Juco WR learns plays, to keep weight off
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.
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.