Wes Martin holds the golden spittoon after an Indiana victory over Michigan State. The two teams play for the rites of the golden spittoon trophy each time the meet. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: columnist
Photo: columnist

Archdeacon: NFL prospect Wes Martin — a big guy with an even bigger heart

Milton Union grad who played at Indiana has started a dog rescue with his mom

When it comes to the three-day NFL draft – which begins Thursday night – Wes Martin has no idea when he might be picked or where he could end up.

But when it comes to staying back at home for these three days, there is no mystery on either front.

The Indiana University offensive lineman is a clear No. 2 pick behind the rescued dogs his mom, Rhonda, is looking after. That means he’ll end up sleeping on the couch and not his old bedroom.

His mom said she took down the old football posters that once adorned the walls of his room. And the trophies he won in youth football and at Milton Union High School have all have been put into boxes and stored.

Now the room holds crates where many of the eight dogs Rhonda has sleep each night. And recently those quarters became the home for a mother dog and her eight, three-week-old puppies that she rescued from the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center on Webster Street in Dayton.

“We made it a puppy room,” she said with noticeable delight in her voice

“Yeah. Mom turned my old bedroom into a sort of whelping room for puppies,” Wes said with a laugh by phone from Bloomington, Indiana before one of his final pre-draft workouts.

“So when I come home (for the draft), I’ll have to sleep on the couch.”

He admitted he was fine with that and his mom agreed: “It was his idea.”

And that aligns perfectly with the pre-draft analysis of Wes Martin:

He’s a big guy – 6-foot-3, 317 pounds – with an even bigger heart.

If you are looking for someone from the Miami Valley to pull for in this year’s NFL draft, he’s your guy.

While draft analyzers have him going anywhere from a mid- to late-round pick to an undrafted free agent, animal lovers see him as a solid first rounder.

Last summer – before a senior season where won All-Big Ten honorable mention honors for the second time and Academic All-Big Ten honors for the fourth year – he launched Brave Breed Rescue. Inc., a nonprofit operation based just outside of West Milton that rescues all breeds of dogs and finds them new homes.

Wes Martin and his mom, Rhonda, run the West Milton based non-profit Brave Breed Rescue Inc. that aids dogs in need. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: columnist

At present Rhonda runs the fledgling operation, which also has a trainer/behaviorist to help some dogs better socialize.

Wes helps when he can – as does his fiancé, Bailey Spitler, also a Milton Union grad and now a registered nurse who works in Bloomington.

While Wes’ main concern right now is launching his pro career, he recently found a way to dovetail his two passions.

During IU s NFL Draft Pro Day earlier this month – a session where 12 athletes tried to improve their stock by going through various drills in front of scouts representing 28 of the 32 NFL teams – Wes put on a one-man show on the bench press.

As some players now do, he made it a fund-raising session for charity – in this case his Brave Breed organization.

He called his effort “Repping for Rescue”—and had signed up supporters who made pledges for each bench press he made.

He did 38 reps of 225 pounds. Although he had done better than that the week before, it was more than triple the total of a couple other pro day participants and 11 more reps than anyone else there. In fact, only one guy at the NFL combine – Weber State’s Iosua Opeta – did better.

Wes raised $1,386 for Brave Breed Rescue that day.

He also turned some NFL heads.

Immediately afterward the Detroit Lions huddled with him for a long time. Since then other teams have brought him in for private workouts.

From Milton Union to Indiana

The two Martin boys – Wes and brother Adam, who is three years older – played football for Milton Union.

Their mom – who split up with their dad, Al, when the boys were still young – handled most of the parental chores along with Al’s mom, Alice Martin.

“I had the boys follow Mitchell Evans,” Rhonda said. “He’s four years older than Adam and played quarterback at Milton before going to Indiana.

“I think kids need a role model and he was a great one. Just a great kid. The boys knew his mother, she had been their preschool teacher. And a least once a year we’d go over to IU to watch him play. That kind of got the ball rolling.”

When Wes first started playing football in the third grade, he already was the biggest kid on the team. Although terribly shy early on, he was a big presence everywhere he went.

“I can tell you his lunch box wouldn’t fit into his locker,” Rhonda laughed. “Mrs. Fox (who had him in a study hall) had to clear out part of her locker so he could put the lunch box in there.”

Wes became a standout lineman for the Bulldogs. He garnered all-state honors as a sophomore and junior year – as the Southwest Buckeye League’s offensive lineman of the year – he was part of a Milton Union team that made it to the third round of the playoffs.

Although Purdue, Illinois and most of the Mid-American Conference schools sought to sign him, he opted for Indiana as soon as the Hoosiers offered.

He had a stellar career there, starting 43 of 50 career games, including his final 38, and making a mark as the strongest Hoosier. He benched 535 pounds and squatted 655.

In the classroom he did even heavier lifting and last December graduated with 3.79 GPA in criminal justice.

‘Can’t say no to helping dogs’

Wes’ love of animals comes from his mom.

“She was always saving dogs and bringing them home,” he said. “They stayed with us forever because she never had a platform to get help and get them adopted out.”

Last spring Wes had an internship with DistinXion, the non-profit basketball and character development organization run by Luke Zeller – the former 6-foot-11 Indiana Mr. Basketball who played at Notre Dame and in the pros – and his famed basketball family.

“Luke and his mother gave me a lot of insight on how the 501 (c) 3 world works,” he said. “I’d planned to start the rescue operation once I was done playing football, but I began to think it was possible now.

“I went to our compliance office at IU to make sure there wouldn’t be a problem with the NCAA and then we just went with it.”

Wes Martin with his mom, Rhonda. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: columnist

Rhonda said they rescue dogs from over-crowded shelters, that are surrendered by their owners and are strays. At present she’s caring for eight dogs, four of which she’s fostering until a suitable owner is found. She has other foster families with dogs, as well.

To find out more about Brave Breed Rescue, go to bravebreed.org. Find them on Facebook or call (937)-231-4896 or (937) 216-8015.

Wes said he began Brave Breed because “I just can’t say no to helping dogs.”

Conversely, he had no problem saying “no” to an opposing defender. In 569 snaps last season, he didn’t allow a sack or a tackle for loss.

He’s hoping teams have taken notice, but said he’s not going to burden himself about it:

“The draft is so unpredictable. I’ve heard everything from the third round to free agency. Worrying about it will stress me out and hinder my ability to be ready to go and compete to make a 53-man roster and eventually win a starting spot.”

Cementing a football future is key in developing Brave Breed Rescue the way he wants to. One day he envisions returning to West Milton to run it himself. In the meantime, he hopes to get some property and build a facility.

His mom said it would be good for the dogs and Wes certainly knows it would be good for him as well.

It would get him off the couch and back into his bedroom.

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