Freshman LJ Martin Gives BYU Needed Spark During Sam Houston Win

Sep 3, 2023, 1:49 AM | Updated: 1:53 am

LJ Martin, BYU Football, Sam Houston...

BYU Cougars running back LJ Martin (27) is tackled by Sam Houston Bearkats defensive back Elias Escobar (36) during the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah – It was a big deal for the BYU football staff when they lipped El Paso, Texas, running back LJ Martin from Stanford to the Cougars.

But to Martin, he kept it low profile. Martin, often referred to as a player mature beyond his years, quietly signed his National Letter of Intent last December without any fanfare.

He waited to make it public until the February signing period so he could sign and celebrate the moment with all of his family and high school classmates.

LJ Martin had a game-high 91 rushing yards

In the era of engagement and gaining celebrity status, yes, Martin is mature for an 18-year-old.

That maturity from Martin was again displayed Saturday night in BYU’s 14-0 win over Sam Houston.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound ball carrier had 16 carries for 91 yards. That production occurred in the second half when BYU’s offense looked stuck in the mud.

BYU had an explosive first drive of the game that was capped off by a Kedon Slovis touchdown run. After that, Aaron Roderick’s came to a screeching halt.

Delivers a spark

Until Martin stepped in after offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and running backs coach Harvey Unga made a switch from UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins to the freshman.

“A-Rod and the offensive staff just felt like they wanted a spark,” said Kalani Sitake. “I was trying to create one with the fake punt; they just created one with the different personnel.”

What was running through Martin’s mind when he got the call in the third quarter?

“It was just to go out there and run. Just like I do in practice,” Martin said. “I run with the two’s in practice and go against the one’s defense in practice. I feel like the guys I go up against in practice got me ready for this.”

Maturity that earned playing time

During fall camp, coaches and teammates praised the young freshman. He was the name with the most buzz from the first scrimmage.

Throughout camp, he ran with patience and displayed a vision that very few young running backs show at the beginning of their collegiate careers.

After the impressive performance on Saturday, Martin is making a case to be the starting running back in the future.

Head coach Kalani Sitake said the competition will continue. At a minimum, BYU has a thunder-and-lightning tandem between Martin and Robbins in the backfield.

“I’ve got a great support staff. The whole team just supports me to do whatever I do. They just support each other. So it’s really easy to go out there and try to make the most of the opportunity I’m given,” said Martin.

Martin had his entire immediate family in attendance for the game. His parents, sisters, and grandparents all made the trip from El Paso.

They wore royal blue t-shirts with “Martin 27” on the back and probably didn’t expect this much success in his first game. LJ sure wasn’t expecting it himself.

“I always dreamed of [this moment],” Martin said. “I probably didn’t expect it to happen tonight.”

LJ Martin thanked his teammates

Shortly after acknowledging his big night, Martin showed that maturity again and recognized the entire running back room.

“Just everyone in the locker room [made this possible]. Aidan [Robbins], Deion [Smith], Miles [Davis], Enoch [Nawhine], Hinckley [Ropati], all of those dudes are supporting you throughout whatever you’re doing. You go out there, you get one yard, they’re happy for you. Go out to get negative two yards, they’re happy. Get 20, they’re happy. They are just the greatest people I could ask to mentor me.”

During fall camp, BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis, who also debuted as a Cougar, threw for 145 yards on 33 pass attempts. Slovis praised Martin in fall camp as a standout in the first scrimmage. So Saturday night’s performance was no shock to the former Pitt and USC quarterback.

“LJ has done a great job. I think the most impressive thing is that he’s just so mature in how he carries himself as a person and his knowledge of the game,” said Slovis. “You wouldn’t think he was a freshman that just came here a few months away. Everyone else is surprised, but I think everyone in the building kind of knew what we had and the type of player he is. We have high expectations for him and he met them tonight.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X (Twitter) and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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Freshman LJ Martin Gives BYU Needed Spark During Sam Houston Win