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July 8, 2011Dhani Jones was in town last night to promote his new autobiographical book "The Sportsman," in which he talks about playing football, doing philanthropy and shooting his popular reality TV show Dhani Tackles The Globe. And a long line of Michigan and Cincinnati Bengals fans snaked around the upper level of the Ann Arbor Barnes & Noble, eagerly awaiting a chance to talk to and take pictures with the former Michigan linebacker.
The very last person in line stood patiently, with a huge smile on his face, waiting for the chance to talk to Jones, a personal hero of his. The man was Mike Martin, senior defensive tackle.
Although he's had a chance to meet Jones before, Martin couldn't pass up the opportunity to see him face-to-face again.
"I don't look at myself as a big-time senior, or a football player at Michigan," Martin said. "I'm just a fan that has more say in the game."
Martin said he has been inspired by Jones's charity BowTie Cause, which has helped raise money for C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, LiveStrong, NPR, Ronald McDonald House, Alzheimer's research and myriad other causes.
"I've followed him and everything he's done, inside and outside football, and it really interested me," Martin said. "When I look at what I want to do, being in his shoes really interests me. I really envy him. He's a great guy, a Michigan guy."
So this summer, Martin began to give back as well, hoping to one day become "Dhani without the bowtie."
Martin teamed up with Ryan Doyle, a Michigan grad and founder of the Live To Give Foundation, to begin charitable work in Detroit.
"I have a passion for rebuilding Detroit," Doyle said. "We were tired of the brain-drain mentality. We're in the brain-retain mentality. We want to get people back and get entrepreneurs excited about the city.
"We've been bringing speakers, businessmen and athletes like Mike down, to hopefully inspire people."
So far, Live To Give has raised almost $90,000 and created the first youth hostel in the city in several decades.
"If you love doing it, it's easy to get involved and not feel overworked," Martin said. "Football is a big time commitment, but this stuff is really important, and it's fun."
Martin is also working with local youths, signing on as a guest instructor at summer camps run by LaMarr Woodley and Ndamukong Suh.
"I didn't know what my role was going to be when I got there, but I just jumped right in with the kids and got to speak with the high-school kids that were there," Martin said. "I talked to them about what it was like being at the next level and being in college. It's cool to see them with wide eyes and open ears. I had a mob around me just as much as Suh did at one point. I was like, 'I'm stealing your thunder.' "
Throughout his career, Jones has encouraged teammates and other players to take a more active role in their communities, so he was very excited to hear about Martin's extracurricular work.
"My whole motivation within sports is to change those negative stereotypes and to get more players dreaming and chasing aspects in life that you may not have noticed, because you've been so stuck in a three-point stance," Jones said. "Get out of that stance and look up, see the rest of the field, the rest of the world. Learn to live and see more.
"So it's encouraging to see Mike here and see that he's developing himself as a person. It's awesome."
The two exchanged phone numbers, and Martin hopes a stronger relationship will form.
In the meantime, Martin will continue to draw motivation from Jones.
"People have this perception that it's hard to do a lot of different things outside of football, but it's worked out for him," Martin said. "And I want to do that, too. The world will find out, as time goes on. I've got a lot of stuff in my back pocket that we'll conjure up as time goes on."