Cameron Martinez never officially reopened his recruitment. He always stayed committed to Ohio State, even once Jeff Hafley left Columbus to become Boston College’s head coach just days before he planned to sign his National Letter of Intent. But the playmaker from Muskegon, Michigan, did look around. He listened to other schools like Notre Dame, Minnesota, Oregon and Northwestern whose coaches badly wanted him to consider them.
Ultimately, after a month-and-a-half-long re-recruitment, Ryan Day gained the trust of the Martinez family, and Kerry Coombs won them over as well.
Fourteen months ago, they inked him as a future Buckeye. Fourteen months later, they’re beginning to see the benefits of their full-throated pursuit of him.
A few days ago, Martinez intercepted two passes during a spring practice.
Evidently, those weren’t the only positive signs of his growth as a second-year defensive back.
“I'll tell you this about Cam Martinez: You can't sit in a meeting without hearing great things about him right now,” secondary coach Matt Barnes said Thursday. “Whether that's strength and conditioning, our nutritionist brags about him, our training staff brags about him. I just five minutes ago walked out of a special teams meeting where coach (Parker) Fleming was bragging on how well he's done in special teams.
“Cam has really, really put his head down and gone to work since this past season ended, and he's got to be one of the most improved guys so far that we've seen.”
As a true freshman, Martinez’s season was about as quiet as one can be.
He didn’t enroll until June because his recruitment rolled all the way into February, experienced a limited preseason camp due to the pandemic, then didn’t play a defensive snap all season. Only once all year – in the Indiana game as part of the punt return team – did he even enter a game. Rarely did his name come up in press conferences or interviews with players or coaches. Day mentioned the possibility of him starting his collegiate career as a two-way player, but that didn’t come to fruition, at least in part because of the difficulties of playing on both sides of the ball with COVID-19 affecting everything.
His first season in Columbus was all about developing as a defensive back under Coombs and Barnes as he waited his time.
Martinez’s second year is when he might start to force himself into the rotation in the secondary.
So far, Martinez – who's listed at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds – doesn’t have a specific role in the defensive backfield. Coombs initially had him playing cornerback, but there was also an idea that he might be the ideal guy to have in the slot. With Martinez having been on campus for less than a year, the Buckeyes are still figuring out where exactly to place him to maximize what he can bring to the secondary.
Day said last week that the coaches will “probably be moving Cameron Martinez a little bit around.”
“He's played inside. He's played outside. He'll play true safety for us,” Barnes said. “We're really just diving into techniques and concepts right now.”
That’s nothing new to Martinez.
In high school, he was Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year and the MLive Player of the Year as a quarterback who had 1,258 passing yards, 2,124 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns as a senior. But he knew he wouldn’t be a signal-caller at the next level. His athleticism made him an option at a number of spots – cornerback, slot corner, nickelback, safety, wide receiver, H-back, running back and returner among them – and he arrived in Columbus with an open mind.
At this point, it seems as though Martinez will play in the secondary, even if he doesn't have a singular spot locked down, and could contribute as a returner and elsewhere on special teams. And based on how he has been talked about recently, he might be able to make an impact at those spots sooner than later.
“He does some good things back there for us,” Day said. “He has some good flexibility.”