Tavares Martin Jr. had ample space in Mike Leach’s famed Air Raid system, much more than the inherently compact Indoor Football League.
The former Washington State receiver hauled in 150 passes for 1,683 yards and 17 touchdowns in three seasons before his collegiate career came to an adverse and premature end.
Martin , who tried to catch on with his home area’s Miami Dolphins after going undrafted in 2018 and had a cup of coffee in Canadian Football League, has made his winding way back to the Inland Northwest.
He makes his Spokane Shock debut on Saturday when the reborn Indoor Football League franchise visits the Massachusetts Pirates, another homecoming of sorts.
Martin , who missed last week’s 36-33 season-opening loss to the Frisco Fighters due to an injury, played briefly for the Pirates in 2019 before suffering a hamstring injury.
“(The IFL) is a lot different, but it plays into my favor,” Martin said. “It’s a lot more technical with route running. But it’s good to be back up here and be close to Pullman.”
Martin, 25, made the trek to Pullman earlier this year to visit friend, fellow Florida native and WSU receiver Travell Harris, evoking a few Martin Stadium memories.
There were plenty of savory moments for Martin , helping the Cougars reach the Sun Bowl and back-to-back Holiday Bowls, leading the team in receiving as a junior in 2017 and earning second-team All-Pac 12 distinction.
“Once a Coug, always a Coug,” Martin said.
But Martin ’s absence was glaring in WSU’s 42-17 Holiday Bowl loss to Michigan State in 2017. He was cut after the regular season for a violation of team rules, according to Leach, who is now the head coach at Mississippi State.
Sources told the Seattle Times that Martin , who was suspended for an October game against Colorado, was dismissed because he missed team activities in late November.
Martin gave a different account, saying Leach cut him after requesting a release from the team.
“Some things that went on with Mike Leach, things that went on behind the scenes and it derailed me,” Martin said this week. “Leach was told misleading information by an assistant coach, false information, and he reacted off that.”
Martin never played another down of college football despite having one remaining year of eligibility and also a redshirt year because he played as a true freshman. He tried to return to WSU after the dismissal, but Leach wouldn’t allow it.
“You either play for him, or nobody else. He doesn’t like the transfer thing.” Martin said. “I would have had to play my senior year at (Football Championship Subdivision) school, not a Power 5 school, because I wasn’t granted my release.”
The outside receiver said that he and Leach never “had a falling out or butted heads” but that being denied a senior year at a Power 5 school may have hurt his chances of generating more NFL interest.
Martin still believes he has the ability to potentially get his foot in the door of the NFL and hopes his efforts with the Shock can help him get there.
Spokane Shock coach Billy Back, whose roster is dotted with former Power 5 college players who hail from southern states, thinks Martin can be a star in the IFL if he is stays healthy.
“He is quick and shifty. Big catch radius and deep threat for us,” Back said of the 6-foot-1, 185-pound target. “He’s a great person and has a good personality. He is very quiet, but once you get him talking, it’s hard to get him to stop.”
Martin didn’t plan on returning to the Inland Northwest – an area he considers his second home – until he got a call from former WSU teammate Kyrin Priester.
Priester and Martin were two of WSU’s top freshman receivers in 2015. Priester lasted just one season in Pullman before he was kicked off the team for a violation of team rules and went on to play arena football.
Priester, who is also from Florida and played for the Carolina Cobras under Back, followed Back to Spokane and believed Martin would be a good fit in his system.
“This is a great team, a great organization and with great coaching staff with Back,” Martin said. “A lot of guys from the South here that click together. It makes it easier when we’re so far away from home.”
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