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UCLA becomes a detour choice for Ivy League son

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If anyone seemed destined to become an Ivy Leaguer, it was Jonathan Martin. After all, his father went to Harvard. His mother went to Harvard and her parents went to Harvard. Even his mother's cousin went to Harvard.

So imagine the tip-toeing he had to do over the summer, when Martin, 6 feet 6 and 270 pounds, told his parents he would rather attend UCLA and play football.

"My dad was easy," he said. "He likes watching football on TV. My mom was harder. I just told her I'd try my best to get good grades."

Martin, a senior offensive tackle at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake, might never convince family members that the UCLA-USC game is more important than Harvard-Yale, but he has won over their allegiance to his college decision.

"When you look at choosing between UCLA and Harvard, there's no bad choice," his father, Gus, said. "No one pressured him to apply or think about going to Harvard, but I guess when you're in that environment, it was there. He was getting the pressure even though we didn't intentionally deliver it."

Martin has become a major college prospect because of his athleticism and potential. He started playing tackle football as a freshman and is projected to gain far more strength with more time in the weight room, where his presence has been limited by other commitments, such as basketball and playing the violin.

"He's never had an off-season," Coach Vic Eumont said.

Martin was once a tall, lanky freshman who had to be taught that blockers need to be physical, aggressive and unforgiving when it comes to taking on opponents.

"The hardest part for me was the nasty streak," he said. "I wasn't really mean growing up. I had to work on when you drive block, to really bury them to the ground, enjoy it and have fun doing it."

This season, Martin has helped Harvard-Westlake to a 3-0 start entering tonight's intersectional game against visiting City Section power Carson (1-2). Last season, the Wolverines upset Carson, 31-30, on their way to a 10-3 season.

Martin is performing competently at offensive tackle in protection of junior quarterback Sean Berman.

"He's doing well," Eumont said. "He's more mature. He's quicker."

Martin was 11 when he and his family moved to the Southland from Pittsburgh.

His father is a professor in criminal justice administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills. His mother, Jane, works as an attorney. An older sister, Sarah, attends Cornell. It's clear academics is important in this family.

"It's been academics first forever," Martin said.

Added his father: "Both sides of the family have been very book-oriented. We believe in reading and being curious."

Martin's favorite class is English. He likes to read books on history and write. And all the Harvard connections have made an impact on him.

"It's a little intimidating sometimes," he said. "At my dad's reunion, they're all talking about Harvard. I'm like, 'Wow. If I go anywhere but Harvard, it will be a disappointment.' "

But Gus and his wife have endorsed their son's decision.

"She's not putting the squeeze on him," Gus said. "The conversation pops up from time to time, but he has to make the right decision, and if it's UCLA, that's fine."

Not that Gus is going to discard his Harvard loyalty any time soon.

"Nothing is more important than the Harvard-Yale game, except Steelers-Cleveland Browns," he said. "That's my bias."

Wait till he gets a load of UCLA-USC.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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