MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — When he was 14, Arturo Martinez was essentially told he was dying. Leukemia, stage IV. As bad as it gets.
He made beating cancer look easy.
And now he's got a chance to be part of a national-championship team.
Martinez is a walk-on defensive lineman at Notre Dame, the nation's No. 1 team that was facing second-ranked Alabama in the BCS title game on Monday night. The game is in greater Miami, a return home for Martinez, who played high school football at Belen Jesuit — one of South Florida's top programs — and fell for Notre Dame after seeing a game there.
He won't be playing, but he couldn't care less.
"I keep telling my parents that I'm high on life right now," Martinez said. "I can't even describe the feeling of it. To come back to my hometown after all that I've been through and play, well, not play but at least be on the sideline, be part of the experience, be in the hotel with the team, practice at the Miami Dolphins facility, a team I grew up idolizing, this is unbelievable."
Martinez remembers every detail of the day when he was told by a doctor that he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He asked to meet one of his childhood idols, Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, and went to that meet-and-greet with no eyebrows — which were lost to his cancer treatments.
Before long, he had a clean bill of health and was back on the football field.
"Unbelievable. What a kid," said Rich Stuart, the coach at Belen. "Amazing story, amazing kid. There's so many different angles to this young man, it's amazing. He's loving it right now. He's the type of kid, if you had a daughter, you'd want her to marry him. He's athletic, intelligent and very spiritual. When you realize you get a second chance, you're very grateful. He's athletic, a good looking kid, and a gentleman on top of it. Such a great kid."
When the season began, Notre Dame was unranked, hardly believed to be a national-title contender. But Martinez remembers teasing his parents that maybe there would be a chance of everything coming together for the Irish.
Sure enough, here they are — and here he is. All players get six tickets for the BCS game. Martinez, obviously, had no problem finding takers for those.
"I could have used a lot more," Martinez said.
COACHES OF YEAR: Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was one of four coaches announced Monday as winners of the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year award.
Joining Kelly — the Football Bowl Subdivision winner — as honorees was Willie Fritz of Sam Houston State (Football Championship Subdivision); Peter Rossomando of New Haven (Division II) and Glenn Caruso of St. Thomas, Minn. (Division III).
The award is designed to recognize "sportsmanship, integrity, responsibility and excellence on and off the field." Each coach will receive a $50,000 donation to be sent to the charity of his choice, and a $20,000 scholarship grant in his name to their school's alumni association.
"These four coaches do so much more than just succeed in the win column," said Archie Manning, chair of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. "They challenge their student-athletes to achieve a level of excellence on the field and in the classroom, and serve as a champion to their community through their charitable endeavors."
MEDIA BLITZ: About 875 media credentials were issued for the BCS title game, and that doesn't even include those requested by ESPN for its television purposes.
In all, about 1,225 applications were received, according to the Orange Bowl Committee.
Both numbers are slightly ahead of the pace for last season's Alabama-LSU game.
NO STAGE FRIGHT: Barrett Jones remembers his first BCS title game, and how he was petrified of what would happen on college football's biggest stage.
Hey, it's old hat now for the Alabama center.
No. 2 Alabama's matchup against No. 1 Notre Dame was Jones' third time in the title game in four years.
"I tell you what, the first national championship game I played in in 2009, I was freaking out in my hotel room," Jones said. "You let the moment get to you and you think, '50 million people are going to be watching this game on TV?' It's a surreal feeling."
Now, no big deal.
"You just have to remember, despite all the lights and all the cameras and all you guys, it's still football," Jones said.
TRENCH BATTLES: Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III loves putting certain elements of his life on display for the world to see, primarily through his series of "broadcasts" that have become quite popular on YouTube.
So Nix was asked in recent days if there should a camera that focuses solely on offensive and defensive linemen in games, just so people can see what really happens in the trenches.
Nix was quick to shake his head.
"If they did, I think somebody would get about 17 years if they see what we do in the trenches," Nix said. "The things we do in there is like illegal in like 37 states. I don't think they want to catch that on film."