BOZEMAN — Jaharie Martin snaps his fingers repeatedly, illustrating how rapidly he needs to process opposing defenses and fulfill his responsibilities in his new position.
The Montana State fullback has needed to adjust seemingly as fast. He was recruited to play linebacker, then switched to running back as a redshirt in 2019. This season, due to starting fullback RJ Fitzgerald missing time due to injury, Martin was thrust into another role once again.
MSU’s Isaiah Ifanse is second in the FCS with 603 rushing yards on the season, just 14 behind first place. Ifanse has been put in position to thrive thanks in part because of Martin filling in for Fitzgerald and paving the way.
The No. 10-ranked Bobcats (4-1, 2-0 Big Sky) can continue to depend on Martin when they host Cal Poly (1-4, 0-2) for their homecoming game at 2 p.m. Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.
“My background knowledge that I already have playing all the other different positions helps me,” Martin said. “So when I learn something new, I just put two and two together and then it just kind of ties all together because at the end of the day football is football. A lot of stuff is universal so I think that’s what helps me out a lot.”
Growing up in Florida, Martin began his high school career at defensive end. He felt that was his best shot at playing immediately. Even then, he always felt like he was “learning on the fly.”
Now at 5-foot-11, 232 pounds, Martin wasn’t confident in his potential of playing in college at defensive end. So by the time he was a senior, he played linebacker, and that’s when he began to be recruited.
Martin saw time at linebacker and running back for the Bobcats in 2019 while redshirting. In four games, he rushed 10 times for 38 yards.
Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen noted Martin’s power right way. Because of it, Vigen felt if Fitzgerald were to ever miss games, Martin would be a candidate to play at fullback.
When asked if he enjoys tackling or blocking more, Martin responded, “Whatever they want me to play, I’ll play it.” That’s been his mindset since he was young. He said he relishes being a “team player.”
“He just wants to get on the field,” Vigen said. “Whether that’s been on special teams, tailback, fullback, and when presented with this opportunity to really take on the role, it’s much more dirty work.
“It’s been really on-the-job training, and he’s playing hard and he’s allowed us to move forward.”
When Fitzgerald was injured in the second game of the season, Vigen emphasized Martin would need to step up. While MSU could have turned to tight ends Derryk Snell or Ryan Davis to play in Fitzgerald’s role, Vigen didn’t want to affect their development at their position.
But the Bobcats also didn’t want to play without a fullback either, as Fitzgerald took care of a great number of tasks in MSU’s offense. And Martin was open to the change.
Martin occasionally practiced at fullback before the season, though his experience was limited. But with Fitzgerald on the sideline, Martin realized he would be relied on. So he’s taken as many snaps as possible and has trained as often as he can, even by himself outside of practice, so he could be ready.
Martin joked that running backs are viewed by people as “the dummies on the team because they have to know the bare minimum.” His new position is more technical in terms of his hands and footwork. He also needs to know how the offensive line will operate so he knows where to go.
These are all just a few examples of aspects of his new position he didn’t consider until playing it. But having played on defense before, he knows how opponents may think and can counter their moves accordingly, which helped him adjust.
“It’s not just a guy who’s willing to run into a wall over and over again. It’s understanding angles. It’s understanding they’re reacting really fast,” Vigen said. “We think he’s doing well. I think he can continue to grow so at the very least we’ll have the depth necessary to keep moving forward.”
Martin rushed for 18 yards on five carries against San Diego, including for a touchdown. He also caught a nine-yard touchdown pass to seal a win at Portland State.
Though he’s a freshman, Martin is a junior academically. So to have been at MSU for so long and finally score “felt good,” he said.
“I love it,” Martin said. “I still get to be as physical as I was on defense, and now I get to score some touchdowns, too.”
Martin said Fitzgerald told him he’s hoping to go through some contact drills next week. Martin isn’t sure where he’ll play when Fitzgerald is healthy.
But as always, Martin stressed he can do whatever is asked of him in MSU’s offensive scheme.
“It’s been an opportunity to show that he’s a good football player,” Vigen said. “Really appreciate what he’s doing for us.”