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Navy Senior Offensive Lineman Evan Martin: The Leader Of The Pack

Sept. 17, 2017

Catherine Wiley, the mother of Navy senior right guard Evan Martin, discovered a long time ago that her oldest son was a bright, goal-driven kid who was interested in forming long-term plans.

When he was six years old, Martin declared he wanted to be a law enforcement officer – a United States Marshal, that is. When he got older, he pictured himself as a politician doing the right thing for his community. As a seventh grader, he told his mom the ideas of playing college football and serving in the military very much appealed to him.

“Evan was excited after I told him there was a way he could do both,” Wiley recalls.

“Army was actually his first fascination. But by the time he was a sophomore in high school, he was researching his options. He told me he wanted to go to Navy [since] they had a better football team.

“Evan has always been focused,” she adds. “He’s a natural leader and a good decision-maker. I remember him first taking on a leadership role playing football when he was eight. Other kids followed him. He’s all about being part of a team effort.”

As Martin grew in physical stature and as an exceptional student while growing up in the Kansas City, Missouri area, his interests and accomplishments expanded.

Blessed with a fine baritone, Martin sang in concert and chamber choirs and took up the piano. Armed with a curious intellect – and not shy about expressing his opinions – he
went on to earn membership in the National Honor Society.

As a junior and senior at Lee’s Summit West High School, Martin made his marks in track and field and, especially, in football. He was a quick study in the shot put, evidenced by his top-10 finishes in the state meet in each season. He capped his high school days with a fourth-place finish at his final state championship meet.

“[Martin] is not your standard athlete,” says Bob Klausing, Lee Summit West’s track coach, who adds that Martin improved his top throws by more than six feet between his junior and senior seasons. “He struck me right away with his sense of humor and sharp wit and his desire to communicate with people. He has a cerebral mentality.”

Martin’s path to Annapolis became clear at Lee’s Summit West, where he played alongside future Division I offensive linemen Kevin Pendleton (Missouri) and Boe Wilson (Nebraska) and drew all-state recognition as a senior. That dominant line was a key factor in the school’s run to a state championship in 2013.

By that point, Martin had drawn serious Division I interest from Army, Air Force, Iowa State and Toledo. Now, eight months shy of graduating with a degree in political science and being commissioned a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy, Martin, a mobile 6-feet-3, 294 pounds, is the anchor of the line that perennially drives one of the nation’s top rushing attacks.

“The chance to square up with somebody at the point of attack is just fun. It’s like fighting,” Martin says. “When I was younger, I could dominate because I was usually bigger than most linemen I played against. I’d pancake lots of kids and I’d get four or five sacks a game playing nose guard [on defense]. That changes a whole lot at this level.”

Known among the Midshipmen for his fiery temperament as well as his obsessive honing of the technique his position demands in the Mids’ triple-option foundation, Martin is definitely a leader of the pack.

He is big and strong enough to execute one-on-one blocks consistently. He is athletic enough to pull to the left side and be a lead blocker on sweeps. He can back up ably and provide good pass protection for quarterback Zach Abey. And Martin is quick to call out a teammate or point the finger at himself for getting beat by an opposing defender or failing to finish a play properly.

“When Evan gets down on himself, you will hear about it,” senior fullback Chris High says. “Sometimes he’ll be cussing in the huddle. Sometimes, while he is in his stance, he’ll give himself a stern, talking-to. When I think of him, tenacity is the first thing that pops into my mind. He does not get out-worked.

“It’s almost like he’s got dual personalities,” High adds. “He’s very down-to-earth and serious about what is going on in the world, and he’s also a goofy, funny kid who’s always got a good punch line. This guy is a character.”

“[Martin] is the vocal leader of the group and probably the best of the group. Our offense puts the most pressure on the guards,” Navy offensive line coach Ashley Ingram says. “The way Evan comes to work every day, even if he didn’t say a word – and he has plenty to say – the example he sets makes him stand out.”

Martin smiles as he recalls himself as a freshman, trying to grasp Navy’s playbook and scheme, trying to adjust to the military and disciplinary demands and sleep deprivation that try all plebes. To him, just appearing on special teams in the season opener against fifth-ranked (and eventual NCAA champion) Ohio State at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore felt like a huge achievement.

“I remember sitting in the stands [as a plebe at M&T Stadium] that day and thinking, ‘Man, look at Evan out there on that field on the punt team,” recalls senior Parker Wade, now Navy’s starting center.

“We leaned on each other a lot that year, with football and academic struggles. If I was doing a scouting report on Evan, I’d say you’d better be ready to bring it every play against him, because that dude is going to be super-prepared and fanatical. We feed off of his energy.”

In his sophomore season, Martin played a steadier role on Navy’s PAT and field-goal teams and appeared in two games at guard. By last season, Martin was ready to start.

“It kind of hit me last season, when I realized I’ve got a chance to go after and get something I’ve always wanted,” says Martin, reflecting on his first year as a starter.

“I knew I could not take any practice or any moment for granted,” Martin adds. “I played scared last year. I told myself I had to be great at base blocking. If I couldn’t move defensive linemen, I really was scared I wouldn’t be good enough for [the coaches].”

That never came close to happening. Martin started all 14 games and was selected as an all-AAC honorable mention – one of four Navy offensive linemen recognized by the American Athletic Conference. The Mids ranked fourth in rushing offense (310 yards per game) and were tops in the nation in third-down conversion rate (54.5).

Along the way, there were occasional pancakes and lots of technically-sound blocks -- like the kick-out block that sprung High for a long touchdown run in the season-opening rout over Fordham.

There were various illustrations of Martin’s eye-catching quickness, like the time High remembers Martin sprinting downfield to find another defender to block – and passing several Mids – during a long pass completion in a victory over Memphis. And there were plenty of examples of those high-strung Martin moments.

“Evan is one of the best guards we’ve had in a while. He moves as well at 295 as some guys we’ve had at 265. He really knows the game,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo says. “He sets the standard for the way offensive linemen should practice here. I never have to worry about him going hard.

“His relentless effort level allowed him to overcome the learning curve as a younger player,” Niumatalolo adds. “I used to pass by the offensive line room when he was a freshman and see him alone by the computer, watching tape. He’s not afraid to speak his mind or wear his emotions on his sleeve. Besides being a heck of a player, he’s a deep thinker.”

Martin can blend that sharp wit, sense of humor and mature insight easily while shifting topics.

When asked who is the toughest opponent has faced, Martin saluted former Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaac Rochell, who was drafted last spring in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Chargers and is currently on their practice squad.

“I got my [butt] beat by him [in 2016],” Martin says. “He was really good at getting his hands inside of me, and the guy can bench a Buick. There was really nothing I could do. I even tried saying nice things to him, like ‘Hey man, I’m a big fan of yours’ and ‘I think I could hang with you’ and ‘Do you want to sign something for me when you get drafted? Nothing worked.”

When asked where Kansas City barbeque ranks, he says, “It’s the best in the U.S.A., although I like it in Memphis too. I’ve never tried it in South Carolina. But I do know that Eastern North Carolina’s is garbage, because they put vinegar in their stuff.”

On the heated, Missouri-Kansas rivalry, Martin says, “I don’t like Kansas University. Any offspring of mine will grow up knowing there are certain schools you despise – Kansas University, Air Force, Army and Notre Dame. And if any child of mine wants to go to college in Kansas, I will not pay for it. I think that’s fair.”

On why he chose political science as a major, Martin says, “It’s interesting to learn about the political landscape of the United States of America, how our government is set up, how the law is set up, who does what. Follow the money and you understand why things happen or don’t happen. When I was younger, I thought a lot about being a politician. But, at least for now, that’s not the move for me.”

When asked about his main goals for his senior season, Martin says, “Winning is the no. 1 thing, of course. But I’m real concerned about this offensive line getting us back to leading the country in most rushing yards gained per game.”

As for the anonymity that comes with being an offensive lineman, even for a unit that annually scores more than 30 points per game, Martin says, “Look, I’m extroverted. I like being the center of attention, to a point. But I really don’t care about accolades. I’m very much at peace with not being known [by the average fan]. It’s about winning. Outside of that, recognition is just a word, and I’m just a dude.”


 

 

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