Pete Friesen, the Carolina Hurricanes’ trainer, first knew Greer Martini as a little kid who hung around the team once in a while. Martini’s father, Doug, was the Hurricanes’ team orthopedist for four years, including the 2006 Stanley Cup season, and Greer often tagged along.
Hockey wasn’t his sport, though. That was football, like it was for his father, who played at William & Mary, something Friesen found out when Greer Martini came back to him a few years later and asked him to help train him to prepare for his freshman year at Notre Dame.
Martini, who grew up in Cary but went to Woodberry Forest, a prep school in Virginia, worked with Friesen for four weeks last summer. Friesen may specialize in hockey players, but it worked. Martini has played extensively at outside linebacker for the Irish as a true freshman.
“He worked my butt off,” Martini said in a phone interview this week. “He got me into great enough shape so I could be ready for my freshman year.”
Martini, 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, was impressive enough in preseason camp that he started the season backing up Irish star Jaylon Smith. When Notre Dame went to a fourth linebacker against Navy’s option offense earlier this month, Martini got the call. He made his first start for the Irish with his family watching at Washington’s FedEx Field – and led the team in tackles.
Friesen wasn’t surprised. Hockey is his sport, but he knows an athlete when he sees one.
“That kid would be like Zdeno Chara or something like that, he’d be a monster,” Friesen said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t pick up the blades instead of football cleats.”
A four-star prospect and the No. 11 linebacker recruit in the country according to ESPN, Martini committed to Notre Dame early, before his junior year in high school, over several ACC offers. It just so happened that Martini arrived at Notre Dame in the first season of its new scheduling agreement with the ACC, which meant he would get several opportunities during his career to play close to home – and, earlier this season, against North Carolina in South Bend. (The Irish host Louisville on Saturday.)
“I know tons of people that go to UNC,” Martini said. “It was great. I had a bunch of people text me afterward from the area – UNC fans about how cool it was to watch their team but also how cool it was to watch me play against them.”
Between his natural size and his willingness to embrace Friesen’s fitness regime, Martini has ended up playing more and earlier than he ever expected at Notre Dame. He also could draw upon the unusual experience of seeing a championship team up close.
“I grew up around the Hurricanes and my dad was part of that memorable season when they won the Stanley Cup,” Martini said. “It was amazing to be a part of that, to see what it takes to be a champion.”
As far as Friesen is concerned, Martini had that all along.
“I’ve been a professional trainer for 35 years and I rarely come across a guy who has the talent and the skill plus the work ethic combined into one,” Friesen said. “That’s what makes him unique. He can optimize his genetic potential.”