With around 20 tackles and only a sack-and-a-half in 2008, Vaughn Martin's college numbers don't jump out at you initially. But look past the stats and turn on his game tape, and you'll find a one man army wearing #47. The San Diego Chargers drafted Martin with the 113th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, but they weren't alone in their quest for the big defensive tackle. The New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns were showing strong interest in Martin up to and throughout the draft process. At 6'3" 330lbs, Martin has the size, speed, and strength that NFL teams are looking for to bolster their defensive lines. Physically, Martin is NFL-ready. But coming from playing college football in Canada, Martin faces a unique challenge in his quest to not only make a roster, but to start for a pro team.
Playing for Western Ontario, it was hard for Martin to get noticed by NFL scouts. Off the NFL radar for the most part, Martin didn't even receive a combine invite. Undeterred, Martin, along with his good friend and agent Matt Baxter, sent game tape to all 32 NFL teams. They held pro days for NFL teams as requested, which Chargers' scouts famously attended:
"He actually had three pro days and two private workouts. The New England Patriots wanted to come in on their own. So we basically were just doing them by demand. A team would call and set a date, and then we would just tell the other teams that that's when it would be happening. The first one we did was the day after Michigan's pro day, so we'd get all of the scouts that were in Michigan across the border, and had it at a location 20 minutes away from Ford Field in Detroit. So that's where his name started to get out at first. And then from there, everyone loved what they saw. In fact, he gave New England my number as the secondary number on Draft Day. The Patriots ended up calling me as Vaughn was on the phone with San Diego because they couldn't get through. They were desperately trying to get a hold off him. They saw, as Vaughn did, his name come up on TV. That was a quick end to that conversation," says Baxter.
Even with good NFL teams showing interest in Martin as a prospect, he was still labeled a "project" who would need time to develop. He had only played a couple of years of college football, and was still learning the game - and it was the Canadian version at that. How quickly could he adapt to the NFL, if at all?
"They say 'Oh, he doesn't have this stat or that stat.' And it's easy for fans to say that. But if you watch the film, like San Diego did, you see he gets triple-teamed on every play. And on top of that, the running back comes in to chip and help out on him. Teams would call a play and choose a direction at the line, and would run the play to the opposite side of where Vaughn lined up on. But that was actually good for Vaughn because he got experience with not giving away where he'd line up. So he played a lot of nose and end, and he'd move around. Because if he'd just come out of the huddle and go to his spot, they'd just call an audible right away. He was just that dominant," says Baxter.
The Chargers saw Martin's versatility and became enthralled with the idea of using him in much the same way as he was used in college. Knowing it'd be a process, the team nonetheless saw a world of potential in Vaughn Martin.
"When I first came here to play defense end, I thought I'd only be on the five, but a lot of time they'll have me reducing, playing three, slanting, whatever. It's just a matter of getting in the playbook. The first day it's all new, but as we go on I get more familiar. When we get back for OCS, that when I think I'll get in better shape all around, mentally and physically," says Martin.
Getting acclimated to the pro game is normally not an easy transition for a college player to make, let alone a guy who played college ball in Canada. But Martin is up to the task, confidant in his abilities and eager to improve.
"I'm doing stuff based on my old habits, but Coach has a philosophy; get into your man, control him, and work from there. Through the pad level and all that. Nothing too fancy. Am I facing an uphill battle? Of course I am. But you know what? It's the NFL. Everyone is big and athletic. But you can't get by on only that for too long," says Martin.
It's his love of competition and his drive to succeed allows him to be successful in whatever sport he picks up, whether it be bowling, hockey, or touch football:
"It was his birthday the week before the draft and we went to go play touch football at a park, and he laid out a couple of people. He's just highly competitive," Baxter recalls.
Vicious as he is on the field, Vaughn's off-the-field personality somewhat belies his football nastiness. Vaughn is one of the more polite, well-spoken, and laid-back guys you'll meet. Having made the move from the Caribbean to Canada, and now down to the States, Martin has learned to take things in stride. Martin adapts to circumstances almost as agilely as he moves on the football field. And it's on the football field where he is most comfortable, most at home:
"When he's on the field, he takes on a different persona. Playing football is almost a release for him. That's where he's happiest. Off the field, he's a great team guy. He comes of the field after practicing for two hours, and he's still smiling ear-to-ear. Playing football is what he looks forward to. You can't always pick up on the personality of a guy when you scout him; you really only see the measurables. But he endears himself to his teammates and his coaches. He has the passion, not just for football, but for life. Everything he does he goes after it full speed," says Baxter.
As raw and as unpolished as he came into San Diego, he's leaving a strong impression on coaches and teammates alike. There is a buzz about Martin that permeates Chargers Park. Have the Chargers done the impossible again, finding a diamond in the rough who'll shine brightly on Sundays?
Says Baxter, "He's just too big and strong; not only physically, but also mentally as well. There's no limit to how good he could be."
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