Martin ready for NFL shot

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

There is no secret about Vaughn Martin's ability to play football north of the border.

It will now be on display south of the border as well.

The San Diego Chargers of the National Football League confirmed it with the 113th pick of the NFL draft Sunday. Martin became the first Canadian underclassman to be drafted, going near the top of the fourth round. The Chargers had two other picks later in the fourth round but didn't wait, fearing Martin would be snapped up before they got another chance. Indianapolis, Carolina and Cleveland were all looking to grab him.

It's a testament to how good the Chargers believe he can be.

It's also a testament to how far the 23-year-old has come, considering he's only played two years of university football with the Western Mustangs.

NFL teams don't normally take fliers on players in the fourth round. Such picks usually wind up somewhere on the roster, making good money.

The Chargers flew Martin to San Diego before the draft, introducing him to the owners and coaching staff. The Chargers knew they were getting a kid who was big, quick and tough, a physical specimen they could work with. He may eventually be a player who can replace end Igor Olshansky, who left this year, or Martin could move inside to play nose tackle.

Someone suggested he was a cross between Fred Astaire and William (The Refrigerator) Perry.

"Wow," was Martin's reaction.

The Chargers knew what they are getting on the football field. But they aren't fooling around when it comes to other stuff.

When Martin came back to Canada, the Chargers assigned a private investigator to follow him around for a couple of days.

Pro football is big business and the last thing any professional team needs is a black eye.

The Chargers probably now know that Martin the person is as good as Martin the football player. He's the kind of guy you hope makes it big.

Born in Jamaica and raised in Toronto, he came to London at 16 with his mother Doreen and his sister. She raised her family to be respectful and there was never any question about who was the boss.

Doreen said her son was always "hyperactive, having to do something." She was happy when someone in Jamaica stole his bike because Martin was always doing something dangerous with it. But she always trusted in Vaughn's judgment.

"You always worry," she said. "But he always was a good judge of character. He could have been with the wrong people, but he made the right choices to be with the right people and do the right things."

You can see the measure of what a man will become by what he does off the football field.

It was the night of a dance at South secondary school. Martin was a big kid even in Grade 10. A group of individuals took delight in regularly bullying a gay youth and on this night they were busy beating him up.

Martin heard it was happening, walked into the middle of it and stopped the beating by clearing out the group of homophobes.

It didn't happen again.

"You know, I got a lot of flak about that because I stepped in," Martin recalled. "I don't care. What they were doing wasn't right and you can't let that happen."

There is a lot of excitement surrounding Martin's selection to the NFL. Martin may well be the calmest of everyone. But he makes no bones about the number of people who have supported and helped him.

"I'm happiest for them," he said. "I haven't accomplished anything yet. I haven't made the team. But there are a lot of people who have been there for me, who have motivated me."

Martin talked about his coaches at Western and his coach at South, Chris Marcus.

"I wouldn't be here without him," Martin said. "Not only is he a great football coach but he's a great man. I can only hope to become the man that he is."

Marcus pushed Martin. He motivated him and kept reminding Martin of the pot at the end of the rainbow.

"I asked him last year if he knew the difference between $80,000 and $800,000," Marcus recalls. "I told him, '$80,000 is what you'll make in the CFL while $800,000 is the minimum in the NFL.' "

"I'm no math major," Martin said. "But I knew that was one more zero."

Marcus believes Martin has what it takes to be a success on and off the field if he keeps working hard.

"I love Vaughn. My kids love him," Marcus said. "He was a little antsy on Saturday with the draft, so he called me and he came over for a barbecue . . . about eight hamburgers and 20 garlic shrimp later . . . he told me he was going out running after the barbecue as he left with two burgers for the road.

"Vaughn has really worked hard. He's in great shape. He's done a little more every year at Western. He's got a lot to learn, but he's bright and perceptive."

Mustangs assistant coach Mickey Donovan believes Martin can physically compete at the NFL level.

"He has incredible potential. Physically he's ready," Donovan said. "There were times in practice last year when we had to tell him, 'Vaughn, slow it down. You're going to hurt someone.' "

Martin's San Diego adventure begins Thursday with the mini-camp. He isn't worried about his contract status. He isn't worried about where he's going to live. He knows what he has to do to make it permanently in the big time.

"I'm going to run today, run tomorrow, run the next day, get on the plane and play football," he said. "Then I come home, run and train."

It's the only way to earn that extra zero.


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