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After waiting for shot at running back, Martin shining in new role
First he didn't play. Then he was playing out of position.
But when DeSean Martin finally got to play his natural position of running back, he showed exactly what he is capable of.
Martin went from zero carries in 2011 to fullback at the start of 2012 to first-team all-Western States Football League running back by the end of the year.
His 600 rushing yards placed him third in the conference and helped the Matadors earn a spot in the El Toro Bowl for the second-straight year. The game, presented by Alexander Automotive Group, is 1 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
He also had 112 receiving yards despite not seeing his action at running back until halfway through the second game of the year. And last year he was buried on the depth chart behind current Oklahoma Sooner running back Damien Williams.
“It was kind of rough in the beginning playing fullback, stuff like that, sitting behind Damien Williams – that's Mr. Oklahoma,” Martin said. “I've gotten a bigger taste of it this year, so it's gone pretty well.”
Coach Tom Minnick moved the bulked-up Martin to fullback, where he was the starter in the season opener against Ellsworth. But in the next game against Pima, AWC running backs J.C. Baker and Teddy Monroe – who were expected to be the top two running backs entering the year – both suffered injuries.
Martin took advantage.
“When they got hurt, coach and them were all going crazy over there on the sideline,” Martin said. “I was like ‘Coach, man, you've got to let me go. I'm not no blocker. Let me run. Let me breathe,' I told him, ‘Let me breathe.' They put me in the game and I just kept it going, kept the motor going.”
He ran for 107 yards in the second half against the Aztecs, then followed up with 300 all-purpose yards against Scottsdale.
After that, the job was his.
“He was a good hard runner, tough-nose runner, good stats coming out,” Minnick said. “Then you watch him on film, and he's exactly what he is when he got here – a hard-nosed, downhill runner who got after it and made some plays. What we didn't expect is he had great hands. He caught a ton of balls out of the backfield and did a great job.”
Martin said he didn't like playing fullback at the start of the year, seeing himself as a running back.
“I came from Vegas, was a big high school star,” Martin said. “It's kind of different playing fullback. I didn't like it, I just had to stick my head in there and keep doing it.”
Of course, he said playing fullback was better than not playing.
“I didn't get not one carry all last year,” Martin said. “It was kind of, ‘Oh my God.' I was hurt a little bit. I didn't think any school would look at me or anything like that. I was kind of worried last year. It was kind of rough.”
There weren't exactly a plethora of carries for running backs not named Damien Williams, who was the WSFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 the year after Reggie Bullock was the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year.
This year the Matadors haven't had the star running back of the past three years – Bullock was a two-year starter for the team. But they have a collection of four backs, Minnick said, that each provide a different skill. Baker and Tremaine McCullough are the speed guys, with McCullough specializing in the fly-sweep, where he lines up split wide and gets the ball on the run. Martin and fullback Demont Buice are big bruising runners, giving Minnick options.
“There's a lot of flexibility because we can run different things with each one of them,” Minnick said. “If we need a bigger back in there we go with Buice running the ball, or DeSean running the ball. For fly-sweep stuff and throwing out of the backfield you have Tremaine and J.C. And J.C. is the fast one in there that can break the long runs. We don't have a Damien Williams or a Reggie Bullock. All four of them together are that running back.”
Minnick, however, doesn't hesitate when asked how having the current alignment compares to having an NCAA Division I caliber back like Williams or Bullock (East Carolina).
“We'd be a different team if we had one of those two,” Minnick said. “We might have been playing for (a national championship). If Damien had the offensive line we have as of today, Damien would rush for maybe 3,000 yards. Reggie too. They were special backs. You don't find those too often, and to have two kids like that here back-to-back was unbelievable. But it's hard to find guys like that.”