There is probably nothing more insulting to the ears of a quarterback than to hear that they are a “game manager.” This is the type of player who does all the right things to not make mistakes, but does little to positively affect the outcome of the game. The stigma on this type of quarterback is that he does very little to lead the team to victory, and that the team is at their best when he simply gets out of the way.
Last season that became the label tabbed on St. John’s Johnnies starting quarterback Nick Martin. With the emergence of star running back Sam Sura, Martin’s job was to pretty much hand the ball to his running back and not make mistakes. At least that was how many viewed his role.
To be quite frank, it was a label that was completely inappropriate. It was true that the emergence of Sura made it only natural that the team would run the ball more, but that did not mean that Martin was not capable of winning games as well, which he did. His performance against Bethel least season was outstanding and handed the Johnnies the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. The then junior threw just 18-passes, but he completed 10 of them for 173-yards and 2-touchdowns.
His 49-yard completion to Josh Bungum was an absolute thing of beauty. On third and 5 at midfield, the Johnnies were looking to nail the coffin shut, when Martin looked deep and dropped the ball in a place that only Bungum could reach it. The pass had to be perfect as the defender was doing everything to defend the play but climb into Bungum’s uniform. In true Martin fashion it was perfect, giving the Johnnies the ball at the Bethel one. Two plays later they scored to seal the victory.
It was true that the offense was not centered around Martin. In fact, there was a four-game stretch where he did not even attempt 10 passes in any of those games. He was just 14-28 with 4-touchdowns during that stretch, and that gave ammunition to the naysayers who wanted to present Nick as a game manager.
Nick Martin has loved playing football since he can remember. Growing up a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan, Nick loved to watch former quarterback Daunte Culpepper play and wanted to emulate his hero. He played football early on, but when he reached high school he decided that soccer had more of his interest, so his freshman year he hit the pitch. His high school coach persuaded him to come and play quarterback his sophomore season and Nick obliged. That is when the sport took on a whole new level of emphasis for him.
“I kind of played every sport growing up, and once I got to high school I finally grew into my body a little bit. I really started taking football seriously my sophomore year and kept growing as a player from there.”
In his senior year, Coach Gary Fasching came to recruit Nick to gain his interest in coming to St. John’s. One trip to the campus and Martin was sold.
“Part of it was that I just loved the crowd aspect of it. I came to my first game and I just loved how into it the crowd was and how excited about the team the students were. So I went home and started to look at the school a lot more beyond football and found that it really fit into what I wanted to do.”
Nick was the backup quarterback his freshman season, but an injury forced him into the starting role. He played quite well, starting five games, passing for 1,003-yards and 9-touchdowns with a 64.8 completion percentage.
He performed so well that the next season he was to be the starting quarterback, however, a serious shoulder injury sidelined him for much of the year, nearly wiping out his sophomore campaign. When he returned Nick admits that he was not truly ready and his play on the field suffered. He completed just 51.7 percent of his passes and had one touchdown and seven interceptions.
Last season, Sura emerged like a force of nature. After rushing for 503-yards in 2013, the running back busted out a 1,798-yard campaign with 19-touchdowns. His performance made the offense go directly through Sam Sura and left Martin as the guy who passed when they had to.
With this kind of label a lot of players would have sulked, but Nick performed well when called upon to do so, throwing for 1,135-yards and 14-touchdowns. He also only threw 3-interceptions.
The Johnnies were poised for a big run in the NCAA Division-III playoffs, and that looked like it would come to fruition, but an injury to Sura in the Round 2 matchup against Wartburg sunk those hopes. Nick struggled, going just 11-26 for 154-yards. The result left a bitter taste in his mouth and made him dedicated to not let that happen again. If this St. John’s Johnnies team was going to get past the second round this season, Nick knew that he had to play at an exception level.
“Last year Sura really emerged as a star player. We really rallied behind him. This year has been really special because not only have we been able to get behind Sura, but I have been able to develop into one of our go-to guys, as well as Josh Bungum, who has had an awesome year too. We are able to spread it around now, we are not just running the ball – we’re passing as well. We have been able to do a little bit of everything.”
Play at an exceptional level is exactly what Nick Martin has done. The senior has thrown for 1,906-yards and 22-touchdowns. He has completed a gaudy 69.8 percent of his passes with just 2-interceptions. Even more impressive, his 190.8 quarterback efficiency rating ranks him second nationally to likely Division-III Player of the Year Joe Callahan.
All of those are amazing statistics, but that is not what has brought the greatest joy to the senior. What he is most proud of is that his play has earned him the trust of his teammates and his coaches.
“Our coaches trust me a lot more this year. I am calling a lot more audibles, and really taking over this year, which is something I haven’t done in the past years. Our players respect that and really rally behind whatever I am going to do.”
His performance has also made him focus on leading this team a lot more. He is a go-to guy now, and that status has made it necessary for Nick to be the leader inspiring his team to greater heights.
“The quarterback always has to be a leader. With where we are at we are going to have to be able to pass the ball. So, I realize that if I am not playing well our team is not going to play well. So, automatically I take the leadership position and the guys respect me. I’ve improved a lot in the last couple of years. They’ve seen that and seen the hard work I have put in. They’ve got my back and they know I believe in them as well.”
The play of Nick Martin has truly made the St. John’s Johnnies a real contender for the National Championship. His play has enabled the team to be a lot more balanced offensively, and that makes them a lot more dangerous, a thought Nick fully recognizes.
“We are so much more balanced. Last year our team was totally based on Sura. Sam’s a talented player but that only took us to the second round. We’ve been extremely balanced now.”
Last weekend, Johnnies supporters got to see first-hand how much of a difference he can be. On fourth and 3 at the Dubuque 22-yard-line, the senior found some room and scurried for 22-yards for the score to put his team up 7-0. In the second quarter, the Johnnies faced a third and 22. Martin found Bungum for 21-yards and then kept the ball on the next play, running for three-yards and a first down. It is those kinds of plays that prove that the coaching staff has the utmost confidence that with the ball in their quarterback’s hands good things are going to happen.
Nick Martin has always been efficient in the way that he has led this offense. In the last two seasons he has thrown for 36-touchdowns with just 5-interceptions. He has played mistake free football for the most part, and been humble enough to allow the others to lead the way.
This season the St. John’s Johnnies have turned to Nick asking him to be the catalyst and he has delivered. The Johnnies QB is no longer a game manager (if he ever was one) but, instead, is the guy directing the success of this offense. At St. John’s there is a commitment by students to strive for excellence, to continually grow, and to never become complacent. If perspective Johnnies’ students are looking for the very epitome of that creed, they need look no further 6-3, 200-pound redhead named Nick Martin.
Images courtesy of the St. Cloud Times
By Robert Pannier