By Sam Cohn
STANFORD, Calif. - It's hard to imagine Stanford football without David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin. Leaders of the offensive line, the pair provides stability up front, allowing Andrew Luck and company to move the ball down the field.
The scary thing is, DeCastro and Martin almost never made it to The Farm.
A father's unexpected job offer and a teenager's change of heart were the twists of fate that brought DeCastro and Martin to Stanford.
DeCastro's parents came to the U.S. from South Africa when his mother attended graduate school at the University of Washington. During that time, Colin and Jennifer DeCastro married and planned to return home.
"I had every intention of returning to South Africa with my bride after we were married," said Colin. "We stayed in the U.S. until she finished her master's and we were heading home, we had already shipped everything back to South Africa. One day I was offered a job in California and we decided to stay. Once America gets in your blood it's really difficult to get a transfusion."
The punishing right guard comes from a family of athletes. DeCastro's maternal grandfather and father played rugby at the University of Cape Town and his paternal grandfather was a standout soccer player. When he was young, they had their sights set on grooming David to carry on the family tradition.
"We made a trip to South Africa when David was about one and a half," said Jennifer. "My father's friends were irate that we didn't leave David behind so he could be playing rugby."
Growing up in Bellevue, Wash., DeCastro excelled at swimming, baseball and basketball, only getting a taste of the sport that would deliver him to Stanford. With his father's hand-eye coordination and the natural ability to succeed in football, David soon found his calling in the sport Jennifer once feared was too violent for her son.
'The roles those guys play is vital. They're very vocal about their expectations for how the line should play, and that's a good thing.'
Across the country in Pittsburgh, Penn., Jonathan Martin towered over his second grade teacher, too big to play Pop Warner football. It wasn't until ninth grade that the young man everyone called "Moose" had a chance to hit people. He hasn't stopped since.
Described by coach Vic Eumont as "the most fundamentally sound offensive tackle he'd ever seen," Martin was faced with a difficult decision his senior year at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Calif. Torn between being the fourth-generation of his family to attend Harvard and the opportunity to pursue his dreams on the field, he wrestled with his early commitment to UCLA.
One thing he was certain of was he wanted to play big-time football. During a recruiting visit to the Martin house, Jonathan told the Harvard football coach that he would attend Stanford if he were accepted. Selling his parents on the idea of turning down their alma mater was another issue.
""Harvard was very interested in recruiting him and we thought he needed to really consider it," said Jane Howard-Martin. "He wasn't feeling it, and now that I've had the option to taste Pac-12 football I completely understand."
"There was some discussion about how you turn down Harvard with our family history. Jonathan was trying to explain to us what he really wanted to do and then a light bulb went off in my head and I said, `whose dream am I thinking of?' When Stanford offered him a scholarship it was a great fit."
Close friends off the field, DeCastro and Martin have similar tastes, even after accounting for their difference in appetites.
"David has an amazing capacity for food," Martin said. "We go to all-you-can-eat sushi and the last time we went we ordered a couple of big platters. When everyone else was done David finished what was left and then finished another big platter himself. When they see us coming in they start sweating a little bit."
DeCastro and Martin often joke about the merits of each other's position. To Martin, pass blocking for guards "is easy because you can just grab your man off the line and you have help on both sides." DeCastro kids Martin about "not doing much out there at tackle and just playing basketball with the defensive ends."
DeCastro and Martin were named first-team All-Pac-10 last season and appear on watch lists for the Rotary Lombardi Award, the Outland Trophy and the Pony Express Award. Focused on the season ahead of them, DeCastro and Martin are not concerned with the individual attention lavished on them, preferring to continue the blue-collar mentality that the line adopted in 2009 when they dubbed themselves The Tunnelworkers Union.
Coming into the season, the duo had combined for 50 starts on the offensive line, mentoring linemen who had never started a college game. After losing three linemen from last year's squad, Martin and DeCastro have transitioned into leadership roles.
"It's different, the last two years I didn't do anything, say anything and I just played and let the other guys worry about things," said DeCastro. "Now I'm in the position of being a leader for the young guys and I'm getting more comfortable in that role. For you to be able to coach someone up you have to be perfect so it makes you strive for perfection."
Head Coach and Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football David Shaw knows how important it's been to have DeCastro and Martin in positions of influence.
"The roles those guys play is vital," he said. "It's one thing when coaches demand it of young players but it's entirely different when it's done through players, guys they see all the time in the locker room. David and Jonathan are very vocal about their expectations for how the line should play, and that's a good thing."
The foundation of the Stanford offense is built on the earthmovers up front, tunneling holes in opposing defenses and opening up opportunities for their teammates to make plays. Without the contributions of DeCastro and Martin, it's difficult to imagine the Cardinal reaching the level of success they have in recent years.
Thankfully, Stanford fans don't need to wonder what it would be like without their preseason All-American linemen. They're here now, regardless of what happened along the way.