LSU football coach Brian Kelly has certainly reaped the benefits of the NCAA’s transfer portal in his 16 months on the job.
He also realizes that as many areas he’s been able to address, other position groups could open just as rapidly with the second transfer portal window closing on April 30.
One such area – or player – Kelly expressed concern of being able to retain was senior offensive lineman Marlon Martinez, a 6-foot-5, 330-pounder with experience starting at guard and center.
“We won’t know until we finish spring ball what his status is,” Kelly said.
Because of an injury to starting center Charles Turner that kept him out of spring practice, Martinez handled the starting duties with the No. 1 offense throughout practice and the spring game on April 22.
It won’t be the last time Kelly will see Martinez who told reporters a week before the spring game that he wasn’t following the lead of many of his offensive line brethren and would return to challenge for a starting spot on the 2023 offense line which returns four of five starters.
“I interpreted that a lot of the guys that I came in with aren’t here anymore,” Martinez said of Kelly’s concerns of his future in the program. “I’ve been one of the guys that have really stuck around. I had some doubts going into spring about what I wanted to do. I needed to take some time about what I really wanted to do going forward. I’m really happy that I chose to stay here and just do what I needed to do.
“I’ve had some good talks with (offensive line) coach Brad Davis, with coach Kelly,” Martinez said. “I’m really happy I decided to stay. I just needed some time to think about it. It’s kind of hard when you come here and you’re used to a system, then there’s a transition and all the guys you come here like Marcus Dumervil (Cam Wire, Kardell Thomas, Xavier Hill), all those guys were here with me and all leaving. It kind of makes you reconsider what you’re doing here, what you expect to do here. I just had to really lock in and I’m happy with the decision I made. I’m excited about the opportunities I’m receiving here right now. I’m very grateful. I don’t see myself doing anything like that (transfer) anytime soon.”
One of the overriding factors that’s kept Martinez rooted at LSU is his belief in what the Tigers will look like on the offensive line.
Of course, the native of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida wants to carve out a starting role, albeit at center or guard, and join forces with an offensive line that returns tackles Will Campbell and Emery Jones Jr., guards Garrett Dellinger and Miles Frazier who have the inside track to replacing departed starter Anthony Bradford.
LSU set a school record in 2022 with 39 rushing touchdowns with quarterback Jayden Daniels and Noah Cain both returning after rushing for 11 and 10 touchdowns, respectively.
“I trust all of those guys,” Martinez said. “I play with all of those guys. Honestly, I think we still have the potential to be the best o-line in the country. We’re getting better in the spring, and I think we’re really jelling during the spring. I’m 100% confident we’re going to be fine during the fall and we’re going to do some great things.”
Another source of optimism over the direction of the offensive line under Kelly and Davis has been their ability to bolster the team’s depth with four signees in the most recent signing class, led by five-star Lance Heard of Neville, to along with the addition of Maryland’s Mason Lunsford from the transfer portal.
“A lot of credit to coach Kelly,” Martinez said. “He knows what he’s doing obviously. I think it’s taken a while to get his process implemented 100% into the LSU football system. We’re getting to that point now. We’re going to be better as a unit because we’re following exactly what he’s saying to the letter, and we know what he expects from us.
“I believe in speaking it into existence,” Martinez added. “Last year we had a solid season but obviously we fell short of our goals. This season I believe we’re 100% committed. I think we’re getting close to completing that transition with coach Kelly, so we have our goals set in stone in our mind. With that ahead of us, we know exactly we have to do to get where we want to be.”
Martinez wants a return on his investment as a three-year letterman to pay huge dividends in ’23.
“I’ve been through a lot here,” he said. “I’ve been through two head coaches. I’m kind of growing into what I want to be. I’m getting a lot of opportunity, especially this spring, so I’m just trying to take advantage of all of the opportunities I’m getting as much as possible. I’m just focusing on how to get better every day. Working with these guys is obviously a big boost to my confidence and my ability to get better. I’m pretty happy where I’m at and hope to be.”
Going from reliable back-up to trusted starter is where Martinez believes he’s evolved to under the direction of Kelly and Davis. A year after starting in three of 12 games – his starts coming at right guard – he played in 11 of 12 games last season with 125 of his 157 snaps taking place in his two starts against UAB and the Citrus Bowl against Purdue.
Over his career, Martinez has played in 33 games with four starts and gotten 649 snaps – 149 of which have taken place on special teams.
“I just tried to take advantage of that opportunity,” Martinez said of his two starts in ’22. “(I) Talked to my coaches about what I did well, what I could do better and what I learned from the overall experience. Those opportunities literally helped prepare me for any opportunity I might get I the future, like now we’re I’m starting in the spring. We’ve got some guys hurt, some guys stepping up. I’m learning about the guys I’m playing with; I’m learning what I can do and what I can do better. I feel really good. I feel I’ve got some momentum going forward.”