He was a human airplane.
Wasn’t he? Did the eyes see it right? Wasn’t he flying after Nebraska’s defense claimed that safety against Penn State?
Eric Martin laughed, because that’s what he does in most any conversation. He loves to laugh, talk trash and sack quarterbacks, though in what order he ranks these things is unclear.
“Yeah, I don’t know what I was doing,” Martin said. “I was just out there having fun.”
Having fun running by the Penn State sideline, arms extended like airplane wings.
Martin knew what he was doing. He loves the head games within the game.
See Nebraska’s defense make a play, and there’s a very good chance you’ll see the senior defensive end’s mouth moving.
Could he play this game without chattering on the way he does?
“Could I? Yeah. I could,” Martin said. “But I choose to do it because it’s like strategy. It’s just like reading a guard because his hand is light and he’s about to pull. Talking usually gets to people’s heads. The quickest way to get somebody out of their zone is to get in their head first. Usually words can hurt. Words can hurt a lot. And they can make people break down. You can see it on the field.”
Whether it’s blood or Red Bull running through his veins is sometimes uncertain, but there’s no doubt that Martin’s high-energy ways have made him a fan favorite ever since he was crushing foes on special teams as a freshman.
“Caveman” is what some have affectionately come to call him.
While showing footage last week of the Nebraska-Michigan State game to a Big Red Breakfast crowd, defensive coordinator John Papuchis had another description for No. 46 after seeing one of his collisions.
“Eric Martin is a violent human being,” Papuchis said.
Within the given context, Martin would be hard-pressed to receive a greater compliment.
“There’s no way to describe Eric Martin,” said senior linebacker Alonzo Whaley. “He’s just that guy that’s never serious. You can never take him serious. He’s always joking, he’s always in his little weird mood. I don’t think there’s one word that can describe Eric Martin but he’s a great guy. He definitely lightens the mood.”
Like this fall camp when he described one of his milder defensive line mates as a centaur.
“You know, centaurs are kind of quiet,” Martin explained. “You just give them a sugar cube and they walk away.”
A jokester off the field. But his play on it couldn’t help but gain teammates’ respect, especially when you consider that just a couple of years ago Martin was in the same linebacker meetings Whaley was.
Back then, Martin was dynamic on special teams, but always surrounded by the question: Can he become an every-down player?
It was near the end of his sophomore year when coaches and Martin gambled, moving him to defensive end.
This was a considerable challenge for someone Martin’s size. He arrived to campus weighing 215 pounds. He bulked up for the position move — he’s now listed at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds — but even then he’d be competing against offensive linemen well out of his weight class.
But Martin’s motor made up for the pounds he didn’t have.
“It’s an attitude thing. It has nothing to do with the size,” Whaley said. “He goes out there day-in and day-out at 250 pounds and takes on guys that are 70 or 80 pounds heavier than him. And he holds his own.”
It took some time.
Martin started to come into his own as a defensive end near the end of his junior year. He still was not what most would consider an every-down player, but he piled up 18 of his 23 tackles in the second half of the year.
And by this spring, new Husker defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski knew Martin was going to have a large say come the fall.
“I know this: He’s too good of a player for him to be standing next to me on Saturdays,” Kaczenski said then.
Now: He leads the team in sacks (7½) and tackles for loss (12).
He’d become that every-down type of player he always wanted to be.
“Very few guys come in and it’s all rosy,” Kaczenski said. “Things are going to happen. That’s college, that’s growing. And he’s a guy that stayed with it. Some guys, they can’t handle it. He’s done a great job of handling it.”
Martin is appreciative of those twists and turns that led him here.
The journey has been worth it.
“Life can change fast, and when it does change, it’s how you adjust,” Martin said. “Some people don’t adjust right. Some people do. The way I turned out, it turned out to be good. I don’t regret any of it. I don’t take any of it back. I enjoy the position I’m in right now and hopefully it takes me somewhere else.”
On Saturday, that path will leader him to his final home game as a Husker.
He isn’t yet sure what emotions he’ll feel that day. Every player deals with that experience differently.
But there is one thing they all say: Time moves at a hurried pace.
“I remember standing here my freshman year talking to y’all,” Martin said. “It’s crazy how fast it goes. You don’t even realize it until the last week. It just hit me right now that this is my Senior Day.”