Story by Joe Caulfield
Every year it seems the Division III title has to run through the Salisbury Sea Gulls. It’s no surprise that with the success they’ve had, former Sea Gulls are catching on in the MLL. Salisbury leads all non-traditional DI powers in players succeeding at the next level.
“Playing at Salisbury, they play a great schedule every year as far as DIII teams go, and Berkman recruits great athletes that may have slipped through the cracks for one reason or another with the DI guys, but they’re still exceptional athletes,” said San Francisco Dragons head coach Brian Silcott. “Then he keeps working with them until they become great lacrosse players.”
Silcott has been the happy recipient of one of Berkman’s most successful players, Eric Martin. Martin separated himself from the pack in his time at Salisbury, winning a National Championship in his senior season of 2003, Division III defenseman of the year in ’02 and ’03, and Division III Player of the Year in ’03.
Coming out of college Martin was drafted by the MLL’s Rochester Rattlers, as well as the NLL’s San Jose Stealth. Playing behind basically the starting defense from the 2002 USA Team in John Glatzel, Ryan Mollett and Michael Howley, Martin found it difficult to earn playing time at close . He passed the time playing shortstick defense until Glatzel went down with an injury in 2004, finally allowing Martin to wield a pole.
“In Rochester I considered him to still be one of the best even though he didn’t have the name and was coming from a Division III program,” said former Rattler teammate and current San Fran teammate, Tim Booth. “A lot of people thought ‘well, DIII, he’s not going to be a top player.’ But even for Rochester, when he could have went under the radar, I believed him to be one of our better defenders anyway.”
When San Francisco was attempting to build their program, Martin was on a short list key players they wanted to sculpt a team around.
“We knew we wanted E-Mart [Martin] from the get-go. We obviously didn’t think it was going to end up being able to happen for us because Rochester didn’t want to let him go,” said Silcott. “He was playing in Rochester with a lot of great defenseman and a lot of people felt that by the end of last year he was the best guy on that team on the defensive end. So we knew we would like to get him, but the fact that he plays for the San Jose Stealth, he was already out in San Fran, it would have been easy for him to stay out there, so it would have been a perfect match for us.”
Eventually Rochester succumbed to the Dragons’ requests, shipping Martin, Ryan Powell, and Ryan Marshall off to the Bay area as part of the blockbuster multi-player, multi-team deal just prior to the season.
Martin’s pedigree in lacrosse can’t be denied. He’s proven his worth at every level. What has always seemed to motivate Martin is the doubt so many have caste upon him during his career.
“Eric is one of those guys that plays with a chip on his shoulder,” said current Dragons teammate Tom Zummo. “He kind of helped me this year in that aspect, where he kind of gave me that chip. He showed it doesn’t matter where you played, it matters what you’re doing now. Eric is a great teammate.”
“He is incredibly intense on the field. He goes after it,” Silcott said. “He loves to play, plays hard every second of every game. He’s a good one-on-one defender. He’s a pretty good off-ball defender. He’s great at picking off passes, and he’s also a great slide man. Plus, he is also great with the ball in his stick; he handles it pretty much as well as anybody when he’s carrying the ball. He’s really a complete package, plus he brings a lot of intensity that makes all the physical things look even better.”
Martin is quick to thank a lesser-known defenseman in the Rochester pool who helped his transition from Salisbury to the MLL.
“I got drafted and was able to meet guys like Regy Thorpe, who doesn’t get a lot of press or credit, but he’s a really good player in the league,” Martin said. “He taught me how to play tough and kind of be a prick, but lead by example.”
Being on the wrong side of Martin’s intensity can undoubtedly be frustrating, but from his coach’s perspective it’s always fun to watch.
“E-Mart is hilarious in practice. It’s just a running dialogue the entire time he plays,” said Silcott. “People think he talks and can be a bit of a difficult person during the games. During practice he just talks the whole time. He’s making fun of guys as he’s playing. Laughing at guys as he takes the ball away from them. It’s pure entertainment, pure entertainment.”
Martin’s intensity and playmaking abilities have been integral to the Dragons’ success this year. While Martin did draw some attention despite the star-studded back-line in Rochester, there’s no question, he’s the rock for San Francisco’s defense.
“He’s easily the top defender for San Fran,” said Booth. “But, you know in my eyes, I thought he could have been our top defender for Rochester.”