Brains & Braun

| No Comments

Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

What do you see when you look at USC's Marcus Martin? Braun. A 6-foot-3, 310-pound junior who played at Crenshaw High before becoming a Trojan. A center, the anchor of an offensive line that has shuffled more this season than a deck of cards at a Las Vegas casino. A captain, a leader, and one of the most valuable and dependable pieces of the Trojan offense. Those things are all evident.

Something you probably don't see right away? The brains. A critical thinker, someone often caught with his nose in the playbook, and a witty teammate clever enough to never miss a joke. An African-American Studies major who, in his time away from the field, builds computers and enjoys classic literature.

"When I was younger my dad went to computer school. He used to come home doing his lessons and I would sit there and watch," said Martin. "One time he asked me if I wanted to learn, if I actually wanted to put some pieces together, and I ended up being able to put pieces together. It started to make sense to me. I took a few computer classes in middle school and high school so that's when I really learned how to build my own computers and put them together. It's a pretty cool process."

Figuring out how pieces fit together best, learning to adjust, and critical thinking are qualities of the nation's top centers.  While the majority of football fans might view the quarterback as being the most essential player on the field, it's actually the center who holds everything together (quarterbacks would agree). Being a student of the game is what Martin's coaches say sets him apart. 

"On offense if you don't have a quarterback it's really hard to move the ball," said assistant head coach John Baxter. "But if you don't have a center it doesn't matter who your quarterback is. It all happens up front. All the calls, all the directions all flow through the center. It's been a seamless transition from players like Ryan Kalil and Khaled Holmes to Marcus Martin."

Ryan Kalil and Khaled Holmes were known as intellectuals as well. Holmes graduated with a Master's in communication management in just five years at USC after double majoring in both communication and classics. Ryan Kalil, who hosted web shows for, applied his wisdom on the field becoming the highest paid center in the history of the National Football League.

"He's right there with them (Homes and Kalil)," said offensive line coach James Cregg. "He's smart and he's got that leadership mentality. He demands perfection and that's what it takes to be where those guys are."

Martin wasn't always a center. In fact, before this season, he had never snapped the ball directly to the quarterback. But from day one, he has made his mark at USC starting as an offensive guard. His freshman year he started 10 games becoming the first freshman to start at offensive guard since Jeff Byers in 2004. He started 10 games his sophomore year as well, gaining experience blocking for NFL-bound Matt Barkley as he watched Holmes direct the offense from the center position. With the departure of Holmes and experience needed at the center position this year, Martin made the switch and has since become the most experienced player on the offensive line despite being in a new position.

"I feel like I've been playing center my whole life," said the junior captain. "It's something that I'm really comfortable with. You have to lead from that position, because that's the role that you take as center. You lead on the field and you lead off the field. I look forward to helping guys when they're in new positions and trying to ignite that fire. That's something that's a part of offensive line play and I try to help them as best as I can."

Marcus' teammates understand the value of having Martin at center, feeding off his constant encouragement and wisdom all across the offensive line. Max Tuerk, who's played several different positions in his young career, credits Martin with much of his ability to succeed early as a part of the unit.

"Marcus is my boy. He pushes me and I try to push him," said Tuerk. "It's a really good relationship and I love playing with him. He makes all the calls. Run blocks, pass blocks, it all starts with him. He's got a great mind, he's really smart, and he can see the field. I've learned a ton from Marcus."

A lack of depth and experience on the offensive line led to early struggles as the Trojans failed to provide consistent pass protection for quarterback Cody Kessler. Martin credits the coaching staff for working with them week-by-week and giving them a system in which they can be productive. In addition, he emphasized the importance of effective communication amongst the line when it comes to winning big games. The junior captain says his unit has a special type of bond.

"We do have a unique bond," said Martin. "A way that we talk to each other. The atmosphere that we have in our meeting room is much different than others. The offensive line here right now is something special because of our ability to have that different type of bond."

Another special bond exists between Martin and his quarterback. While this is the first year he has directly snapped the ball to Kessler, Martin has been protecting him for three seasons. The two players' journeys at USC have paralleled each other each step of the way. Both developed behind dominant players who left big holes to fill (Holmes and Barkley). Both of their positions were uncertain to start the season. Martin says it's special to finally experience the successes of this season with Kessler.

"I have a really strong bond with Cody personally, we've always been close. We've been able to grow up together and it's our time now. It's cool that it's our time at the same time and that we're playing center and quarterback together."

As of late, it looks like both Kessler and Martin have found their rhythm. Last Friday, USC defeated Oregon State 31-14 with the duo co-directing an offense that accumulated a total of 489 yards. Martin said it was amazing to see the dominance of his line, describing the victory as his greatest in his USC career since defeating Notre Dame in 2011. This Saturday, the Trojans head to Berkeley in hopes of continuing the momentum garnered at the beginning of November. On the heels of arguably the Trojans' best game of the season, Martin says there is no sign of this team letting up.

"This team has become a dominant force, somewhat of a wrecking ball. It's a team that has a lot of upside. We have a lot of youth even though we lack depth. Everybody is talented, the walk-ons we have are talented. I think that the team, within the month of November, is going to execute. We're really hungry."

Whether its building computers or directing the USC offense, Marcus Martin knows exactly what he's doing. With lots of potential lying in the remainder of the season, there's no one else the Trojans would rather have controlling the ball on every play.

"He takes a lot of pride in his craft and that's the way he looks at it. He's done that since the day he stepped on campus, you always knew he was going to be one of those guys who just became a special player," said offensive coordinator Clay Helton. "You're seeing a guy play at an extremely high level right now and I know he'll be one of the great players here."

Leave a comment