PULLMAN – The Washington State football program will move forward without both of its starting outside receivers from Belle Glade, Florida.
Tavares Martin Jr., a second team Associated Press All-Pac-12 selection who led the Cougars in almost every receiving category, has been dismissed from WSU for a violation of team rules, a school spokesperson confirmed Sunday morning.
It wasn’t specified what rules Martin Jr. violated, but the receiver later claimed on Twitter he’d asked for his release from the football program, writing “I was dismissed from the team because I asked for my release. I never knew me asking for my release was a violation of the team rules.”
After Sunday’s practice in Pullman, WSU coach Mike Leach clarified the order of events, telling reporters he’d “cut” Martin Jr. from the team before the receiver asked for his release.
Nonetheless, it means the Cougars now head into the Dec. 28 Holiday Bowl against Michigan State without Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack, the former high school teammates who both attended William T. Dwyer in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Johnson-Mack announced last week via Twitter he plans to transfer from WSU in order to be closer to his family in southern Florida, but later claimed coach Mike Leach refused to grant his release. The two were planning to meet on Friday to resolve the issue, but Leach ran into flight problems and didn’t arrive back in Pullman until early Saturday morning.
The WSU coach hadn’t met with Johnson-Mack as of Saturday afternoon, but he did say the sophomore wouldn’t be playing in the Holiday Bowl. Asked Sunday if the meeting with Johnson-Mack had taken place, Leach said it’s “none of your business” but did confirm the sophomore “Z” receiver was no longer with the program.
“There’s 120 people out there and over almost 30 years, am I surprised people make screwy decisions? No,” Leach said. “You don’t always know where it’s going to land, but it happens all the time. We’re far more concerned about the people here than the ones that aren’t, and I think you ought to be, too.”
The WSU coach also refuted the notion that it’s difficult to play college football far away from home – both Martin Jr. and Johnson-Mack left their families in tropical Florida to attend school thousands of miles away in Pullman. Johnson-Mack has a 2-year-old son and an infant daughter in Belle Glade.
“It’s easy,” Leach said. “Everybody talks about going go to the NFL, what do they think’s going to happen there?”
Johnson-Mack, at 6-3, 216 pounds, was bursting with potential and came into fall camp much faster and stronger after spending a summer training with current and former NFL stars such as Anquan Boldin, another native Floridian.
The bigger loss is still Martin Jr.
This season, the speedy, sure-handed “X” receiver was WSU’s leader in catches (70), receiving yards (891), receiving yards per game (75.5) and touchdown catches (9). Martin Jr. started in 11 of 12 games, but violated team rules before a home game against Colorado and received a one-game suspension. The Seattle Times reported that Martin Jr. displayed poor behavior following a 37-3 loss to Cal in Berkeley and missed a practice, leading to his suspension.
Anonymous sources told the Times that Martin Jr. was cut from the team because he missed team activities in late November. It must have happened following the Nov. 25 Apple Cup against Washington, because Martin Jr. played in the game and made five catches for 62 yards.
Martin Jr. hinted at his departure on Twitter Saturday night, writing, “Soon to start a new chapter in my life.”
The player’s father told the Times Sunday that Martin Jr. would not be permitted to transfer to any Division I school in his home state of Florida.
“(Leach) stated T.J. wouldn’t be playing football at (the) Division I (level) because he controls T.J.’s release form,” Tavares Martin Sr. told the Times’ Stefanie Loh. “He signed the paper but stipulated T.J. can’t go to Florida schools. That’s not fair. This is where he’s from. This is where all our family lives. He’s a Division I product. Why you gonna rip my son like that?”
Martin Sr. also said that his son “overslept” and missed a team meeting two weeks ago, then went to the team locker room to find his locker had been cleaned out. Martin Jr. had already requested his release at that point, according to the Times.
Without Martin Jr. and Johnson-Mack, who had 60 catches for 555 receiving yards and five touchdowns during a productive sophomore season, the Cougars will likely turn to true freshman Tay Martin and sophomore Dezmon Patmon.
“They’re some good players,” Tay Martin said of Martin Jr. and Johnson-Mack on Sunday. “I wish them the best.”
WSU’s Holiday Bowl depth chart takes a hit without the pair, but Leach isn’t concerned about it hampering the Cougars in San Diego.
“Well, we’ve played a bunch of receivers this year, so I think we’ve got quality guys,” said the WSU coach, who generally uses an eight-man receiver rotation. “In Tavares’ case, he was suspended earlier in the year and we played just fine, so I’m sure we will.”
Tay Martin has shown potential as a rookie and finished the regular season with 24 catches for 315 yards and four touchdowns. The native of Houma, Louisiana, earned a bigger role in the Air Raid offense as the season progressed and hauled in four passes for 78 yards and a touchdown while starting in place of Martin Jr. against Colorado.
“He’s been right on the threshold of bursting out,” Leach said after WSU’s 28-0 win over the Buffaloes. “He’s a guy, if he keeps improving, is maybe six months from being the best receiver on the team because they’ll have a hard time holding his off.”
On Sunday, Leach said of Martin: “He’s gotten better and better. Tay had a really good practice today.”
Patmon spent the year backing up Johnson-Mack at “Z” and caught 31 passes for 341 yards, but didn’t get into the end zone. C.J. Dimry is another option on the outside, but only caught 10 passes for 121 yards as a senior and didn’t record stats in five of the 12 games.
It’s also possible the Cougars try to patch up their holes by moving a few of their inside receivers to the outside. Leach has tested slots Jamire Calvin and Brandon Arconado at Martin Jr.’s “X” position the last few days and said he’d be “open-minded” about moving players around as the Cougars approach their bowl game.
“We’ll look at a couple guys out there,” the coach said. “Today, we looked at (Calvin), who I think can do that thing pretty naturally anyway. So, guys that are fast are always pretty good on the outside.”