Acts 20:35 NIV.
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work, we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
While that message might not resonate with everyone at a young age, it did with Ball State Football redshirt junior linebacker Brandon Martin.
Growing up in Indianapolis, his mother, Lisa Martin, instilled in him the importance of making a difference early in his childhood. Brandon Martin saw his mom tirelessly dedicate her time toward helping others, which inspired him to do the same.
“She’s always been one to volunteer her time and be there for other people,” he said. “I grew up seeing her do that, and she really motivated me to lend a helping hand or be a shoulder to lean on.”
For Martin, it wasn’t just about giving back. His mom said when he was in kindergarten, he constantly checked on one of his classmates who his fellow peers bullied, making sure she was safe and OK.
“That’s the way to live — to treat other people like you would want to be treated,” Lisa Martin said. “[Brandon] has been blessed with a lot in his life — to help others who maybe aren’t as blessed as him and do what he can to help. I really feel like he learned that early, and he continues to do that. I’m just so proud of him.”
Heading into his fourth season with the Cardinals, an injury in Ball State’s 2019 season opener against Indiana sidelined Brandon Martin for the remainder of the season.
While he could not contribute to Ball State through his work on the gridiron, Martin made a difference in the campus and Muncie community through his service and volunteerism. Feeding off of the lessons his mother taught him, Martin volunteered in Ball State Best Buddies, Ball State Dance Marathon and Muncie Mission.
“This university and this community have given so much to me just as a person — much more than a football player,” Martin said. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot, and any opportunity that I get to be out in the community means a lot to me. It’s just something I enjoy because I’m giving back to a community that’s given so much to me and a community that I care for a whole lot.”
Martin’s volunteerism helped him become one of seven Mid-American Conference football players nominated this past July for the Wuerffel Trophy: “college football’s premier award for community service.”
Similarly, Ball State’s Multicultural Center awarded Martin the Mary Etta Taylor-Rose Service Award this past April. The center presents the award annually to a student of color who has demonstrated outstanding community service within the Ball State and/or Muncie communities.
“There are so many things people can get from doing acts of service,” said Bobby Steele, director of the Multicultural Center. “When you’re in a position to be able to help someone, it is important. I think it really helps people intrinsically get motivated and rewarded for some of the things they’re doing.”
However, Martin never aspired to receive an award. From volunteering with his mother to participating in university-based community service organizations, making a difference comes naturally to him.
“[The awards] mean a lot to me, but honestly, the goal was never to receive any type of recognition,” Martin said. “It was really just based on the passion that I have for people and the passion that I have for this university and this community.”
Martin’s leadership with the Cardinals and throughout the Ball State community recently gave him an opportunity to meet one of his longtime role models. On Oct. 20, former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Ball State alumnus and television icon David Letterman visited Ball State’s campus to film an episode of “Peyton’s Places” — an ESPN-produced, football-themed documentary series.
Not only did Martin grow up rooting for the Colts, but he said his mother often watched Letterman on television during his childhood. The day prior to the duo’s on-campus appearance, Martin told his mom he would be working with representatives from the NFL. However, it wasn’t until the day of filming he gave her the specifics of the show’s production. The two were equally as thrilled.
“He called me and said, ‘Mom, guess what?’” Lisa Martin said. “He said, ‘Guess who I get to meet?’”
Brandon Martin then told his mother he would meet Manning. His mother said he sounded like an “8-year-old kid” when telling her he was about to meet one of his idols.
Because of COVID-19 concerns, the show’s production took place without any prior notice to the general public. However, that didn’t stop a crowd of passersby from watching the two local legends and Martin film part of the episode. Born and raised a Colts fan, Martin said meeting one of his childhood heroes marked one of the best days of his life.
“I don’t know if there’s a cooler duo you can meet and be around than David and Peyton,” Martin said.
Martin described Manning as one of his “heroes,” and meeting him was like meeting the same person he’d watched on TV for years.
“He’s a really humble, cool guy, and it was really cool to meet a guy who was really impactful on my city for so long.”
Set to receive his Bachelor of Science in marketing this December, Martin said he is excited to resume his football career after his injury sidelined him for most of 2019. He is one of 14 Cardinals on this season’s Leadership Council, which is a group of players voted by their fellow teammates who serve “as the voice of the team and a sounding board for the coaching staff.”
Because of his work ethic and leadership, the Cardinals’ coaching staff also named Martin and eight other players this season’s “Tough Cardinals.” According to the team, those who are selected represent the program’s eight pillars of “tough” — discipline, effort, attitude, passion, competitive toughness, physical toughness, perseverance and influence on others.
This is Martin’s third season receiving the distinction, and head coach Mike Neu said Martin is the hardest worker on this season’s team.
“He elevates everybody else,” Neu said. “Everything you could ask a young man from a leadership standpoint — he truly elevates everyone around him. He does a great job of communicating with his teammates if something’s not up to our standards.”
Although the Cardinals’ defense struggled in 2019, allowing an average of 34 points per game, Martin is excited to work with first-year defensive coordinator Tyler Stockton. Martin said he admires Stockton’s leadership and willingness to connect with players on a personal level.
“There’s nobody else I’d rather play football for than Stockton,” Martin said. “He cares about us a lot as people even more than players. I know, a lot of times, if I go talk to coach, it’s about football a lot, but it’s the same amount as just my personal life and things I have going on.”
Since playing his first game with the Cardinals in 2017, Martin has recorded 153 tackles throughout his collegiate career. He recorded a career-high 15 in Ball State’s 38-31 win over Eastern Michigan Nov. 11.
“Brandon Martin is going to give his best effort every single day,” Neu said. “When you go to the weight room, it’s not a surprise to hear our strength and conditioning staff talk about how hard he works in the weight room. Nobody works harder than he does — it doesn’t matter who you talk to in our program.”
From volunteering with his mother to contributing in the Ball State community, Martin believes love is the most important thing in the world — something his mother taught him at a young age.
“It’s just so important to love one another,” he said. “We all go through things in life, and we all need a shoulder to lean on. Those are the things that matter. Jobs may come and go, but what’s really going to last is friendships and relationships.”
Contact Connor Smith with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cnsmith_19.