By Robbie Weinstein
Indiana offensive lineman Wes Martin is so strong, Hoosiers safety Jonathan Crawford doesn’t like to watch him lift. In fact, the redshirt senior is the undisputed strongest player on the team. Even among the many towering athletes at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Martin stands out.
Martin’s former head coach at Milton-Union High School in Ohio says the 6-foot-3, 316-pound offensive lineman—known by many as “Big Wes”—is the largest student to ever come through the school. Many children from Martin’s hometown of West Milton look up to him, and he represents them each time he steps on the field at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium.
“Wes will do anything any kid needs,” said Mark Lane, Milton-Union’s athletic director and former head football coach. “You’ll hear young kids who are in our elementary school today still talk about Big Wes. That’s what everybody says here at Milton, ‘Big Wes, Big Wes.’ Some of those little kids might not even know his last name, because all they know him by is Big Wes.”
Community means a lot in West Milton, a town of roughly 4,700 people about 25 miles northwest of Dayton. Martin didn’t choose Indiana because of family connections or the chance to play in the Big Ten. Instead, Martin became an Indiana fan during former Milton-Union quarterback Mitchell Evans’s Hoosiers tenure from 2007-10.
Now, Martin is Indiana’s rock. Big Wes benches 535 pounds and squats in the mid-600s—he says he built toughness “unloading the barn” on an Ohio dairy farm where he once worked. He anchors the Hoosiers’ offensive line and serves as the understated leader of an offense that finished sixth in the Big Ten in points and yards per game in 2017.
“He does everything right,” said Hoosiers wide receiver Like Timian. “For a young guy, if you want to learn how to be elite in this league and be a great man overall, watch that guy.”
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Martin is how early he blossomed as a leader. A right MCL sprain cut short his senior year at Milton-Union, and the team limped to a 2-8 record. Martin didn’t get down, however, putting even more energy into leadership and setting a good example for the young players who would carry the Bulldogs after he graduated.
“It was not a pretty season, his senior year,” Lane said. “Wes never wavered, and he knew what was right for the team and always pushed the team along.”
Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen characterizes Martin as dependable and consistent, but he isn’t boring. Crawford laughs while describing Big Wes, and Lane calls him a “good ole country boy.” The good-natured Martin plays a key role in Indiana’s locker room.
“You can count on that guy,” Allen said. “I tell our team this all the time: I want guys that are smart, tough and dependable. When I think of those three things, that’s Wes Martin.”
Crawford said that when one media member asked Martin what animal he would return as in the afterlife, Big Wes said he’d be a grizzly bear. It isn’t hard to see why: Martin was named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten in 2017 and mauls opponents with his mammoth frame.
Indiana mostly started over on its offensive line in 2017, and Martin helped hold things together. Martin logged the most snaps of any offensive guard in the FBS not to allow a sack last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and Allen praised his grit. The Hoosiers will need it when they face divisional foes Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, all of which have among the best defensive lines in the country.
Allen said Martin’s challenge has been translating his immense strength to in-game situations by exploding into defensive linemen, and that’s been a major part of Martin’s offseason training. Martin feels he deserved a spot on an All-Big Ten team in 2017, however, and that’s driven him since last season.
“I wasn’t happy with being Honorable Mention All-Big Ten,” Martin said. “It’s natural to want to be the best you can. There was motivation there to keep pushing forward and to be even better.”
Big Ten honors aside, those around Martin express confidence in him. Allen said he sees Martin as a future NFL player, although Lane says the residents of West Milton love Big Wes regardless.
“He’s gonna make his family proud, he’s gonna make our town proud, he’s gonna make our school proud,” Lane said. “There couldn’t be a better ambassador that we could put out there.”