Catch­ing on

Juco WR learns plays, to keep weight off

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MUR­PHY ARKANSAS DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE

The sev­enth in a se­ries pro­fil­ing new­com­ers to the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs foot­ball team.

FAYET­TEVILLE — Bran­don Martin knows there will be lots of eyes on him this fall.

The No. 1 ranked ju­nior-col­lege wide re­ceiver in the coun­try by ESPN is step­ping into a re­ceiv­ing group for the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs that lost a hand­ful of wide­outs with big ca­reer statis­tics, and quar­ter­back Austin Allen needs re­li­able tar­gets.

“Man, if I know the stuff,

I can do big things in the sys­tem,” Martin said in a mid­sum­mer in­ter­view. “The coaches are putting their trust in me, so I have to make sure I’m down pat with ev­ery­thing so I can play.”

Martin was one of the gems of Arkansas’ sign­ing class. The 6-4, 219-pounder en­rolled early with stand­out cre­den­tials from Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast Com­mu­nity Col­lege. The New Or­leans na­tive, whose fam­ily moved to Mon­roe, La., in the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005, has been timed at 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. He also cleared 7 feet, 2 inches in the high jump to win state ti­tles in high school.

Coach Bret Bielema likes to tell the story of his wife, Jen, con­fus­ing Martin for a de­fen­sive end dur­ing the re­cruit­ing process.

“That’s kind of amaz­ing,” Martin said. “There’s not a lot of re­ceivers that are my size.”

The Ra­zor­backs de­voted a lot of room in their sign­ing class to re­ceivers to help off­set the losses of Keon Hatcher, Drew Mor­gan, Do­minique Reed, Cody Hol­lis­ter and

tight end Jeremy Sprin­kle. Those play­ers com­bined for 168 of the Ra­zor­backs’ 247 re­cep­tions. Sub­tract the com­bined 18 catches of tail­back Rawleigh Wil­liams, who re­tired from foot­ball af­ter a sec­ond neck in­jury, and run­ning back Kody Walker, and the Hogs bring back play­ers who caught 61 passes, or 24.7 per­cent of the to­tal in 2016.

Top re­turn­ing re­ceiver Jared Cor­nelius, a se­nior leader in the re­ceivers room, un­der­stands the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville needs top pass-catch­ing op­tions other than him­self to be a qual­ity of­fense. Martin could top the list of new­com­ers.

“B-Martin is a crazy ath­lete,” Cor­nelius said. “He’s just a guy that you throw the ball up in the air and he’s go­ing to come down with it a big per­cent­age of the time.”

Martin has fo­cused heav­ily since spring on drop­ping a few pounds and catch­ing passes from start­ing quar­ter­back Austin Allen and the re­serves.

“I feel like it’s very im­por­tant we get our tim­ing down; he knows how we run our routes and where we’re go­ing to be, how do we get in and out of our breaks; he knows how to throw us the ball,” Martin said.

Martin worked a lot with the sec­ond team early in spring drills, but as his knowl­edge of the schemes grew, he be­gan tak­ing more reps with the starters.

“I thought he had a pretty good spring, com­ing in there and not know­ing any of the plays,” Allen said. “I think by prac­tice eight and through 15 he was do­ing some things that you see why he’s such a highly re­cruited guy com­ing in out of juco.

“So I think he’s taken a big step this sum­mer where he’s learn­ing the play­book even

bet­ter and should carry over into fall and the sea­son.”

Martin, who fin­ished his high school ca­reer at Prime Prep Academy in Dal­las, had of­fers from ev­ery SEC school with the ex­cep­tion of Ole Miss. He has three years of el­i­gi­bil­ity re­main­ing.

“Bran­don had a re­ally good spring,” Bielema said at SEC me­dia days. “Just his pres­ence, his phys­i­cal­ity, his size. He likes the game and he catches the ball.”

Martin’s fa­ther, Lloyd, was friends in New Or­leans with Arkansas re­ceivers coach Michael Smith. That con­nec­tion helped the Hogs sign Martin.

“I knew that it was good coach­ing up here by coach Smith,” Martin said while list­ing the top rea­sons he came to Arkansas. “Him and my dad grow­ing up with each other, and that they were los­ing some re­ceivers.”

Smith said Martin’s skills were ev­i­dent once he be­gan to grasp the play­book.

Martin had 3 catches for 20 yards in the Hogs’ first spring scrim­mage, then he led the team with 6 re­cep­tions for 71 yards — in­clud­ing an 18-yard touch­down from Cole Kel­ley — in the sec­ond scrim­mage.

“When he knows what he’s do­ing you can see it, and you saw that Satur­day,” Smith said af­ter Martin’s big scrim­mage April 15. “He brought a lit­tle

phys­i­cal­ity and made a nice catch in the back of the end zone for a touch­down.”

The scor­ing catch came af­ter Martin didn’t come down with a fade route in prac­tice that week.

Smith said he told Martin af­ter that play, “‘Hey, man, we’ve got to be able to be con­sis­tent. You have got to make those type of plays. That’s what we brought you here for.’”

Martin said his spring could have gone much bet­ter if he’d been in bet­ter shape.

“It was a good ex­pe­ri­ence, but it was a chal­lenge be­cause I was kind of over­weight,” he said. “I got up on my weight and started eat­ing bad. Then I had to go out there and was run­ning con­stant routes.

“I came in here at 214 [pounds] and af­ter two, three weeks I was at 228, and I was still try­ing to learn plays, so it was kind of hard for me,” Martin said. “But I got the plays down, and I’ve got my weight down now to 219.”

Martin said Cor­nelius stays on the re­ceivers about go­ing to the Smith Cen­ter on week­ends to con­tinue ab­sorb­ing the play­book and route con­cepts.

“He’s real tough on us,” Martin said. “He makes sure we know ev­ery­thing: How we run our routes, what depth, how our pad level is, ex­tra work. We come up here and run 20 110s and routes. He wants us to know ev­ery­thing.”

Martin, a pi­anist and singer off the field, has fo­cused on his needed ar­eas of im­prove­ment since the end of spring.

“I showed glimpses of what I could do, but I was just heavy,” he said. “I couldn’t play as long as I can now. Be­fore we were done for the spring, the coaches showed me clips and stuff of how I could play and help the team win.

“I’ve just got to get my weight down and work on my pad level.”

Now Martin is ready to per­form.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Arkansas fresh­man wide re­ceiver Bran­don Martin, one of the top-rated ju­nior-col­lege play­ers last sea­son when he played for Mis­sis­sippi Gulf Coast Com­mu­nity Col­lege, is ex­pected to get a lot of play­ing time af­ter the Ra­zor­backs lost five of their top pass catch­ers from a year ago, in­clud­ing Keon Hatcher and Drew Mor­gan. The duo com­bined for 109 re­cep­tions for 1,482 yards and 11 touch­downs in 2016.

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