By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
IRVING — Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Zack Martin’s rookie season suited him like a dream last year, when he earned All Pro and Pro Bowl honors.
His lifelong Catholic faith and Catholic schools’ education helped him fit into the structured routine and high expectations of his National Football League initiation, Martin said at the team’s Valley Ranch practice facility on a June afternoon.
“The main things that helped were having accountability and discipline,” said Martin, 24, who is from Indianapolis. “My teachers and priests would hold you to it. That’s made a big difference in my life and football.”
A childhood memory made him grin as he pictured himself when he was an altar server at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Indianapolis.
“Maybe there should have been some bigger vestments,” said Martin, who is 6-4 and 310 pounds. “My socks and shoes always showed.”
He attended St. Matthew Catholic School and Bishop Chatard High School—both in Indianapolis—and the University of Notre Dame before the Cowboys selected him in the 2014 NFL Draft’s first round with the No. 16 overall pick. Team officials opted for Martin over former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, a high-profile prospect at the time.
Martin, however, fit in smashingly at right guard on a line that proved an outstanding team strength in 2014.
He said that he appreciated his Catholic moorings as he grew familiar with his new life’s challenges.
“Football is very structured,” said Martin, who was a four-year starter and two-year captain at Notre Dame. “It’s a lot like the way the Catholic schools do things, so there’s a carryover. Your faith is what you turn to when you’re struggling. All my years of Catholic schools definitely helped when I moved to a new place.”
Off the field, Martin strikes those who meet him as easy-going, cheerful and courteous.
He said that he still is settling into North Texas, where he shares a residence during the season in Denton County with his brother Josh, 26, who is an event coordinator. Their brother Nick, 22, has another season of football eligibility at Notre Dame.
Martin said that both his parents, Pam and Keith, nurtured his faith life.
Pam and Keith met as students at the University of Kentucky, where Keith played football. He works for the NCAA.
Pam, who works for a home health agency, said that their lives revolved around their parish, St. Matthew, in a blessed, busy way when their sons were growing up.
“There was almost always a pancake supper, sporting activities or a parish cleanup,” she said. “All three were altar servers. Zack would have to wear one of the priest’s albs. And too much incense would make Zack half-sick.”
Pam alternately laughed and grew serious as she relived their family life.
“I have such a wonderful memory of when Josh and Zack played side by side for a state championship,” she said. “In the Catholic schools, you can worship together. The teams would attend 9 a.m. Mass together. Their high school football coach was very instrumental in helping all three boys grow into young men. The kids always gathered in the chapel—that was where they turned.”
Vincent Lorenzano, the head football coach at Bishop Chatard High School who has spent his whole career in Catholic education, said that students learn about sacrifice early and transfer that knowledge to activities and responsibilities in later life.
“They see all the hours that Catholic school teachers, coaches and staff put in, and the sacrifices that their families and the kids make,” he said. “They take from that and learn the idea that there is a sacrifice you have to make to be successful. You model it in the classroom and on the field. You don’t have to always say it, because other people see it.
“It comes from our mission statement to achieve God-given potential as representatives of the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ.”
Martin’s rookie season won him fans in the Cowboys organization.
“He’s a guy you can trust,” Cowboys center Travis Frederick said. “Anything that he says he’ll do, he does it.”
Cowboys offensive line coach Frank Pollack said that Martin’s upbringing shows in his great attitude.
“He’s had a tremendous, off-the-charts work ethic since day one that has really led to his growth, acceleration and what he’s done as a rookie being an All-Pro player,” Pollack said. “Obviously, it’s been instilled in him and something he’s been brought up with.”
Pollack said that Martin’s determination has been contagious.
“He’s kind of elevated the room,” Pollack said. “It’s been a pleasure to have him here.”
Back home in Indiana, Martin’s family, friends and former teachers said nothing surprised them concerning how seamlessly he fit into an NFL team’s system and procedures as a rookie.
His donation to help buy new football uniforms for his high school and his genuine joy at running into his former coaches in restaurants delights but does not astonish those who knew him from childhood.
Brian Moyer, who taught social studies to Martin at St. Matthew Catholic School, said that the Catholic school environment instilled an appreciation of order and structure.
“It sets a tone,” Moyer said. “It gives the sense of, ‘Here’s the agenda for the day.’ Zack was a very respectful and well-prepared young boy. When we would do May Crownings or the Living Stations, Zack was one we’d pick. He was certainly reliable.”
Lorenzano said that the Martin family’s deep faith infused everything they did.
“What stood out was their willingness to give, not just financial support, but their time,” said Lorenzano, whose team won two state championships with Martin. “They are very grounded, down-to-earth people who have shown me love and affection over the years. Being Catholic is an everyday way of life for them.”