Whitworth football coach John Tully was wrapping up his comments during an interview about Brandon Martin when he perhaps inadvertently summarized the senior defensive tackle’s four years in the program.
“He makes coaching fun,” Tully said. “He makes coaching fun.”
That’s one of those all-encompassing statements that coaches – fortunate ones, at least – are able to make when they’ve truly enjoyed being part of an athlete’s maturation as a player, leader, teammate, student and person.
Martin has that effect on those around him.
Ask defensive line coach Dave Pomante about Martin and he will relay stories of the 5-foot-11, 250-pounder running down a ballcarrier near the sideline, a rarity for a nose guard. Pomante will eagerly discuss Martin’s physical improvement, dropping 10 or so pounds last summer to boost his explosiveness and play-making ability while maintaining his strength. The assistant coach applauds Martin for sustaining his effort level down after down.
“What I remember most about him is, yeah, when you watched him on film he was a very good linebacker and we really wanted him, but more so it was his personality,” Pomante said. “He had a dynamic smile on his face, very personable. You want the good football player, but you want the whole person.”
Martin wasn’t quite sure what he wanted as his standout high school career was winding down in Sweet Home, Ore. He lived about a half hour’s drive from Corvallis and Oregon State University, less than an hour from Eugene and the University of Oregon.
He wanted to play major college football and considered walking on at OSU. Instead, he ended up attending Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Ore. The school was fine, but the absence of football left a void he had to fill.
“I knew I could play, so I did my own little recruiting things,” Martin said. “I e-mailed the coaches at Linfield and Whitworth. Coach Tully got back to me sooner.”
Martin arrived as a middle linebacker, a position where he earned Oregon 3A defensive player of the year honors. Within a couple of weeks, he was on the Pirates’ defensive line.
“I think it was (defensive coordinator Kirk) Westre who broke the news to me,” Martin said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know how to do it, but I want to play, so I’ll do it.’ ”
He’s been a fixture for the last four years. He was part of a three-man tackle rotation as a freshman on Whitworth’s 11-1 team that lost in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. He was first-team All-Northwest Conference in 2007 and 2008 with a combined 5.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
Through five games this season for the Pirates, who entertain Linfield on Saturday at the Pine Bowl, Martin has 1.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two pass breakups. He was double-teamed quite a bit as a sophomore and junior, but opponents have dedicated two blockers on him more often this season.
“When people see our films, they are really aware of who he is and what he brings to the defense,” Tully said.
Martin enjoys being in the middle of the action, even though it takes a physical toll.
“It’s smash-mouth football every play,” he said. “At linebacker you’re able to read and see the play develop. On the line, your nose is in there and you’re trying to clog the right holes for the linebackers to make plays.”
Martin will be the first member of his immediate family to earn a college degree. He wasn’t sure he could afford Whitworth, but he’s managed with academic scholarships, financial aid and work study. His major is business management, but he’s not sure where it will lead him.
“I have a bunch of different ideas,” he said, suggesting that coaching football is one possibility.
He has another consideration, too. Martin is dating Pomante’s daughter, Leah, a point guard on Whitworth’s basketball team.
“Brandon was very up front about it,” Pomante said. “He came in and said he just wanted me to know, which was a very good move on his part. I told him that I want him to remember she’s precious merchandise, and you are, too. I’ve always like Brandon as a player and person, so I was quite all right with it. My wife loves Brandon and she’s a very good judge of people.”