Mike Martin, a former Michigan defensive lineman and captain, knows what it’s like not to have enough money to attend high school football camps where college coaches work and identify talent – or those where young up-and-coming players can pick up tips from former college players.
For the fourth straight year, Martin is hosting his Youth Football Gauntlet camp for third through 12th graders. It will be held at his high school alma mater, Detroit Catholic Central, on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The $25 fee is offset by a number of sponsors, including Meijer. Former Wolverines Devin Funchess and Brandon Graham will work the camp.
The day before, Martin is hosting his first golf outing to raise money and build a financial “cushion” for future camps. Former Wolverines Jamie Morris and Braylon Edwards are among the celebrities who will participate in the event at Tanglewood Golf Club in South Lyon.
Each year, Martin tries to add something unique to the camp, which attracts several hundred kids, mostly from Detroit but also the metro area. This time, six friends who are barbers will be there to give the kids haircuts. The Detroit Grand Prix will have an IndyCar on display, and 16 members of the Michigan Marching Band will perform.
“I pull a lot of kids from Detroit,” Martin said. “I put a lot of effort in bringing kids from the inner city out here. We put together transportation. This camp is all about using football, sports and athletics as the honey to grab their attention and put them around professional athletes, and business people, and coaches and doctors and lawyers, to make sure they leave as better people and with life skills and mentorship they can use in their lives.”
Martin makes the camp as affordable as possible.
“I make it work,” he said. “No money is made from it. Usually, I break even or lose a couple bucks.”
He remembers what it was like being a kid that age without the funds to pick and choose which camps he wanted to attend.
Martin wanted to attend a camp at Michigan while Lloyd Carr was head coach, but he didn’t have the $500 needed to cover the fee. His mother told him he’d have to find a way to get the money, because they couldn’t spare enough.
“I took the family lawn mower and cut grass,” Martin said. “I made $1,000 and put half to the camp, and I put the other half in a mutual fund, because I had learned what that was about.”
His financial awareness would serve him later, but he tells the story to the kids because he wants them to understand his approach to life – you carve your path to success. With that $500, Martin turned the heads of Carr and then-defensive coordinator Ron English.
“I wasn’t even on the radar,” Martin said, laughing. “I was part of the group of the other kids at camp who were not really on the radar. I couldn’t go to the Nike camps, so they didn’t really know who I was. I was kicking everybody’s butt and I told this coach, ‘I need to get on the field with the guys everybody’s looking at.’
“I didn’t wait in line. ‘Who’s next?’ I whipped this dude. I didn’t go to the back of the line. ‘Give me another guy.’ I whipped his tail. ‘Give me another guy.’ I put that guy on his back. Twenty minutes later, Coach Carr pulls up to me in his golf cart and says, ‘You should come to Schembechler Hall and have lunch.’”
And with that $500 earned cutting grass, and with his performance in camp, Martin carved his path to success by earning a scholarship to Michigan. He was selected in the third round of the NFL draft by Tennessee in 2012.
Martin is coming up on two years since his knee surgery and has decided not to attempt a comeback.
He is now a financial planner after taking part in a unique MBA program at the University of Miami – the Miami Executive MBA for Artists and Athletes – and received his degree in 18 months.
“You have all this money and you don’t know what to do with it,” Martin said. “You have so many people telling you what you should be doing, and they don’t know what they’re doing.”
To become certified, Martin had to take a grueling eight-hour exam.
“If you fail it three times, you’re barred,” he said. “It’s pretty tough. I passed it my first time around.
“I really wanted to be able to help my peers and new people I meet. I’m a coach-type. I love football, mentoring youth, talking to people about how to be better educated and prepared on their financial life, if I can offer advice. That’s what I’m about.”
Martin’s message to young football players is that they need to learn how to be successful no matter what path they choose.
“The coolest thing about it, the kids that were there Year 1 are with me now Year 4,” said Martin, who has been working out at Michigan and playing pickup basketball with many of the current players now that he’s back in the area. “They’re in high school, and they’re becoming young men. It’s cool to see them grow up and to be part of their lives.
“One kid last year brought pictures of us from every year. He was a child four years ago and now he’s a man.”
Martin remembered what it was like to be a kid who got words of advice from a professional athlete. He has a picture with former Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola and told the pro that he would someday play in the NFL, too. Raiola told him to work hard.
The Titans beat the Lions in overtime in 2012, and Martin faced Raiola the entire game.
“I had a great game,” Martin said.
And then he had a chance to speak to Raiola.
“I told him that story, and he said, ‘Man, I’m old,’” Martin said, laughing. “I never forgot having that conversation with him as a kid. That was my experience with Dom and I’m doing the same with these kids. I don’t care if they become professional athletes, but I want to coach them up and mentor them.”