, along with center David Molk, for his 505-pound bench press and 700-pound squat.)

Much of that was because he was playing one-armed for the entirety of his sophomore season.

That’ll change, now that the shoulder’s fixed.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez called Martin the team’s most consistent defensive player in camp, and strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis has called him “most impressive physical specimens” he’s ever seen.

“I take pride with coach Barwis, of being in great shape. We ran five 50s after our Beanie Bowl, and the defensive line was making them 15 seconds before our time. We’re in great shape, and I think we’ll be able to go for the long run, during the games,” Martin said. “I’m definitely ready. Last year, I think Brandon Graham played just under 700 plays on the season, and I played six plays less than him. So, you know, I was out there pretty much any time he was out there, and I was used to be out there 60 plays out of a game. So I’m ready for that workload. But I have (backups in) Adam Patterson and Will Campbell that I have great confidence in, that if I need a blow — a breather, they’re going to come in and step up.”

While Martin is plenty gregarious, that’s more how he’ll lead — by example, rather than with his mouth.

“I’m not much of a talker, a who-rah guy. I just go out there and play hard. Every now and then, (I) just talk to guys on the sideline, stuff like that,” said Martin, noting the youngsters on defense — particularly in the secondary — won’t need a pep-talk about how critical their play will be in Saturday’s opener against UConn.

“I think they know that, but I think if I was to say something to them before the game, it would be to calm them down a little bit, because I remember how I was my first game ever here. Emotions are running, and this is a big game, there’s gonna be a lot of people here,” Martin said. “Just get them calmed down a bit. Playing secondary you can’t play as riled up as playing D-line. You’ve gotta calm down a little bit back there.”

Matthew B. Mowery covers colleges for The Oakland Press. E-mail him at and follow him on Twitter



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