By David Fong
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Wes Martin’s journey from the sidelines to the starting lineup began where most do for successful college athletes.
The Milton-Union High School graduate’s path did not start on the field in front of tens of thousands of fans, but rather locked away in a weightroom — away from the prying eyes of fans and media — where he hoisted iron bars that were literally bending under the weight of the 45-pound plates loaded on both sides.
It was in that weightroom — where the hours are long, the calluses are thick, the muscles sore and the groans of agony deafening — that Martin transformed his body into that of a Big Ten offensive lineman.
“Redshirting last season definitely helped me a lot,” said Martin, who sat out all of last season, then leapt immediately into the starting line-up at left guard in all five of the Indiana University football team’s games this season. “It was definitely a learning process. It also helped getting in a college weightroom. I was able to gain some weight and some muscle mass.”
Martin’s physical transformation has been nothing short of stunning. Already an impressive physical specimen coming out of high school, the 6-foot-3, 312-pound Martin has only gotten stronger — as well as faster and more confident — since arriving in Bloomington. He’s added around 100 pounds to both his squat and bench press — he recently squatted 635 pounds and benched pressed 500 pounds.
He also broke the team bench press record in the offseason, putting up 225 pounds an astounding 41 times. For the sake of comparison, since 1999, only 14 players at the NFL combine have ever topped 40 repetitions while lifting that same amount. Martin, it bears mentioning, is still only 19 years old.
“Our noseguard is actually my lifting partner,” Martin said. “Right before I got down on the bench, he had broken the team record with 39 reps. Then I went right after him and got 41.”
With a college lineman’s body forged during his redshirt year, Martin wasted no time in competing for a starting job in the offseason. He had worked his way into the two-deep during spring football, then solidified his role as starter during fall camp. By the time camp broke, he was firmly entrenched as the starter at left guard.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Martin said of the transition from small-school high school football to the Big Ten, then taking a year off. “It’s a lot faster game pace, and everyone is bigger, stronger and faster than they were in high school. Through the spring and summer, (offensive line) Coach (Greg) Frey kept telling us he was going to play who he thought was going to help the team the most. I just kept working and kept improving.”
As Martin has been improving as an individual, the once-moribund Indiana football program has been on the rise, as well. The Hoosiers opened the season 4-0 — their best start in 25 years — and came within a few plays of tying or beating No. 1 Ohio State in a 34-27 loss last week.
While that may have raised a few eyebrows around the college football world, Martin has not been surprised at all by the Hoosiers’ rapid improvement.
“I knew coming in it would be like this,” he said. “When they were recruiting me, I felt like the program was really close to turning the corner. When I came to visit, I could sense among the coaches and the guys on the team there was a real buy-in. Everyone on the team really believed in what was happening and where the program was headed.”
As the level of play has risen, so to have Martin’s expectations — both for himself and the team.
“I think I’ve played pretty good — but I know I can still play a lot better,” he said. “As far as the team, I think our goal is to win every game. We don’t want to lose any games. We feel like we can win every game we play.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong