Mike Rodriguez thought for sure that
Mighty Mike Martin had put a dent right in
the middle of the gym floor.
Mike went through his opponent, picked
him wayup in the air and slammed him right
there on the blue mat in the center of the
gymnasium - a tackle of sorts. The crowd
went nuts. Opposing teams hated wrestling
at Detroit Catholic Central, mostly because
of that crowd.
Right there in the middle of the packed
gymnasium stood a massive man, cloaked in
his wrestling singlet. Mike had the power to
do great things. He just didn't know it yet.
Mike's friends, family, teachers and men-
tors were there, everyone was excited to
see what he would do in his first wrestling
match. The whole school was let out an hour
and a half early from class to watch this, the
first match of the season. And the heavy-
weight was the first match drawn, so Mike
was up first. Front and center.
Mike's mother Theresa and father Barry
were there, waiting to see if their son's new-
est pursuit would be a successful one.
Everyone in that gymnasium knew who
Mike Martin the football player was, but
now he was trying his hand at wrestling -
a sport completely different from football,
which he had played since fifth grade.
This was mighty Mike Martin. He could
Then the referee's whistle blew. He called
Mike's takedown a slam, which cost him one
point. The crowd sat down in quiet disbelief.
This opponent wasn't too big, and Mike
wasn't intimidated. He knew he could han-
dle him. But Mike was facing a senior who
had been wrestling since junior high.
The savvy senior responded and pinned
Mike with seconds remaining in the match.
Mike didn't know how to get out of a pin just
yet. Mighty Mike Martin had lost.
After the match, Rodriguez, Mike's
wrestling coach, rolled up the mat and
approached his dejected heavyweight.
"You've learned something," Rodriguez
told him. "You've got to work harder."
It was a somber car ride home that evening.
Barry tried to calm his son. He told Mike
everything was going to be all right.
"I know, Dad, but I wasn't supposed to
lose," Mike said desperately. "I wasn't sup-
posed to lose."
"It was embarrassing for him, because
he had high standards for himself," says
Eugene Grewe, Mike's high school English
teacher and track coach. "He kind of wanted
to go out there and make a statement. So it
was frustrating for him. I think he had a
moment of doubt."
Another couple of weeks slipped away,
Thanksgiving came and went. On Black
Friday, Mike had a mid-morning wrestling
practice at the high school. Mike took the
car and went to practice, but returned just
an hour later. His mom knew something
Mike had had enough. He just wasn't get-
ting it and he let his mom know that. This
was completely different from anything he
had done before and it just wasn't coming
easy to him.
"You gotta stick it out, just give it your
best shot," Theresa told him.
This kid, who would become a superhero
for Michigan at defensive tackle, was caught
in a moment of weakness.
Mike Martin wouldn't quit - would he?
The signs were there, constant remind-
ers to those in his life that he was destined
to be better than average, faster than a
speeding bullet, able to leap across tall
buildings in a single bound and save the
damsel in distress.
But it started with doubt.
When Mike was in the sixth grade, just a
year after he started playing organized foot-
ball, he dreamt about playing in the NFL
someday. When Theresa took Mike to the
pediatrician that year, the doctor tried to
temper his expectations.
"I don't know if you're going to be playing
college ball," the pediatrician said. He knew
the odds were stacked against any kid with
that lofty a goal.
That didn't sit well with Theresa.
"It just made me so mad, people's negativ-
ity to young people," she says. "Because if
you have a dream you should nourish it and
help support it - instead of squashing it. I
know all kids, there's a very small percent-
age that play college ball and from there go
onto the pros, like a one-percent chance. But
if a kid has a dream, you should be there to
Mike's parents started him in sports at a
young age and tried to encourage him the
best they could.
Mike played baseball - his dad's sport -
at a young age and excelled. After games,
umpires would rave to Theresa and rave
about Mike's arm strength. He was throw-
ing natural curveballs and sliders, they
would say - before the age of 10. But he
didn't stick with baseball or basketball,
which he also tried.
Football was going to be his sport, and
Dan Hattie was the first coach who brought
4B ( FootballSaturday, September 25, 2010
TheMichiganDaily, www.michigandaily.com 5B