To the casual observer, Dolphins left tackle Jonathan Martin looks like any other NFL lineman. He’s big — 6-5 and 312 pounds. He’s strong. He has long arms and quick feet. His nickname is “Moose.” He has one of the most important jobs on the team as protector of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s blind side, his personal bodyguard.
But dig a little deeper, and you discover Martin is anything but a typical football player. Although he has chosen to play a violent sport and throw his body and mind up against the league’s top defensive lineman, he has the intellect and lineage to tackle most any profession.
He majored in ancient Greek and Roman Classics at Stanford, and surely is the only NFL player whose mother, father, grandfather and great-grandfather are Harvard graduates.
In fact, Martin was heavily recruited by Harvard and had he gone, would have been the first-ever fourth generation African-American at the school. His maternal great grandfather, trial lawyer John Fitzgerald, Harvard Class of ’24, was one of about a dozen black students there at the time. He was not allowed to live in campus dorms, and he crossed paths with famed sociologist and civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois, who also attended Harvard.
Martin’s grandfather, Harvard Class of ’56, went on to become a college professor specializing in the development of African nations. His father, Gus Martin, Harvard Class of ’78, is an author and criminal justice professor at Cal State-Dominguez Hills. And his mother, Jane Howard-Martin, Harvard Class of ’79, is a corporate attorney for Toyota. In all, he has nine relatives who attended Harvard.
“I don’t know a ton [about his family history], but I know I come from an educated family,” he said. “They went to Harvard when there weren’t a lot of African Americans in the Ivy Leagues or colleges in general. They definitely were part of that first wave, first generation. My parents told me about it early on, but I don’t think you realize the importance of something like that until you’re older. ... Now, it’s something I’m really proud of.”
Considering that family history, Harvard was high on Martin’s list when he was deciding where to play college football. But he chose Stanford because of its higher-profile football program, figuring he would have a better shot at making the NFL.
So, why would a man with such a rich academic background choose to sweat in football pads in South Florida’s sweltering heat rather than make his living in an air-conditioned board room?
“I’m doing my dream job for a living,” he said Wednesday. “It’s something I always wanted to do. Every little kid wants to be a professional athlete, basketball or football. For me, it was always football. I love the game. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I love to play left tackle, love the strategy and mental aspect of it.
“When you watch on TV, you probably don’t realize how much goes into game preparation. ... I’m a very competitive person and I love every part of this game, even the physical sacrifices.”
Martin started 37 of 39 games at left tackle in his three seasons at Stanford and made a name for himself protecting quarterback Andrew Luck. He turned pro last year, after his junior season, and was drafted by the Dolphins in the second round. He shifted to right tackle because Jake Long was playing left. When Long got injured last season, Martin filled in with mixed results, but he did enough to earn the starting nod after Long left for St. Louis.
Still, there were critics.
The first few weeks of training camp, there was much talk among media and fans about how Martin was being overshadowed by Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan. Martin blocked it out and plugged away.
“It’s been up and down all along,” he said. “I knew there would be pressure, and some negativity. ... But you’ve got to be able to block out the white noise, listen to coaches and focus on the task at hand. At this level, you’re playing against someone who was an All-American every week. I know I have to try to prove people wrong. I haven’t done it yet.”
Coach Joe Philbin is pleased with Martin’s development.
“He’s been quietly improving, and that’s probably a good thing for an offensive lineman,” Philbin said. “You don’t want to be noticed too, too much as an OL. ... He’s very detailed in his preparation. I like the strides he’s making. He certainly has more to make.”