Playing well while losing the ‘Meat’

Eric Martin knew he’d have to fight and scrap to make it in professional lacrosse as a little-known Division III alumnus in a league full of players with elite pedigrees.

So he did. Literally.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound defenseman was in his first training camp with the San Jose Stealth of the indoorNational Lacrosse League when some of the veterans took notice of his hulking frame and encouraged him to use it. He even earned a nickname for his pugilistic prowess — “Meat.”

“They were saying, ‘Hey, you gotta fight, it’s part of the game,’” Martin said. “So the first two games, I got into fights — not because I’m a big fighter, but because I was trying to make the team.”

Now, however, the nickname has faded along with any anxiety Martin may have had about being cut. The Salisbury (Md.) University graduate is in his second season with the San Francisco Dragons, where he has emerged into perhaps the premier defenseman in the outdoor Major League Lacrosse. He will likely be named as a member of the Western Conference All-Star team when the rosters are announced today and is San Francisco’s unquestioned defensive leader as the Dragons (1-3) prepare to host Denver (2-2) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Kezar Stadium.

“Eric is pretty much the heart and soul of everything we do defensively,” Dragons executive vice president and general manager Doug Locker said. “He draws the opposing team’s top offensive player every game and time and again he’s risen to the challenge. I don’t think there are many defensemen in this league doing it any better than him.”

Locker netted both Martin and attacker Ryan Powell (last year’s MLL MVP) from Rochester in the same trade prior to last season, a heist that pushed the Dragons into the playoffs as an expansion team. Martin was named to the 2006

All-Pro team after leading the team in groundballs with 55 and has been even better this year. The 25-year-old Norfolk, Va., native again leads the team with 20 groundballs and has scored two goals, including a two-point game-tying score that helped the Dragons earn a 15-14 comeback win over Chicago (after which he was named Defensive Player of the Week).

Not bad for a guy who didn’t pick up a lacrosse stick until entering high school and drew little to no interest from Division I programs. He went on to become the D-III Player of the Year as a senior, was a two-time first-team All-American, was the Defenseman of the Year in both his junior and senior years and led the Sea Gulls to the national championship in 2003 and 2004.

“In high school, I was just thinking, ‘Man, I’d love to be able to play in college,’” Martin said. “And then in college, I was thinking how great it would be to play pro. It’s been an awesome surprise, but I’ve worked hard for it.”

GAME DAY

Dragons (1-3) vs. Outlaws (2-2)

WHEN: Saturday, 1 p.m.

WHERE: Kezar Stadium

TV: Comcast SportsNet

melliser@examiner.com


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