Jonathan Martin arrived at Stanford in 2008 as a quiet offensive lineman with an intellectual curiosity as big as his Boeing-sized body, and left five years later as a two-time All-American and second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins.
In the past week the second-year pro has suddenly become the face of the latest NFL controversy: bullying in the locker room.
Martin, 24, left the Dolphins last week to seek counseling, and his offensive linemate Richie Incognito has been indefinitely suspended “for conduct detrimental to the team” as a result of alleged racial slurs and threats of violence.
While the NFL future of both players remains in question, why Martin might have been victimized has become a hot talking point across the country.
And his time spent on the Stanford campus and at a small, private high school in Los Angeles offer clues.
“He always wanted to make everybody happy and make friends and not be a problem,” Martin's high school coach at Harvard-Westlake, Vic Eumont, told the Palm Beach Post. “All of his teachers loved him. All of his teammates loved him. He was always 'yes' or 'no, sir,' do whatever you ask him to do. I can see where somebody that's a bully will take advantage of him, and rather than him say anything would just hold it inside.”
Coy Wire, a Stanford star in the late 1990s and former NFL player, echoed that sentiment in a column Tuesday for ESPN.
“If you don't fit into the mold, and the culture in the locker room, you won't last,” he wrote. “Sometimes, in a gladiator sport like football, intelligence can be perceived as being soft.”
David Shaw, Martin's coach at Stanford, offered his support and expressed pride for his former player's willingness to take a stand.
“We do a pretty good job of educating our guys on what that next level is like, both the locker room and on the field and in the world,” Shaw said. “We're talking about something that, as more comes out, we're finding out this is not just Jon being oversensitive, this is Jonathan being the first person to speak out about what's been going on.”
As the media spotlight intensified Tuesday, most friends from Martin's college and high school days declined to speculate on the specific happenings in Miami. But all who were reached offered their support.
“He's a phenomenal person, and I support him 100 percent, but that's all I'm prepared to say,” said Andrew Phillips, a former Stanford lineman with Martin.
“I'm puzzled by what's going on, but we're all here for him,” said Stanford's Shayne Skov, a fifth-year senior and friend of Martin's.
Stanford assistant coach Lance Anderson called Martin a conscientious player willing to do whatever the team needed.
“He was a hardworking, high character kid that was well liked by his teammates,” Anderson said.
At 6 foot 5 inches, 312 pounds, the man they call “Moose” earned his NFL pedigree by protecting the blindside of future No. 1 pick Andrew Luck.
Going from a school once better known for Nobel Prize-winning professors than football teams to the cultural melting pot of the NFL may have been jarring.
“Before he wasn't around Nebraska, LSU kind of guys,” Eumont told the Palm Beach Post. “He's always been around Stanford, Duke, Rice kind of players.”
Anderson agreed that transition from college to the pros, particularly from a place like Stanford, can prove difficult.
“The locker rooms in the NFL are definitely different than the Stanford locker room,” Anderson said. “It is a different culture, different personalities. You're around players that have different backgrounds than you have, different values and ideals.”
Martin was the prototypical Stanford student and athlete. He earned a degree in ancient Greek and Roman classics and if not for football would have become the first fourth-generation African-American to attend Harvard.
His father, Gus Martin, is acting associate dean of Criminal Justice Administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Mother Jane Howard-Martin is a corporate attorney for Toyota. They both attended Harvard, as did their parents.
“Just the allure of playing Division I football at Stanford, I just couldn't do without,” he once told this newspaper on why he didn't go to Harvard.
Martin described himself as soft as a freshman at Harvard-Westlake, the private school for the children of Los Angeles' business and entertainment elite.
According to its website, the school fields teams in equestrian, fencing, jiujitsu and lacrosse, among more traditional sports such as football.
Martin is a onetime violinist who got a late start in organized football. Officials wouldn't let him play in Pop Warner leagues because he weighed 14 pounds more than the 176-pound limit.
“I couldn't get down,” Martin once said. “I tried really hard. I was tall and pretty skinny. I got down to 183 and gave up.”
But he didn't quit his dream to play football.
Former Stanford teammates used to gush about Martin's meticulous approach to practice. “Moose” would do anything to master the complex playbook created for Luck, now quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. That eye for detail may explain why Martin has said he wants to attend Harvard after he's done playing and eventually become a trial lawyer.
Former teammates have talked about Martin's toughness and resilience, something his high school coach highlighted this week.
“If he makes it through all this, and if he was encouraged to come back, he'd come back with a vengeance,” Eumont said.