INDIANAPOLIS – Sometimes the simplest decisions can have the greatest impact.
That’s obvious to many of the players who trot up to the podium dress head-to-toe in Under Armour gear at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend. One of the biggest, however, is the decision these professional football hopefuls made when it came to their choice of a place to continue their careers after high school.
It could come down to time spent at said institution or where it may be located in relation to the player’s hometown, but those decisions can turn out to help or harm many ways.
For two of those offensive lineman prospects that made their way to the podium for interviews on Thursday afternoon that have Central Indiana roots, their decisions about their college experience made a major difference in their potential professional futures.
Former Chatard offensive lineman Zack Martin and former Plainfield lineman James Hurst faced those decisions at one time or another-and their choice ended up paying off in the end.
“I think I grew a lot this year,” said Martin, who took the field as a captain at Notre Dame for a second straight season as the Irish’s left offensive tackle.
That might not have seemed like it would be the case in 2012 when the Irish were in the midst of a storybook run to the BCS National Championship Game. Martin-who was a true senior yet had a year of eligibility remaining-was pondering leaving school for the NFL Draft.
“Between second and fourth,” said Martin of his projection in December of 2012 when he pondered whether to declare for the draft or stay in South Bend for another season.
But with a shot to improve his draft stock and start on the offensive line with his brother Nick, Martin decided to stay for the 2013 season at Notre Dame-and it paid off. Martin was named a second-team All-American in his final season and set the Notre Dame record for starts with 51 while helping the Irish to a berth in the Pinstripe Bowl.
In that game he was named MVP in a season in which his draft stock rose to the point that Martin is considered a first round pick-a distinction he credits to his decision to stay in school an extra season.
“I think I became more of a complete player,” said Martin. “I think they (coaches) saw growth in my technique. Just consistency. I had a pretty good year in 2012 but from a consistency standpoint 2013 was my best year yet.”
Leaving was actually a benefit for Hurst, but it came much earlier for him. After a standout career at Plainfield High School, the offensive lineman decided to broaden his horizons when it came to a choice of schools. Instead of ending up somewhere in the Midwest, Hurst decided play college football at North Carolina.
“I don’t know if it was really important to me. It was something that I wanted to do,” said Hurst of deciding to head to Chapel Hill. “It wasn’t a deal-breaker I had to go more than five hours away from home or anything like that. But just visiting and going away to new places was really cool for me.
“I was excited to do it and I’m really happy that I found a place I really fell in love with.”
He showed his admiration for Tar Heel country in his play right from the beginning. He was named a freshman All-American in 2010 and continued to start on the North Carolina offensive line for the next three seasons. Hurst earned first team All-ACC honors in 2012 and 2013 and was projected to be an early round pick before a broken left leg in the Belk Bowl dropped his stock a bit.
Unfortunately for the Plainfield native, he won’t be able to work out at the Lucas Oil Stadium combine this weekend but he will get the chance to workout and North Carolina’s Pro Day in March. That doesn’t mean coming to the home of the Colts-whom he watched play a number of times growing isn’t any less special.
“This whole thing is a little more familiar to me,” said Hurst-though choosing to go to someplace unfamiliar gave him this professional football chance.