The hometown kid from West Milton has made it big – literally really ‘big’ – at Indiana University. And tomorrow night Wes Martin will play before divided loyalties as the Hoosiers open the season with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
It was two years later when Martin really grew into his nickname.
“In the fifth grade they had to get his helmet and his pads from the high school,” Rhonda Martin said.
Size-wise, Martin has topped out at 6-foot-3 and weighs a powerful 310 pounds. His local legend, however, continues to grow. One of West Milton’s favorite son’s will start at left guard for the Indiana Hoosiers when the No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes visit Bloomington on Thursday night.
Martin, a redshirt junior, started all 13 games at left guard for the Hoosiers last season, helping the team finish third overall in total offense (426 yards per game) in the Big Ten. He’s now being looked to as the leader of a unit that graduated four fifth-year senior offensive linemen. He excelled during summer practice and earned the coveted Iron Hoosier Award for the offense. The honor is considered an MVP award of summer workouts in terms of work ethic, leadership and mental focus among other things.
And just the other day Indiana first-year coach Tom Allen named Martin one of four team captains for the Ohio State game.
“(I’ve been getting) more Facebook messages from all sorts of people back in the hometown wishing me luck. Telling me they’re going to be watching,” said Martin, the son of Rhonda and Allen Martin. “I hear that a lot from the hometown people. They always say they’re rooting for Ohio State unless I’m on the field. It’s cool to hear.”
Martin isn’t sure where in his family his size comes from – “We’re not small but nobody (in our family) is giant like him,” said his mom – but his success comes from a big heart. The weight-room warrior also has a soft spot for his hometown. So when he visits West Milton a trip to see his former high school teachers is on the itinerary. Martin also enjoys holding question-and-answer sessions with classrooms.
There’s always a buzz around the Milton-Union High School hallways when Martin is back in town. And just like former Bulldogs and Hoosier standout Mitchell Evans was a role model for Martin, he knows the younger kids in Milton are looking up to him the same way.
“If you don’t use your platform in a positive manner there’s really no sense in having a platform at all,” Martin said. “It’s definitely something I think about. Through social media now everyone in the world can see what you do. I try to be as positive and well mannered as I can. Set a good example.
“I have a really good relationship with most of my teachers back in Milton. I really enjoy answering those questions and trying be a leader for the kids. A lot of times it’s how do you manage being a college athlete? A lot of the kids are stressed out about going to school and having a full class load. They ask how do I manage a full class load along with football. A lot of the guys will ask me football questions or weight lifting questions. The biggest thing kids have to focus on is doing really well their freshman year. A lot of kids kind of slack off or take it easy their freshman year and use the excuse that they’re new to the system they’re going into. If I could go back I’d tell myself don’t use that as an excuse. Do extremely well as a freshman and that’ll set you up for an easier path.”
As a redshirt freshman at Indiana, Martin started the first six games at left guard and appeared in all 13 games as Indiana led the Big Ten in total offense for the first time since 1988.
Martin is a standout in the classroom, too. He’s been an Academic All-Big Ten selection the past two seasons and holds the team’s highest grade-point average. This summer Martin was also named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar with a GPA of 3.7 or higher.
And for Martin, whose brother and 2011 Milton grad Adam was also a standout, it all started in West Milton. Though he didn’t grow up on a farm, he did work on them and spent a good number of summers throwing hay bales around. That’s one of the things Martin misses most about his hometown.
“The farm life. The country life,” Martin said. “Working on a farm during the summers. Going hunting and fishing. Baling hay definitely helped. I think it gave me an advantage, especially in the weight room. You work a lot of muscles you don’t realize.”
And then some, apparently. Martin set the team’s bench press record by muscling up 225 pounds an stunning 41 times. To put that in perspective, since 1998 there have been 15 players at the NFL combine who have managed 41 reps or more.
“He loves the weight room. He loves working hard,” said Milton-Union football coach Mark Lane. “He’s probably one of the strongest kids there is in the Big Ten. (Forty-one reps) is a lot. There’s not many pro athletes that could really do that. His strength and his speed are probably some of the best I’ve ever seen in my whole life, especially for a big guy. He can really move and he can really move people.”
With that kind of muscle it’s no surprise Martin holds Milton’s shot put record with a toss of 54-feet, 5.5 inches. That effort came at the Division II track and field state championships, where he finished fifth in 2014. He’s also No. 3 on the all-time in the discus with a throw of 131-3.
Martin is also likely the only Milton-Union shot putter to win two events in the same night. He won the Miami East Invitational with a throw of 50-6.75, then drove to Troy in time to compete and win the Herb Hartman Invitational with a throw of 51-4.
As for that bench press, Martin thinks he can push his numbers higher.
“I keep a mental count up to 35, then after that I just rep it out and burn out as many as I can,” Martin said. “It was exciting. It’s kind of cool to see what your body can do when you push it. I’ve tied it multiple times so that’s still my record. We don’t really train it. Until I get ready to try to play at the next level we don’t really train 225. It’s just something we test at the end of a semester or end of a lifting period. When I do being to do specific training hopefully those numbers will go up.”
As for the game with Ohio State tonight, Martin’s family isn’t conflicted. He didn’t grow up in a family of die-hard Ohio State fans, so dreaming about playing for the Buckeyes wasn’t something he did. Instead, he fell in love with Indiana after wandering over to Bloomington during the fall to watch Milton-Union Evans play for the Hoosiers from 2007-10.
Martin’s goal was to follow Evans to Indiana and when the Hoosiers offered Martin a scholarship it was game on. Four years later he’s an emerging leader on the offensive line.
“We kind of look to Wes. He’s our leader,” sophomore left tackle Coy Cronk told IUHoosiers.com. “If you look at him out on the field, he definitely looks like an ox. He’s just a rock. So we definitely look up to him. When he’s going, we’re going.”
And Martin is certainly going places. None better, though, than his hometown.
“(I like it) being so small. You walk around and you know everybody and everybody knows you,” Martin said. “I do miss that and, of course, high school football. It’s sort of a different kind of deal playing with kids you’ve played with your whole life.”
Many of them will be watching Martin add to his local legend when he battles the No. 2 team in the nation on ESPN. That’s a big deal.
Just like ‘Big Wes’ is back in his hometown.