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ACC Football: The reality of Miami’s Tate Martell losing the starting job

Tate Martell
Photo Credit: Matt Baker - Tampa Bay Times

In the spring of 2017, college football programs were getting their teams into practice mode for the upcoming season. After signing commitments on National Signing Day, it’s easy to dive into the hype that is the promise of new recruits. But for the recruits, it is in no way the end of the road. ACC quarterback Tate Martell knows this more than most. 

During that spring, the number one rated dual-threat quarterback in the nation hit a crossroads several times. First, committing to Washington, Tate Martell de-committed and put his name into the Texas A&M hat. But soon after, he decided to de-commit again and finalized his decision on the Ohio State University. His wavering in decisions may have struck some as distasteful, but Martell found his home and was ready to become the next Buckeye signal-caller. That is, until everything changed.

Tate Martell leaving Columbus

One year later, after Tate Martell redshirted behind J.T. Barrett, then Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer announced that Dwayne Haskins, the recent 2019 first-rounder for the Washington Redskins, would be the starting quarterback. Meyer noted that Martell and Joe Burrow would still compete for the top job. Burrow transferred out, leaving Martell as the primary backup to Haskins. 

Following a stellar season by Haskins, who declared for the NFL Draft, Tate Martell was seen as the logical next man up for 2019. But then Georgia Bulldogs QB and former number one overall recruit Justin Fields announced on Twitter he was considering Ohio State as a transfer destination due to his position battle. That prompted Martell to say the following in a since-deleted subtweet:

That tweet was promptly followed by Justin Fields officially committing to Ohio State, and Martell leaving another program for the Miami Hurricanes. On the surface, it does seem he ran from the competition. But Martell also lost head coach Meyer to retirement, changing the course of his future Buckeye career. Martell was also, apparently, advised to transfer.

The promise to start at Miami came quickly considering N’Kosi Perry, a Hurricane QB from the year before, did not effectively lock the position down after splitting starts all season. Martell filed for a hardship waiver with the NCAA to be immediately eligible to play in 2019. It was granted.

But then a surprise took place after an entire spring and summer of work by Tate Martell.

Monday’s surprise

The video may not feature in the tweet, but Miami didn’t choose Tate Martell to start. Yes, despite transferring, Martell was unseated again as a potential starter by redshirt freshman Jarren Williams. The news was met with very swift criticism of Martell’s previous tweet against Fields, and the expected jokes ensued. Sure, Martell’s perceived personality, as strong as it is, can be easy fuel for humorous onslaughts. However, perspective is everything.

Although Tate Martell was a five-star recruit, former four-star Jarren Williams has been with the Hurricanes and committed since 2018. He was ranked very similarly to Martell in his respective ranking process, placed at 77th overall by 247Sports to Martell’s 56th. Williams profiles as more of a pocket passer, whereas Martell, is a dual-threat through and through. This isn’t to diminish Martell’s talent and potential, but more to put it into perspective.

New head coach Manny Diaz recently said that he sees a higher upside with Williams. Understandably, a player who swiftly improved during high school would make a leap of progress to defeat a new face while it’s easy to pile onto Martell, who can blame him for banking on his talent. He was defeated in spring, but the battle isn’t over yet. 

The fallout from the Williams bomb

Jarren Williams may have earned the starting gig, but Martell isn’t far behind. With some poor performances by Williams, Martell could quickly be asked to step in and have a chance to show out. Fortunately for him, the redshirt sophomore still has a few years of eligibility left to lock Miami down as his team and showcase his talent for NFL circles.

But even if he decided to transfer, who could blame him? Many programs are needing top-flight QB talent to enhance their team. UCLA with Chip Kelly seems to be a nice spot considering Martell’s dual-threat ability. Maybe Arizona, where Martell could reunite with former TAMU head coach Kevin Sumlin. Or even a different program in the ACC like North Carolina State or Duke, both of which lost long-time starters. 

It’s also possible that N’Kosi Perry decides to transfer too. After a year of games under his belt, he’s essentially competing for a backup job. Does the competition with Martell force him out? Does Perry transfer before that transpires? Questions like these prove there’s a lot to consider with this recent Miami declaration under center.

The truth of the matter

Ultimately, people will scorch Tate Martell for his repeated flipped commitments and transfers. He’s figuratively worn more uniforms than some football players do their entire lives. But the sad part of it all is the lost humanity in the processing of Martell’s journey. 

Yes, it’s easy to look at his tweets as egotistical or confrontational. Yes, it’s easy to pile on and call into question his competitive nature when he transferred at the first sign of having to fight for the starting gig in Columbus. It’s also easy to double down on that thought when Martell didn’t practice Monday in what seemed like a clear reaction to not being named the starter. Since then, he’s returned to the facility, addressed the team about this absence, and returned to practice.

But, in reality, we’re talking about a young man that has worked for high rankings to play Division I football and, possibly, make a path to the NFL. His decisions should not be held under a microscope at the level of a professional football player. His choices shouldn’t be held so highly as to hope for his failure or to mock him as quickly seen via a quick search on Twitter.

Tate Martell still has tremendous talent and upside. He wouldn’t have been ranked as high as he was if that wasn’t true. But he is doing what’s best for his dream; what’s best for his potential professional career. That is something many can relate to.

What’s also being lost is the idea of amateurism. Some see it as an ideal to uphold, while some wish NCAA athletes could be paid for their hard work. But regardless, Tate Martell is not being paid for his talents. No matter what school he goes to, the program will make thousands, if not, millions of dollars. The program’s stadium will fill with fans, students, and alumni alike, no matter where he goes. It is only fair that an amateur athlete, who reaps hardly any direct profit from the revenue earned by a program, can retain the right to choose where he wishes to play. It’s easy to look at Martell as a silly athlete that looks bad because of one tweet. But it’s harder to see that he’s a young man pursuing a dream that has seen multiple speed bumps in his path that he didn’t necessarily cause himself.

Final thoughts

Tate Martell has a ways to go. He’s still able to play at Miami. He retains another three years of eligibility including this coming season. His story is not written. But we shouldn’t criticize his fall from a highly touted promise. Instead, we should be encouraging an athlete pursuing his dream to be one of the best. We should applaud that, even if he’s shied away from competition, that he hasn’t given up on his dream. Because what’s more practical? Are people to always harp on others avoiding competition? Or do people try to understand circumstances and focus on the result that’s being chased? 

We don’t criticize anyone else in their results. Business owners, actors, and actresses, musicians, television personalities, etc., once they’re at the top, we forget their lower end journey. Why take an athlete’s career choices and journey at face value? 

I’m not here to lecture on these things. I’m merely opening up a conversation as to how we view athletes, especially amateurs like Tate Martell. In the end, maybe this decision spurs Martell to reach greater heights than he’s ever done before. Maybe he sticks it out and tries to beat Williams next spring. Whatever the case, Tate Martell’s story isn’t done yet, and we shouldn’t treat him like he deserves it too.

 

Felix Davila is a writer for PFN focusing on ACC Football within NFL Draft coverage. He is also the editor for the AFC North writer team. You can follow him @DavilaFootball on Twitter.

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