While it would be virtually impossible to confirm this fact, it’s likely that Martin has played for more position coaches during his four-year career than any other football player in the modern era. Playing for three coaches would be considered a lot, but Martin’s played for twice that many.
John Blake recruited him. Charlie Coiner subbed in for a brief stint in 2010 following Blake’s early season dismissal. Brian Baker took over for one month in January 2011 before bolting to the Dallas Cowboys. Joe Robinson was hired a month later and coached the defensive line in Everett Withers’ lone season as interim head coach, while Deke Adams assumed the position in Larry Fedora’s first season in Chapel Hill.
Keith Gilmore took over when Adams left for South Carolina and liked what he saw from the first day working with Martin on the practice field.
“The No. 1 thing I saw was his work ethic,” Gilmore told InsideCarolina.com on Wednesday. “He’s a kid that’s real intellectual, a smart football player.”
Gilmore then termed Martin as a leader by example before expanding on that description.
“He’s a leader in a lot of ways,” Gilmore said. “It’s great to have a young man like that. I’ve been real fortunate to have Kareem because he’s been through a lot of position coaches and sometimes you have guys that have a little opposition to a new guy coming in, but he’s been great with me.”
Martin, a 6-foot-6, 270-pound defensive end out of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., has long been a media favorite, dating back to his first career start against LSU in 2010, due to his polish. There was little doubt that he would emerge as a leader for the UNC program, which helps to explain his recent surge along the defensive front.
Martin ranks third on the team in tackles (55) while leading in sacks (5.5), tackles for loss (12.5) and quarterback hurries (6).
Through UNC’s first five games, however, he totaled just 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. In the past three games, Martin has nine tackles for loss, four sacks and a forced fumble.
“My team needed me to step up,” Martin said. “I was playing okay at the beginning of the season, but my expectations for myself… I wasn’t playing how I was supposed to play. So I just went back to the drawing board and started watching a little more film, worrying about a little more technique and just learning more about the opponent for Saturday.”
Those minute details have translated into both consistency and critical plays on the field.
“What Kareem’s done is week after week, he’s just gotten better,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said on Wednesday. “His game has stepped up every single week. He’s done more for this football team. We talk about giving one more inch, finding a way, doing whatever it takes and that’s what Kareem’s doing.”
Martin attributes his success to an increased focus on each play. He’s intent on seizing every possible moment in the final weeks of his career, a point driven home by quarterback Bryn Renner’s season-ending shoulder injury last weekend.
Martin, who indicated that’s he’s been responsible for only two or three missed assignments this season, is adamant that he doesn’t want his career to end on a play in which he loafed. That type of mindset, along with his recent statistics burst, has brought about further discussion in NFL mock drafts.
Not that Martin is listening, though.
“What happens next May is going to happen, but I know it’s not going to happen without me performing,” Martin said. “I can’t really worry about what the scouts or the ESPN people are saying right now during the season, because I still have to go out every Saturday and perform.”
If his production continues at the current trajectory, he may have an outside chance at becoming the fourth Tar Heel defensive lineman in as many years to be drafted in the first round next May.