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Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
BYU players, including Brad Martin, right, celebrate after sacking San Diego State player during a game in 1998, the year that Martin's downward spiral began as he became addicted to painkillers.

It appears Brad Martin died midstride between his bedroom and the laundry room in his Salt Lake house.

That he left this earth on the move isn't surprising. He could never take anything lying down. He lived an all-or-nothing life.

Nowhere was that more evident than on the football field. Teammates and family members describe the Brigham Young University linebacker as a fierce competitor. He hated losing, and he hated missing a game.

Still, Robert and Ellen Martin were surprised to see him in Cougar Stadium warming up for a game against Arizona State the day after a car accident rendered him unconscious, put seven stitches in his forehead and left him with severe whiplash.

In fact, Robert Martin, a physical therapist, told his son in no uncertain terms to sit out the game.

"I told Brad, 'Son, you are not to play football tomorrow,'" he recalled.

"OK, Dad," he replied.

Robert Martin threw what his wife described as a royal fit when they saw number 10 on the field.

Martin, a senior co-captain, made six tackles as BYU held the 14th-ranked Sun Devils to one touchdown in a 26-6 win on a balmy September evening in 1998. He told his parents after the game team doctors cleared him to play.

Already known for his toughness, Martin earned added respect from his teammates that day. Former teammate Rob Morris, now an Indianapolis Colts linebacker, noticed Martin wasn't right during morning walk-through before the game.

"Martin (was) running his own defense. He's going the wrong way on the blitzes. He's doing everything wrong," Morris said after the game. "And (then) this guy comes out and plays a full game. He's one of the toughest guys I've ever met. He had my respect before this, but he's really got it now."

As tough as he was, there was one fight he couldn't win.

Martin died alone in Sugar House sometime around Memorial Day 2006 after an eight-year battle with drug addiction that started with that neck injury and a bottle of painkillers.

"He was very special to us," his father said. "He really had everything going for him."

The spiral

In the days following the Arizona State game, Martin started experiencing neck pain and severe headaches. Though he never had surgery for the injuries, the BYU medical staff prescribed Lortab, a prescription painkiller that contains the addictive narcotic hydrocodone.

Three weeks later, Martin, who checked in at 6-feet-1 and weighed 240 pounds, told team doctors the pills didn't seem to work. According to his parents, the reply was "you're a big boy. You need to take more."

"They just kept giving them to him," Ellen Martin said. "At that rate, within a month the kid had a problem."

Martin popped pills before practice because it hurt to hit. He took them after practice because he hurt from hitting. He swallowed them at night to sleep.

By mid-October, Martin's wife became concerned. She asked Martin's father to speak with the coaches and medical staff.

Robert Martin, who along with Ellen traveled from their home in Clovis, Calif., to every Cougar game, said he talked with a team doctor on the sidelines on three occasions. The doctor assured him his son was OK and was being monitored.

"From their perspective, they figured they were doing everything right," Robert Martin said. "In retrospect, either they had no clue or they didn't care."

In addition to legitimately getting pills from team doctors, he deceived other doctors and discreetly hit up teammates who stockpiled them.

Jason Walker, a safety from Springville, knew Martin as well as anyone during their playing days. They arrived as freshmen and became fast friends. They lived together, took classes together, lifted weights together and roomed together on road trips.

Walker said Martin's spiral into addiction came "quickly and quietly."

In Las Vegas for the 1998 WAC championship game, Walker found hundreds of pills in a dresser drawer. "That really took me by surprise to see the amount of pills that were there," he said.

Walker asked Martin about them but said he never really got an answer. Addiction, he said, never crossed his mind. He didn't say anything to coaches because he and Martin were buddies.

"It never would have occurred to me that that was the beginning of the end," Walker said.

The decline

Though pressured by coaches and teammates to play, Martin's drive came largely from within.

He played a 1997 game against rival Utah with a broken rib.

In 1996, he broke his thumb against Washington and played the next week against New Mexico.

He also endured turf toe and chips in his elbow.

Pro scouts had him on their radar screen. Not playing in the college games would seriously jeopardize any chance of playing in the NFL.

"Brad does have a piece of the responsibility. He wanted to be on the field. He just really thought he could control it," Ellen Martin said.

But he couldn't.

Still, the Martins say the coaches and medical staff allowed him to get addicted.

"They knew he was hurt. He was a starting linebacker, a team captain. Having him stand on the sidelines in street clothes, that doesn't go over too well," Robert Martin said. "I think they knew what was going on. They didn't want to deal with it."

Retired BYU head trainer George Curtis told the Fresno Bee last year that "there were several of us who suspected (Brad was addicted) after the season."

"I was closest to this situation, and I can assure you BYU and the staff did everything right for Brad."

Curtis, who has Parkinson's disease, which limits his ability to speak, did not respond to e-mail questions.

An all-conference performer who as a junior had attracted attention from pro scouts, Martin's play declined his senior year. He wasn't invited to any post-season all-star games, nor did an NFL team draft him.

In February 2004, Martin sued BYU over responsibility for medical bills incurred as a result of his car accident. He contended the university allowed him to play football despite his injuries and provided him with an "abundance" of pain pills. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

The end

Martin never put his life together off the field.

"I told Brad once, 'You seek drugs with the same intensity that you played football with,"' Robert Martin said. Drug addiction led to two failed marriages and legal trouble, including jail time for prescription fraud.

"It was a miserable six years until he passed away. He hated himself. He was embarrassed," Ellen Martin said.

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Martin called his parents about a month before he died. It was about 2 a.m. He was hurting and crying. They talked for three hours until he fell asleep.

The autopsy showed nothing in his system that wasn't supposed to be there, his parents said. He quit breathing. His heart stopped pumping. His respiratory system failed.

No one found him for a week. The Martins had his body cremated because it was so decomposed.

Martin chose to play football at BYU over UCLA so his grandparents could watch him play. A headstone etched with BYU #10 inside a football sits next to their graves in the American Fork Cemetery.


E-mail: romboy@desnews.com