Kareem Martin rallies defense in win
Kareem Martin had already seen it happen once this year.
He wasn’t about to let it happen again.
The North Carolina defense went from playing its heart out against Georgia Tech — and losing 28-20 — on Sept. 21, to coming out flat the next week against East Carolina, lacking intensity and losing 55-31 in the worst defensive performance Martin said he’s been a part of at UNC.
After another heartbreaking loss to Miami on Oct. 17 and another hard week of practice went to waste, Martin feared another dip in morale. The senior defensive end gathered his teammates the day before Saturday’s 34-10 win against Boston College and did his best to rally them.
“I was just like, ‘Guys, as hard as we played at Miami, we can’t have that letdown if we’re going to be a good defense,’” Martin said.
“And that was the biggest thing, just keeping that momentum from Miami and just keeping that same intensity, even though it isn’t a Thursday night game or on ESPN. It’s a 3:30 Boston College game on Raycom Sports. You just have to be able to build yourself up no matter what’s the situation.”
The UNC defense held up its end of the bargain, holding the Eagles to a season-low 261 yards and just 59 yards through the air — the lowest passing yard figure since 1997. For a defense prone to allowing big plays, its lone mistake was a 56-yard touchdown from tailback Andre Williams.
At the forefront of that defensive effort was Martin, who tallied two sacks — coming on third downs in back-to-back drives — and five tackles. He won the ACC’s defensive lineman of the week after building off a strong performance against Miami.
“These last two weeks he’s really turned it on,” sophomore linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him, but I mean, he’s doing really well.”
For Martin, it’s personal — coach Larry Fedora attributes it to a “light at the end of the tunnel” effect. It’s Martin’s last year, and it’s been a frustrating one to this point.
He’s driven for selfish reasons, to better his own senior season, but he’s also well aware of his status as a leader on the UNC defense and the influence he can have by his play, his actions and his words. UNC’s 1-5 start was tough for Martin to swallow, but he didn’t want his teammates to know it.
“I couldn’t let my team see me frustrated because if they see one of their defensive leaders down and out, they can easily pack it in,” Martin said. “Because they can tell themselves, ‘Hey, I have a couple more years.’ And this is my last one, and I didn’t want to lose the team because I know everything they see from me is magnified.
“I didn’t want my year to go out like that.”