Nebraska's Eric Martin will take the field for the Cornhuskers one last time on New Year's Day in the Capital One Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Despite often being the unsung hero of Nebraska's defense, Martin has throughout his career displayed an energy, intensity and perseverance that will make his departure from the program the most devastating of any Cornhusker senior.
This is not to say that there are no other seniors who contributed greatly for Nebraska in the 2012 season. Far from it. Rex Burkhead has been a fan favorite for a number of years. His combination of speed and power has dazzled Husker Nation, along with his quiet off-field demeanor and admirable volunteer work.
And the list goes on: Daimion Stafford, Brett Maher, Will Compton, Baker Steinkuhler.
All had quality seasons, many of which earned them All-Big Ten mention.
However, while Abdullah and Braylon Heard will step up to the fill the shoes of Burkhead, and Ciante Evans will be the new top dog in the Nebraska secondary, Eric Martin brought something special that the Blackshirts desperately needed—and will struggle to replace because of his absence: swag.
Martin burst on the scene during his sophomore season for all the wrong reasons. After a bone-crushing hit on a special teams play against Oklahoma State, Martin was suspended by Big 12 officials.
Although a discussion of the hit and the punishment is best saved for another day, let's just recognize that Eric Martin brought his intensity and hard-hitting play from his earliest moments on the field for Nebraska.
And the legend of Eric Martin simply grew from there. At first, he was known primarily as the big guy with the best celebrations on the team. Yet more and more people began to take notice of his
enormous, momentum-swinging plays between the whistles.
By his senior year, Martin was one of the most beloved players on the Nebraska defense.
Although he racked up huge sack totals all year long, Martin's masterpiece came against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the final game of the 2012 regular season.
Burkhead received all the attention—and deservedly so—for his late entrance into the game which sparked long, time-consuming drives that helped the Huskers capture the victory.
But just as much as Burkhead spearheaded the offensive performance, Martin took over the defense. He terrorized Hawkeye offensive tackles all day long as he transformed himself into a one-man wrecking ball.
In a game the Huskers simply needed to have, Martin refused to let the Blackshirts slip up. He brought his intensity and energy to a team lacking in both on a blustery afternoon and led the defense to a
great overall performance.
Yet what also makes Eric Martin near and dear to the hearts of Nebraska fans is the path he took to such success.
Martin began as a relatively unheralded 3-star recruit from California. After not receiving much playing time as a freshman, he received more playing time with the special teams as a sophomore.
And through hard work and perseverance, Martin eventually won himself a starting job and a place on the media’s All-Big Ten first team in his final season.
Whether its fans like to admit it or not, Nebraska will never be able to recruit the classes abundant with 5-star prospects like USC now does and Miami did in the past. Nebraska is and likely will always be a place for 3- and 4-star recruits who fit the system, work hard and bide their time before achieving the highest levels of success at the collegiate level.
Even past Husker greats did not enter Lincoln as instant stars. Many people forget that Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch was still in a battle for the starting quarterback position in his sophomore year.
Other schools may have the Marcus Lattimores and Johnny Manziels who can enter a program and immediately reach superstar status.
But that is simply not the case at Nebraska, which is why Eric Martin will be so dearly missed in Lincoln.
Martin brought something to the game that few others could. He had that spark, that energy and that charisma that can simply infect a team and alter the outcomes of games.
But that leadership role was not granted to him immediately upon his arrival. Like many other great Huskers before him, Martin worked hard, rose through the ranks and eventually earned his moments in the spotlight.
There are certainly many other Huskers graduating this year who made significant contributions to the program during their time. But the Nebraska football team will have to look long and hard for players who offer those intangibles provided by Eric Martin.
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