July 15, 2010
Team USA defenseman Eric Martin took Lacrosse Magazine on a whirlwind photo shoot in San Francisco. His tattoo, "Rara Avis," says it all. E-Mart, as friends call him, is one rare bird. © Zach Heffner/Verdict Photography.
Team USA defenseman Eric Martin took Lacrosse Magazine on a whirlwind photo shoot in San Francisco. His tattoo, "Rara Avis," says it all. E-Mart, as friends call him, is one rare bird. © Zach Heffner/Verdict Photography.
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Team USA's Rare Bird, Eric Martin, Uncaged

Team USA defenseman Eric Martin took Lacrosse Magazine on a whirlwind photo shoot in San Francisco for his cover shoot for the May issue (see story below photos). His tattoo, "Rara Avis," says it all. E-Mart, as friends call him, is one rare bird.

Now, as the U.S. embarks on its journey to bring a gold medal home from Manchester, England, check out these never-seen-before photos of Team USA's resident wild man.

Rare Bird

Team USA’s Eric Martin clawed his way into the lacrosse elite

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Note: This story originally appeared in the May issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 300,000-plus members today to start your subscription.

If you want to understand how Team USA defenseman Eric Martin went from being a barely-recruited afterthought in high school to a star in both the indoor and outdoor professional lacrosse leagues, try asking a former coach or teammate for a story.

Maybe you’ll learn that as a senior at Norfolk (Va.) Academy, Martin spent 10 minutes in one practice exacting retribution (through a variety of a legal body checks) on a freshman that made the mistake of taking a shot at him.

Or you might be told about the time Martin and his Salisbury University roommate Casey Olejniczak joined a private gym because the school’s weight room couldn’t accommodate their grueling workouts — workouts so intense Martin once popped blood vessels in his nose.

Or you might hear about Martin’s first few practices in Major League Lacrosse. A Division III unknown at the time, Martin introduced himself to his new Rochester teammates by splitting open Casey Powell’s chin with a kayak check and nearly coming to blows with current Team USA teammate Ryan Powell.

Listen long enough and it’s clear the things that make Martin a colorful teammate — the nasty streak, the hyper-competitiveness and the unmatched work ethic — are also those that have helped him succeed in lacrosse.

“An unrecruited kid from the Tidewater area now playing for his country. This stuff doesn’t just happen,” said Norfolk coach Tom Duquette, himself a four-time All-American at Virginia and 1974 Team USA member. “It’s a statistical anomaly.”

Martin doesn’t hail from some traditional lacrosse hotbed where finding the two-on-one or making the second slide is indoctrinated at an early age.

Growing up on the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Martin spent his time sailing, surfing and playing soccer year round. It wasn’t until the ninth grade, after transferring from public school to NA, when Martin first picked up a stick.

After two uneventful years playing midfield, Martin, at Duquette’s behest, traded his short stick for a longpole.

“He was raw. I don’t think he made all-conference,” Duquette said. “But boy, he had an upside. He was tall, fast, a little mean and a lefty.”

Though oozing with potential, Martin heard little from colleges.  Hampden-Sydney showed some interest, but Martin decided on Salisbury, the D-III power on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“It was the best lacrosse school I could play at,” Martin said.

Motivated by being passed over, Martin began training more seriously at Salisbury:  jumping rope, working out, and hitting the wall religiously as he frantically tried to catch up to peers with five- and six-year head starts.

“He was on a mission to prove people wrong,” Salisbury coach Jim Berkman said.

After sitting on the bench his freshman year, Martin was an All-Capital Athletic Conference performer as a sophomore.

Still, Salisbury’s performance that year — ending with a quarterfinal loss to Gettysburg — left him unsatisfied, and he felt like he had lost sight of what was important.

The next year Martin moved in with Olejniczak, who encouraged him to make a schedule and follow his intense workouts.

The results were dramatic. The next two seasons saw the Gulls go 39-1 and win two national championships. Martin was named the USILA Defenseman of the Year both years, as well as Player of the Year in 2004.

For Berkman, Martin’s success came as little surprise. “It’s the edge he has. He practices harder than any kid I’ve ever seen,” Berkman said.

In the MLL, Martin was traded to San Francisco in 2006, where he was selected to three straight all-star games. Last season — his first playing for Denver — he helped the Outlaws to the league final despite a nagging hamstring injury.

He’s seen similar success in the indoor league. Playing for the National Lacrosse League’s Washington (formerly San Jose) Stealth, Martin quickly adapted to playing with a short stick and working within the tight confines of the box. Over the past five seasons, he has become one of the league’s premier defenders, a loose ball machine respected in transition and altogether feared when he has to drop his gloves.

Martin’s triumphs culminated this fall, when he secured one of the 23 spots on the U.S. team, beating out defensemen with gold-plated resumes.

“Eric might have been the best athlete there. He’s just got a great motor,” said Team USA head coach Mike Pressler.

It would be unfair to typecast Martin as just some meathead whose only legacy will be big hits on YouTube. He’s approachable and self-effacing and, after moving out to San Francisco five years ago, takes his role as an ambassador to the game seriously. As a co-director of the Golden State Lacrosse Academy, he runs clinics and camps all over Northern California, and, as a founder of non-profit One City Lacrosse, he tries to spread the sport to the Bay Area’s inner-city kids.

He’s also embraced California — surfing whenever he can, helping out at the Save the Bay coalition and even Twittering a New York Times columnist Tom Friedman piece to Stealth teammate Paul Rabil.

But the most appropriate description for Martin may be found on the inside of his bicep. There, scripted in blue cursive are the words Rara Avis(ital), Latin for rare bird.

The tattoo, inked by Olejniczak, could have several meanings, but Martin says it’s mostly about honoring his friendship with his former roommate.

“Casey’s a rare friend, and I wanted to show I really appreciate everything he’s done for me,” Martin said.

Expressing loyalty to a friend by letting him use an ink gun on you for three hours? Sounds like a great fit for a U.S. team facing the world this summer.

Just tell his teammates to pack some rib pads.

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