GREEN BAY – Kamal Martin was all set to play quarterback at Eastern Michigan.
Then the Minnesota all-state star from the Twin Cities suburb of Burnsville went to one last Gophers football camp, and took a crack at linebacker.
Next thing he knew, he had an offer from his "dream school" and a new position to play.
"I played a little bit of defense my senior year in high school (in the secondary), and always been a fan of the physical side of the football game," Martin said. "I feel like that's one of the reasons we fall in love of the game, because there's nothing like it.
"There's nothing like that physical side where you truly get to punish opponents, especially in the cold. We love that up at Minnesota, we love playing in the cold."
Which makes Martin a good cultural fit in Green Bay, as the Packers made him the 6-3, 240-pound defender their fifth-round draft pick on Saturday. The Packers used the 175th overall selection on Martin, their first pick on Day 3 of the draft.
Martin started as an edge rusher in college and then worked his way to inside linebacker with the Gophers, becoming a starter in 2018.
His final season last year was hampered and then cut short by a knee injury, but he still recorded a career-best 66 tackles and two interceptions and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten recognition.
"With Kamal, the first thing I notice is his toughness and versatility," Packers Midlands area scout Brandian Ross said. "He played through the knee injury at some point late last year before he shut it down."
The knee required surgery and kept Martin from running an official 40-yard dash in the pre-draft process. He says he's close to 100 percent now and getting good medical reports. Ross projected him as a high 4.5-low 4.6 defender speed-wise.
"He has some length and size to him that allows him to be more physical with those tight ends who like to stretch the seam," Ross said.
As the Packers search for a No. 2 inside linebacker to line up next to free-agent acquisition Christian Kirksey, Martin will be in the mix with Oren Burks, Curtis Bolton and Ty Summers as candidates at this point.
Special teams will be Martin's ticket to a roster spot and initial playing time as a rookie, of course, and he's no stranger to that duty.
He emphasized that he "took pride" in special teams, playing on those units all four years at Minnesota and becoming a leader younger players rallied around in that phase of the game.
"He already knows that special teams is going to be a big part of his game to make this team and help this team win," Ross said. "He's a guy who can do it and who wants to do it."
He's also already very familiar with some of his new teammates, as he's been training out in Santa Ana, Calif., with quarterback Jordan Love and running back AJ Dillon, Green Bay's first- and second-round draft picks, the past few months.
"They're awesome, awesome guys," Martin said. "Just great, genuine people and I can't wait to win a lot of games with them here in Green Bay. So, I'm pretty excited about that."
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