On November 23, 2018, Kerry Martin, Jr.’s high school football career ended as his Capital High School Cougars fell to Spring Valley in the state quarterfinals, a game in which the then-quarterback threw for 196 yards but was sacked twice and picked off four times.
One year later to the day, the true freshman made his first career start in a West Virginia Mountaineer uniform, not under center, but at his new position of free safety. With the season-ending injury to senior starter Josh Norwood, Martin was pressed into action against the 21st ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and performed admirably as the West Virginia defense battled the Pokes and Heisman-candidate running back Chuba Hubbard.
In his eleventh career game solely as a defensive player, the Charleston native tallied a career-high nine tackles as the Mountaineers held Hubbard to his lowest rushing total of the season excluding a blowout win over McNeese State in which he only received eight carries. Martin played a key role in that, coming down from his safety position to bring down Hubbard and not allowing him to make a big play with his world-class speed.
It was not just run support where Martin excelled against Oklahoma State. With pocket passer Dru Brown starting at quarterback in place of the injured Spencer Sanders, he helped to create a blanket over the top of the Mountaineer secondary. His coverage over the top facilitated West Virginia while holding Brown to just 196 yards on the day. The most impressive part was the fact that against a traditionally high-powered Mike Gundy offense, the Mountaineer defense did not give up a big play deep with the Cowboys’ longest completion, other than a screen pass to Hubbard, went for just 16 yards, something that Martin had a lot to do with.
The football experience that Kerry Martin, Jr. has had in the last year is one that not many players his age can save they have gone through. Only 44 days after his high school career ended, he was on campus in Morgantown, officially enrolled at West Virginia University in time for spring practice. Having not expected to be a major contributor in year one, things changed pretty quickly once Martin got here. A few months later, 193 days after his high school career ended, starting free safety Kenny Robinson announced he was transferring, and one day later so did another starter in Derrek Pitts, Jr.
With two expected safety signees in Rashean Lynn and Osita Smith not making it to Morgantown, the kid was going to get tested. That test became more imminent when on August 26, 277 days after his high school career ended, Martin was listed as the backup at free safety behind Norwood. Needless to say, he responded. In his first game against James Madison, he made three tackles and he was off from there. Becoming a key contributor in the secondary, the freshman showed the ability that made him so desired, putting together 36 tackles and four pass breakups in his first ten games. It was that tenth game that would change everything.
In the first half against Kansas State, 358 days after Martin’s high school career ended, Norwood made an acrobatic play to pick off a pass, slamming into the ground and breaking his collarbone in the process. Martin came on in relief, and just as he had all year, played like he had been a safety his whole life while making five tackles and breaking up a pass.
Finally, the time came. With Norwood out for the season, 365 days after his high school career ended, Kerry Martin made his first college start at free safety against Oklahoma State. In one year, he went from a quarterback just trying to win for the pride of his high school to a defensive back doing his best to keep his team’s postseason hopes alive. As wild as the last year has been for him, it’s safe to say the next three are going to have a chance to be quite successful for Martin.