Another notch was put in the belt of the Warrior football team when former star running back Desmond Martin was signed by the Detroit Lions May 12 after trying out at their rookie minicamp the previous weekend.
As a Division II football player, Martin said he’s lucky to be where he is today.
“It’s disheartening when you’re not getting heavily recruited,” said Martin. “I’ve been playing football since I was six; just to have that last game in your college career, weighing in the back of your head, ‘That might have been it.’ You have to have the faith that, if you’re talented, they’ll find you.”
The Lions did just that.
“I’ve been getting a lot of hometown love from family back in Buffalo, where I grew up,” he said. “Even people I’ve run across in my high school career, people on Facebook, everything has been going crazy.”
Paul Winters, head coach of WSU football, wrote in a statement: “Martin is an outstanding football player and leader in the mold of current Detroit Lion Joique Bell. (He) is an extremely hard worker and will represent (WSU) Football in a first-class manner. I am proud of Desmond and expect him to have success at the professional level."
Lions’ offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi made a pact of sorts with Martin while he was attending the Detroit Lions practice at Wayne State’s Tom Adams Field last summer. Seeing the potential in Martin, Lombardi said they’d be back to get him if he could continue to produce the numbers.
Martin exceeded these expectations in his final year. As a fifth-year senior, he amassed 1,578 rushing yards, ran for 200 yards in two consecutive games and scored 16 touchdowns. He finished his Warrior career fourth in WSU history with 2,791 career yards and seventh with 24 touchdowns.
The Lions were in attendance at Martin’s pro day, in which he produced a 39.5-inch vertical jump, 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump, 4.73-second 40-yard dash, and 26 bench press reps. His scouting performances earned him a spot on the list of tryout rookies at rookie minicamp. Of the 59 rookies at minicamp, 31 players were tryout rookies, including Martin and fellow Warrior Marcell Jones (linebacker).
“I came into camp with a chip on my shoulder, didn’t get drafted,” Martin said. “But the Lions called me right away, so I took that as, well… obviously, they have some interest in me. Let me go out and seize the opportunity.”
Martin said he immediately got to work studying plays and offensive assignments.
“I made sure I was good on assignments out of the playbook,” Martin added. “You can only control things such as your attitude, how hard you finish. I think I put the best effort into what I can control.”
Listed as 5-foot-11, 221-pounds on the minicamp roster, Martin joins a crowded backfield that includes fellow WSU alum Joique Bell, Theo Riddick, George Winn, and two additional undrafted rookies in Rasheed Williams and Zach Zenner.
Bell and Riddick will almost certainly be on the 2015 roster, along with second-round pick Ameer Abdullah. Detroit further crowded the backfield by drafting former Rutgers fullback Michael Burton in the fifth round to join fullback Emil Igwenagu. It’s likely just one roster vacancy will remain for Martin, Williams, Winn and Zenner.
“The best thing that you can do is, when you go out on the field, know what you’re doing,” Martin said. “That’s probably the quickest way to get off the team, if you don’t know what you’re doing and you’re not showing that you can consistently come out on a daily basis and do better than the day before. That’s where you start having your problems. You can’t fall behind.”
Martin added, “Competition out-weighs all. I’m ready to compete.”
The offseason training program is three weeks underway and the first string of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) is in the books.
While Martin’s NFL journey is only just beginning with his hometown Lions, there is a common road that he shares with teammate and fellow tailback, Joique Bell. They both had stellar careers as Warriors but went undrafted and had to make that extra push to be noticed by the NFL.
But that’s where Martin said he would like the comparisons to ease up. He says that he desires to work hard and make a name for himself in the professional ranks. Martin averaged an eye-opening 5.5 yards per play, which was more than every non-quarterback in school history except Bell. He says he looks to Bell as a mentor and finds comfort in knowing Bell is also a WSU grad who has established himself as a dual-threat running back.
Martin says he graduated from WSU and transferred to the school of the Detroit Lions. He said he believes there will always be a learning institution for him to tackle.
“There’s always going to be a school for me,” said Martin. “You can’t get away from school. There’s going to be a classroom pretty much everywhere you go. Except now it’s a job, they expect you to know this.”