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Ex-football standout Martin returns to Kentucky to watch daughter in NCAA volleyball regional

Mike Martin, father of Penn State volleyball player Maddie Martin, showed off his defensive player of the game trophy in the 1976 Peach Bowl. Kentucky defeated North Carolina 21-0.
Mike Martin, father of Penn State volleyball player Maddie Martin, showed off his defensive player of the game trophy in the 1976 Peach Bowl. Kentucky defeated North Carolina 21-0.

Mike Martin had committed to play football at Miami when two weeks later the Hurricanes' coach, Fran Curci, was named the new head coach at Kentucky.

"Coach Curci flew us up to Lexington and took us to a basketball game at Memorial Coliseum," said Martin on Thursday. "They introduced us all at halftime, and I think all eight of us were like, 'Give us a pen, and tell us where do we sign.' "

Now, more than 30 years later, the former All-Southeastern Conference linebacker who was named UK's Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the 1976 Peach Bowl, is returning to the Coliseum in a different capacity, as a proud volleyball parent.

Maddie Martin is a sophomore outside hitter for defending national champion Penn State, which plays UCLA in a Sweet 16 matchup in the Lexington Regional on Friday at 5 p.m. in Memorial. Kentucky then plays top seed Texas at 7 p.m.

"When the bracket came out, we knew it would be Minneapolis, Gainesville, Hawaii or Lexington," said Mike Martin, who lives in Tampa, Fla. "Hawaii would have been nice, except for the time change. My wife wanted Gainesville for convenience sake because it would be close to home. But I was rooting for Lexington all along."

After all, Martin lettered three years here as a linebacker from 1975-77, culminating with a 10-1 team his senior year. After playing with the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots in the NFL, Martin moved to Sarasota, Fla., where in 1992 he started Mike's Pies, a company that distributes pies and cakes to 30 states.

Meanwhile, his daughter Maddie was playing soccer when a coach suggested she try volleyball. She took to the sport and helped H.B. Plant High School to four straight Florida state prep titles.

"She considered Kentucky coming out of high school," said her father. "But she liked the Big Ten and the crowds they get for volleyball. Plus, she got spoiled in high school. She had won championships, and Penn State was coming off a national championship."

Wouldn't you know it, Martin's freshman year at University Park the Nittany Lions won their fourth straight NCAA volleyball title, beating California in the finals.

"I've told her that's not the way it's supposed to be, always winning your last game," said Mike Martin, laughing. "She doesn't know any different."

The Lions enter Friday's match 25-7 and ranked 11th in the volleyball RPI. A situational player last year, Martin has seen her role expand this season.

"She's a good server," Penn State Coach Russ Rose said on Thursday. "She has good ball-handling skills, a good all-around game. We need her to do those sorts of things."

That she will be doing them here in Lexington is exciting for both her and her father. Along with brothers Cam and Luke, Maddie accompanied her father to some UK football and basketball games growing up.

"I know he's really excited to be coming back here and being on campus and seeing old friends," said Maddie Martin. "I know he loves the school here."

In fact, Mike Martin has it all planned out. He will wear a Kentucky shirt on Friday, with a Penn State jacket over the top of it, because Penn State plays in the first match of the day.

When Kentucky plays in the second match, he will take off the jacket to display his UK shirt.

And what if Penn State and Kentucky meet in the region finals on Friday?

"I think he'll be cheering for me," said Maddie Martin. "But I know he's happy to see his school doing so well."

"That's exactly what I want, for Kentucky to do well but not beat Penn State. If it's my school and my daughter I have to pull for my daughter," said Mike Martin. "I'll have some Kentucky blue on, you just won't be able to see it."

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