Max Martin had to be wondering when his turn was going to come.
In the first two games this season the sophomore had just five carries for six yards. But Saturday was a completely different story. Martin notched his first career start and took full advantage of the opportunity. The running back carried the ball 26 times against Eastern Michigan, gaining 117 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
“I thought he did a very good job,” coach Lloyd Carr said. “Obviously, down the road here, most of the (Big Ten title) races I’ve been in, you need somebody that can come in and give your team a lift. I think Max put himself right in the middle of our running back situation,”
In Michigan’s season opener against Northern Illinois, fellow sophomore Mike Hart led the Wolverines in rushing with 117 yards, and freshman Kevin Grady took over as the starter in the 17-10 loss to Notre Dame. Martin didn’t get as much playing time as he wanted to, but he kept his head up despite being passed up.
“It was frustrating, but I have to come out here and prove to my teammates and coaches and see that I’m ready to play,” Martin said. “I know that I’m going to go out and compete as hard as I can.”
Martin’s perseverance paid off in the practices leading up to the game against the Eagles. The Madison, Ala, native showed the coaches he was ready to do all the things necessary to start.
“I think he did a good job,” Carr said. “I think the biggest thing that he did, really, was there were a couple passes where he did a great job of protecting the quarterback. That’s been something that he has needed to improve on. He was great in practice this week in stepping up and knowing the protections. That’s big.”
Chad Henne agreed: “Max stepped up in practice this week and did something to spark the coaches’ eye, and he did well in pass protection, which gives us another element to the offense.”
With Martin’s pass protection shored up, the 6-foot-1 bruiser had to display that he could do more than protect the quarterback. Martin took the first Michigan offensive play seven yards over the left side, giving the Wolverines the ball at the Eastern Michigan two-yard line. Two carries later, Martin gave Michigan the 7-0 lead, but he was just getting his day started.
The coaching staff showed confidence in Martin early in the first quarter, giving him the ball two more times on the Wolverines’ second possession. He gave Michigan a 14-0 advantage, but Martin knew he had to relish the chance he was given.
“I don’t want to say I was nervous, but I was really anxious to get out there and do what I had to do,” Martin said. “But I wasn’t nervous because of the way I prepared – I felt like I knew everything like the back of my hand.”
Martin’s number kept getting called well into the third quarter. By the time he went to the bench he had reached career highs in carries, yards and touchdowns and also showed the over 109,000 in attendance that he is not just a backup to Hart and Grady.
“Our coaches are going to let the best man play – whoever they deem (to be) that person,” Martin said. “They’re going to tell you why and what you need to work on, and I have confidence in everyone.”