Senior cornerback Justin Martin enters his final season on Rocky Top following a junior campaign in which Tennessee’s secondary struggled mightily.
Talent has never been a problem for Martin, who transferred from junior college as a former four-star cornerback prospect. However, Martin hasn’t exactly lived up to his billing of being a highly-rated prospect.
Martin won the starting corner position at the beginning of the 2016 season. Martin played well against Appalachian State and Virginia Tech to begin the season, tallying four tackles against the Hokies in the Battle at Bristol. But he missed the Ohio game the following week.
Following that game, Martin started against Florida the next week, but the start was short-lived as the Nashville native didn’t last a half before he was replaced after picking up an unnecessary personal foul penalty on the opening kickoff. Being burnt by Florida’s star wide receiver, Antonio Callaway, multiple times didn’t help either.
After being suspended against Georgia for a violation of team rules, Martin didn’t have much of an impact the rest of the season. He would record four tackles and a pass break up against South Carolina, but his contributions were minimal after that game.
Now a senior, Martin has turned up his sense of urgency a notch, but it’s not his only priority for his final season in Knoxville.
“It’s right there real high on my list, but at the same time, you don’t want to make that your only priority, because if anything happens and that’s your only goal and you don’t accomplish your goal, you’re going to be feeling really bad,” Martin said during Tennessee’s 2017 Media Day on Sunday afternoon. “All I’m focused on is winning, and if we win every game, it would be great and my last year would be the best year.”
Last season’s disappointment can be viewed in large part to a lack of focus on Martin’s part. But his focus on the football field is what he wants to improve on the most heading into the 2017 football season. Martin has even leaned on teammate Jauan Jennings to help himself improve both on and off the field.
“We’ve helped each other a lot as far as, I like to explain to him as a defensive back what I’m trying to do and what I’m trying to accomplish on him and what he can work on in-and- out of his breaks, what would beat me if I was doing certain things,” Martin said. “He tells me what I should take away and what makes it harder for him to do his routes. I think we just help each other learn the other side of the position.”
According to himself and coaches, Martin had a solid offseason following a season in which the Vols were so close, yet so far away from the promise land. Martin has focused in on elevating his game to the next level, and it’s shown in both the spring and fall.
“A lot of people took (last season’s falling short) to heart and I feel like the whole team really did in particular because we were only one or two games away,” Martin stated. “So we’ve got to come in this season and do our best to not let the same thing happen.”
Martin will be counted on to play significant snaps for Tennessee’s defense this season, and they’ll need him more focused than ever. And luckily for the Vols, he seems to have gotten that message.