MIKE O'HARA

Sam Martin's strong pre-draft workout earned him a fifth-round pick to Detroit

Posted Apr 27, 2013

If Martin performs up to expectations, he will be part of an overhaul of the Lions’ special teams, with the only returning specialist from last season being LS Don Muhlbach

Sam MartinP Sam Martin (Photo: Appalachian State Athletics/David Mayo)
Sam Martin turned heads in a visit to Detroit before he was drafted by the Lions.

The Lions can only hope that he will do the same thing with his punts – with fans watching them soar from one end of the field to the other.

The Lions drafted Martin in the fifth round Saturday, based on a strong performance in his senior year and what he showed them in a pre-draft workout at Appalachian State.

Martin has a family connection to Metro Detroit. His mother, Debbie, is from Union Lake, and his father. Tom, played baseball, basketball and club soccer at Eastern Michigan.

That that isn’t what turned heads in his pre-draft visit to Detroit earlier this month, though.

Martin wore a cap with Appalachian State’s logo on the front. Other passengers on board the flight to Detroit remembered how his school had started Michigan’s football team on the road to ruin with a 34-32 victory in the opening game of the 2007 season.

"Even when I got on the plane in Charlotte, some people brought it up," Martin said in a conference call interview Saturday. "No animosity. It was all in good fun."

Martin, who had a four-year career as Appalachian State’s punter, didn’t have a hand – or foot – in the Michigan game. He was still in high school in Georgia.

If he performs up to expectations, Martin will be part of an overhaul of the Lions’ special teams. The only specialist returning from last season is Don Muhlbach, the Pro Bowl long snapper.

Kicker Jason Hanson has retired after 21 seasons with the franchise. His replacement, 38-year-old David Akers, spent the last two seasons of a 15-year career with San Francisco.

The Lions have not re-signed punter Nick Harris, a Lion nine of his last 10 pro seasons, or Stefan Logan, the return man the last three years. Blake Clingan, a free agent who has not punted in a regular season NFL game, was signed in the offseason.

Martin, who played high school soccer and basketball, did not begin punting until his senior year. He spent five seasons at Appalachian State, red-shirting in 2008, and it wasn’t until his senior season that he put up numbers that attracted the attention of NFL scouts.

Martin says he was unlike most young punters, who begin learning their craft as a freshman at a young age.

"A lot of guys have been doing it since their freshman year in high school," he said.

He had gross punting averages of 40.0, 39.2 and 40.9 yards his first three seasons at Appalachian State. It soared to 45.9 in 2012.

"I always had a strong leg," he said. "The consistency wasn’t there."

The strong leg was proven by a 74-yard punt he boomed in 2009 late in a victory over Wofford.

In 2012, 25 of his 60 punts were downed inside the 20. His net average was 40.8 yards. On kickoffs, he put 45 of the 71 out of the end zone.

Martin’s hands also are good enough to be the holder on extra points and field goals. That is almost a requirement for NFL punters, given that kickers and punters spend practice time together.

There is no margin for error on drops for holders.

"Punters aren’t allowed to drop it," Coach Jim Schwartz said.

John Bonamego, the Lions’ new special teams coordinator, worked out Martin at Appalachian State.

"He’s got a live leg," Schwartz said. "He did a nice job in the workout."

However, Akers is expected to handle kickoffs, Schwartz said.

Not many punters get drafted, so Sam did not have an elaborate draft party. His family got together at a sister’s house in Charlotte, which was at a convenient point from where he and his parents’ home in Fayetteville, Ga.

They watched the draft together, but Sam made it clear that he wasn’t the star of the show. He was the 32nd player drafted in the fifth round, and 165th overall.

"I made it clear to everybody that it was pretty much to watch the draft," he said. "Not see my name."