NIC MARTIN is an introvert and a thinker who has nearly completed his university degree in tax accounting. But his path to the AFL reveals a player with fight and determination deep down in his nature.
The Essendon forward won the round one NAB AFL Rising Star nomination for his five-goal performance against Geelong, with the recognition coming less than a month after he joined the Bombers' list during the Supplemental Selection Period.
His performance, which also included 27 disposals and 10 marks, was the shining light for the Bombers in an otherwise flattening loss to Geelong, with the 20-year-old producing one of several memorable debuts across the competition.
Two years after being overlooked in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, and following previous unsuccessful attempts to join an AFL list through the SSP, it was a debut built on hard work, resilience and not giving him up on his AFL dream.
"When he wasn't taken in the draft as an 18-year-old, I said to him it could be a good thing for you," Martin's manager Jason Dover told AFL.com.au.
"Some guys will have just been drafted, and when you get drafted they may no longer be on an AFL list. We said that two years ago.
"He realised he could still go away and work and do an apprenticeship that he probably would have been doing on an AFL list anyway.
"He went to university and studied, but he never sat around and felt sorry for himself and waited to be get picked. He went to work."
Martin first came to prominence in WA as a school footy star for Trinity, then impressing as a colts forward for Subiaco alongside now Port Adelaide goalkicker Mitch Georgiades.
Clubs started to think of him as a top-20 talent in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft, but the forward had an under-18s championship that unsettled him and robbed him of confidence.
While that experience saw him drop off the radar of AFL clubs, it instilled in him a sense of resilience and determination.
Martin and his dad met with Dover after his draft year and spoke about what the teenager could change to get his chance at AFL level.
Feedback was sourced from those clubs that had been most interested but ultimately passed on him, and a list of that feedback sat on the back of his bedroom door for the next two years.
Prominent on that list was to build his running capacity and work on the defensive aspects of the game.
"It was a pretty solid list, but he was one who was happy to get that honest feedback and go to work," Dover said.
"He had options to move WAFL clubs, considering he was at a really strong program at Subiaco, but he chose to stay and put his head down and have a massive summer.
"They challenged him on a number of things, but he never went away and he ponied up and that continued to grow."
An impressive training stint with West Coast in the lead-up to 2021 had further fuelled Martin's hunger and belief, but he was overlooked after a quad strain and due to the Eagles' forward line depth at that point.
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Twelve months later, it was Essendon wanting to get a closer look at Martin having tracked him from afar for two years and considering him as a rookie.
List manager Adrian Dodoro called in December and, understanding he could be more than a forward, challenged Martin to become a power runner before joining the club in January.
"Nic was happy to jump on a plane and head over there before Christmas, and not be able to get back due to the border, but Adrian said stay over there, but spend the next three weeks busting your gut and learn to run. We need you to be able to run," Dover explained.
"So he went and got a really good running program, but then he also went and did some sessions with personal trainer Body Majic. When he got over there he was the fittest he's been."
The evidence of Martin's new running power was evident in an Essendon intraclub hitout in February when the 190cm forward booted four goals and racked up disposals on a wing.
The Bombers decided at that point they would list him as a rookie, but they wanted him to take on the Western Bulldogs in a practice match the following week before telling him.
It was only of matter of minutes after that match ended that he was told his AFL dream was a reality, and he was then sent out to play half a game with the reserves with his head spinning.
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There was constant evidence of Martin's new running power on Saturday as he created opportunities and kicked goals after searching runs the length of the MCG.
The Bombers have been rewarded for seeing past his development as a forward and imagining Martin as something more.
For Dover, who is now confident Martin will go on to a successful AFL career, it's a story that he will share with prospective draftees for years.
"They can feel like it's all or nothing in their 18s year, and that's why I love Nic's story," he said.
"He could have been one of them, but he did take all the feedback and he did take the hard path.
"He never asked for any guarantees, he just went to work and I think he deserves some plaudits for the path he's chosen and the way he has gone about it."