Vaughn Martin was attempting to vault over a canyon.
A timorous individual would not have attempted such a daunting leap from Canadian Interuniversity Sport to the National Football League. But when you are as self-assured as Martin was, and still is, there is an expectation of landing on two feet.
"If I wasn't confident, I wouldn't have left Canadian college football after two years," said Martin, a 6-foot-4 defensive end with the San Diego Chargers. "I am where I am supposed to be."
The Chargers selected the 25-year-old lineman in the fourth round, 113th overall, of the 2009 NFL draft, two years before he would have been eligible for the CFL draft. A gifted but unpolished project, Martin was the first CIS underclassman to be selected in the NFL draft, and one of a handful of CIS players to be drafted at all.
That did not guarantee him a spot with the Chargers. It is common for a late-round selection to end up on the team's practice squad or be released outright.
But Martin, who played part-time his first two seasons - recording 12 tackles in 20 games - has become a starter this year, seizing an opening created when left end Luis Castillo was sidelined by a broken tibia. Martin entered Monday night with 36 tackles/22 of them solo tackles, in 11 games
"I think he's embraced the opportunity," said Don Johnson, Martin's defensive line coach in San Diego. "He feels like he's in a unique position, and he doesn't want to let his teammates down."
Martin was born in Jamaica, but moved to Toronto at age nine. He started playing football when his family relocated to London, Ont., when he was in Grade 10, and eventually joined the University of Western Ontario Mustangs in 2008.
"I can remember the first time I played [in high school]," Martin told ESPN before he was drafted. "I didn't even have cleats. I was playing linebacker with white tennis shoes on, and sliding all over the place. But from the start, I knew I loved the game."
And, it turned out, he had both the size and quickness scouts loved. "His growth potential," Johnson said, "is huge - starting where he came from, where he is now, and only being a third-year player."
It has not been simple. Martin had to adjust to bigger, quicker and more physical opponents who had textbook technique. And his development might have been hindered briefly in his first NFL off-season, when he underwent ankle surgery and had to miss some team-organized training sessions.
But Western head coach Greg Marshall, who keeps in touch with Martin, is not surprised his former pupil is coming into his own.
"He certainly has the drive to get to where he is," Marshall said. "We're all happy for him, that he is getting the opportunity. It's kind of nice to flip on the TV on a Sunday afternoon and get to watch Vaughn play at a high level."
Martin has also undergone a positional transformation at the behest of the Chargers, shifting from defensive tackle to end and dropping 40 pounds - from 340 to 300.
While Martin's learning curve in San Diego has been steep, his initial jump from Western to the NFL was undoubtedly his toughest test. Despite not being invited to the NFL's annual draft combine, scouts started getting wind of the precocious and sizable lineman with enough organic ability to play at the NFL level. Marshall knew his player had the ability, but it was still going to be an eyeopening experiences. The first time Marshall heard from Martin after he left for his first NFL training camp, the distinction was clear.
"The techniques that he had learned in a short period of time were overwhelming," Marshall said. "It is just so much more precise and technical in the NFL."
Although Martin has the desirable physical attributes for the NFL, it is his mental prowess that separates him from the discarded hopefuls. "Vaughn is very intelligent," Johnson said. "He'll respond to anything pretty quick."
Martin cannot change the Chargers' record - 4-7 heading into Monday night's game against Jacksonville - but he doe not concern himself with matters out of his control. He simply sticks with the game plan that got him to where he is today.
"It has all been a big blur," Martin said. "I go out every week, and just try to work as hard as I can and play well enough to help my team win."
Read the complete story: Montreal Gazette
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