At first, Georgia Tech defensive lineman Chris Martin said, his situation was discouraging. In 2016, Martin redshirted in his first year on campus, a decision simplified by a broken thumb suffered in preseason practice.
Last year, as a redshirt freshman, he appeared in only two games, an unusually small number. Last season, only four scholarship players that weren’t redshirting played in two or fewer games. Martin played in the Yellow Jackets’ September wins over Jacksonville State and Pittsburgh and never saw the field again.
He was behind a number of defensive tackles, such as Brentavious Glanton, Brandon Adams, Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Desmond Branch. After the discouragement, he tried to adjust his attitude.
“I looked at it as motivation,” Martin said. “Like, I would watch other players in there, and I would be ecstatic for them, like when ‘Big B’ (Adams) would make a play or Kyle would make a play, or ‘Tay’ (Glanton), I would be ecstatic for them. And, just in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Your time’s coming. Just keep working, keep working, keep working. Strive to be like them or better than them and God will put you in a position to make plays.’”
Time will tell if Martin will attain that position, but he seems closer than he was at the end of the season. With a new defense and a new position coach, Martin has made progress in Tech’s spring practice that has caught the attention of teammates.
“I feel like I’m doing a good job with the opportunities I’ve been given,” Martin said. “Still trying to get better every day. Still trying to make the most of every opportunity that I’ve been given.”
From Grayson High, Martin is playing nose tackle in new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s 3-4 defense, competing with Cerge-Henderson, Glanton and Adams. The scheme prioritizes quickness and calls on linemen to penetrate gaps. It’s a job that Martin, listed at 6-foot-1 and 289 pounds, believes he can do.
“I’m definitely a more agile and explosive type, but it’s also bringing a lot out of my game because I’ve been having to use more power also at nose, having to deal with double teams,” he said. “I’ll have to deal with bigger centers, so just working on that and using my quickness and agility has allowed me to make some plays.”
Others have noticed.
“Chris Martin, this is his defense,” Branch said. “He’s definitely having his way.”
Branch added that he would not be surprised if Martin “makes some noise” when the season begins.
“Chris Martin, he’s doing a great job playing that nose position,” offensive tackle Jahaziel Lee said.
Coach Paul Johnson’s observations were more measured.
“I think this is really the first time he’s played,” he said. “He’s done better in spots.”
Martin may be benefiting from a re-set with his position coach, as well. Former defensive line coach Mike Pelton was let go as defensive coordinator Nate Woody sought a line coach with experience with the 3-4. He landed on Jerome Riase, who had previously coached at Wofford. Players describe Riase as less voluble than Pelton.
“It’s definitely been a lot easier, because I know coming to film sessions, some people are more relaxed, knowing if they had a bad practice, coach Riase will still get on them,” Martin said. “He just may not feel as bad. He’s going to get his point across to you. It’s just, a different approach, you definitely take it better.”
Martin said he also is being more conscientious about taking care of his body, seeking to shed body fat and also tend to nicks and bruises. He said he was particularly dedicated in the offseason strength and conditioning program led by John Sisk.
Were Martin to be a productive member of the defensive line rotation this season, it would be a remarkable jump from being a non-factor in 2017. He has more experienced teammates to compete against for playing time. Further, success in the spring doesn’t always translate into the fall.
But it’s a start.
“I appreciate coach Riase putting me in the position to be able to get on the field more than I have in the past, so I’m just trying to do the best that I can right now,” Martin said. “Do whatever he’s asked me to do and just fit in the scheme and make plays.”