Auburn’s spark: How ‘explosive’ Kam Martin loves ‘change the pace’ tailback role

November 22, 2017 GMT

AUBURN — To listen to his coaches and teammates talk, Kam Martin might just be considered the most explosive tailbacks on the Auburn roster.

While Kerryon Johnson is clearly the most productive and getting all the Heisman talk while Kamryn Pettway came into the 2017 season as the biggest, Martin is the spot on the running back depth chart where big plays are born.

Martin showcased that “change of pace” style he describes as his role with 83 yards on just 12 carries and a touchdown to pair with a 41-yard touchdown reception in Auburn’s 42-14 win over Louisiana-Monroe last weekend.

“He came out fresh and it was like he just shot out of a cannon,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said following the win. “He’s done a solid job for us all year. He really gave us a boost when he came in.”

Martin didn’t get a carry until after a lackadaisical first half where Auburn went into the locker room up just 14-7 due mostly to earning just two plays over 20 yards. Martin’s first touch was a carry up the middle for 31 yards and his second touch resulted in him handing the referee the football in the end zone for a touchdown. Two plays and Martin had provided Auburn (9-2, 6-1 SEC) with a multi-score advantage and woken up a Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd that has stayed drowsy for the pre-Iron Bowl 11 a.m. kickoff against a Sun Belt Conference opponent.

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“My mindset was make a spark. Get a big run, get the fans into the game, get the tempo moving,” Martin said. “I love that role because it forces you to stay ready but also learn patience at the same time. I’ve known (Johnson and Pettway) were ahead of me and my role was that I needed to be ready to make plays when they need me.”

Martin is currently sixth in the Southeastern Conference in yards per carry at 6.67 yards per carry and the winner-take-all Iron Bowl against No. 1 Alabama (11-0, 7-0 in SEC) this weekend could feature two of the most unknown tailback commodities in the conference with Martin looking across the sideline at fellow sophomore Josh Jacobs. Jacobs, a native of Tulsa, Okla., also averages over six yards a touch and has seen more action in each of the last two games as well. Martin got his first rushing touchdown since the season-opening victory over Georgia Southern on Sept. 2 but was admittedly surprised he stayed in for the goal-line rushing attempt.

“I was looking to get in the end zone on the 30-yarder because normally when we’re that close we’re looking to get a bigger back in there like Kerryon or somebody else,” Martin said. “I looked and was appreciative that they gave me a shot to dive in and score. I wasn’t going to waste that chance.”

While fans have been itching for Martin, who has failed to get more than two carries in six games this season, to get more of an opportunity in the running game, the 5-foot-10 and 182-pound tailback wanted to downplay any frustration over lack of playing time.

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“The thing that’s really impressed me this fall is that he’s always been a willing pass protector; he’ll stick his nose in there and try to battle them in terms of pass protection,” Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton said earlier this season.

“Shot out of a cannon,” “spark,” and “boost” are all volatile words used to describe Johnson in his first two years on campus before he was moved to the primary starting tailback position this spring. While Martin said Saturday he hasn’t been told anything or given a promise, if Johnson were to leave school early for the NFL the former Baylor signee might be first in line to take over that role as the lead tailback in a long lineage at Auburn expected to produce massive success.

“Kam has always been a humble guy who just patiently waits his turn, and every time he gets in, he does good things,” Johnson said earlier this month. “As long as he keeps that up, he’ll be in a great position.”