Nov. 8, 2011
By Nick McWherter, MSU Athletic Communications Student Assistant
Athleticism is on display each and every Saturday in college football stadiums across the country. Each position requires a unique and distinct skill set in order to excel on the gridiron. Senior wide receiver Keshawn Martin possesses a variety of assets that allow him to impact a football game in a multitude of ways, at any given time.
Explosive. Electrifying. Dazzling. Thrilling. Captivating. Exhilarating. Martin is a threat to score every time the ball is in his hands, exciting Spartan Stadium with his speed and elusiveness.
Martin played quarterback, defensive back and wide receiver in his prep career at John Glenn High School in Westland, Mich. He was determined to get on the field as a Spartan and his variety of skills allowed him to do so.
"When you are out there you have the opportunity to make plays," Martin said. "It is crazy how things worked out. When you are out there you just have to take advantage of what you have."
Martin has made each of his touches count throughout his career, accounting for touchdowns five different ways: rushing, receiving, passing, punt return and kick return. Martin is one of only three active players in the Football Bowl Subdivision to score in five different ways, joining T.Y. Hilton of Florida International and Darrius Brooks of Western Kentucky.
As a freshman, Martin was initially listed as an athlete because his attributes allowed him to contribute at multiple positions. Martin said the switch to wide receiver was made much easier with the help of veteran Spartans such as Mark Dell, Blair White and Deon Curry.
"It's always hard to transition from different positions," Martin said. "My freshman year was kind of hard for me, but I had help from the older guys. I feel I did a good job transitioning. Just having the knowledge of a quarterback, you know what you want your receivers to do. I kind of got a different sense of things that Kirk (Cousins) wants and needs for his receivers to do."
Becoming a wide receiver in college was made easier because of his quarterbacking knowledge and play in high school, but Martin acknowledged that route running was one skill he had to learn here at MSU.
"Not everyone can run a route," he said. "You just have to learn the techniques and get out of your breaks. Mostly I had to learn on the fly.
"It was just getting the timing down with the quarterbacks. I caught the ball a little bit in high school but it wasn't anything like coming here and catching passes from college quarterbacks. So getting the timing and my hands right and just focusing (were the keys)."
That focus has propelled Martin to a highly productive career, as he currently ranks eighth all-time at Michigan State in punt return yards (505) and kick return yards (1,085), and 14th in all-purpose yards (3,406).
In the two big wins over No. 11 Michigan and No. 4 Wisconsin, Martin produced four touchdowns (three TD receptions and one rushing TD). He had three catches for 31 yards vs. the Wolverines, including touchdown grabs of 10 and 13 yards in the third quarter. Against the Badgers, Martin scored on a 34-yard double reverse in the second quarter and caught a 15-yard TD early in the fourth that gave MSU a 31-17 lead.
Martin said that his best Spartan memory to date is the last second touchdown catch by fellow senior Keith Nichol to beat Wisconsin. Martin wanted to acknowledge Spartan fans and the Spartan Stadium atmosphere that they helped create.
"It was just crazy, the fans were all in it, and it gives us a boost," Martin said of the Wisconsin game. "It kind of goes unnoticed a little bit how much the fans play a part in the game but they definitely can."
Martin is no stranger to stepping up in big games under the lights. Coupled with his two-touchdown game this season against Wisconsin, he also played an intricate role in the overtime win over Notre Dame last season under the lights. He had a career-best eight receptions for 96 yards in MSU's 34-31 overtime victory over the Irish, including a 6-yard touch down grab from Cousins on a third-and-goal play late in the first half that tied the score at 7.
"There's something special about night games," Martin said. "It's something different, kind of takes you back to high school a little bit when you're playing at night."
In last season's 34-24 win over Wisconsin, Martin excited the crowd with another aspect of his game, a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown midway through the second quarter that put MSU up 13-10, giving the Spartans the lead for good in the eventual 34-24 victory.
Special teams are an area that head coach Mark Dantonio has stressed during his tenure at Michigan State. Plays can be made that can win or lose a game; its importance has always been critical.
"I take special teams seriously," said Martin. "Especially punt return, just getting the ball back is the first thing I try to do, then anything after that is a bonus. Special teams play a big factor in a lot games, just like the Wisconsin game. Special teams really helped us out with that one."
Kick returns and punt returns are exhilarating for both the fans and the players. Out of all the plays Martin makes and the variety of touches that he receives, returning a kick or punt are his favorite plays to make.
"If you get a big return the crowd just gets crazy, it really sparks the team up," Martin said. "The first thing I think about is just get vertical, then try to read my holes, see where the opening is, and just hit it."
Not many players on the college level have the skill set to match that of Martin's. But he does emulate his game after two current playmakers in the NFL.
"I really look at DeSean Jackson and Percy Harvin," Martin said. "Those two guys are doing good and I'm just trying to have success like that."
Before embarking on a future in the NFL, Martin is not finished making jaw-dropping returns, spectacular catches and stunning rushes.
"I'm just looking to continue making strides this season, continue catching balls, making the touchdowns that I need to make and everything else will take care of itself," Martin said. "I'm doing everything I can to try to help the team get another Big Ten Championship."
GETTING TO KNOW Keshawn Martin
Hobbies away from football: Watching TV and playing video games.
Sports played while growing up: Baseball, basketball and ran track.
Favorite Athlete: Michael Vick
Favorite Movie: "Friday"
Musician you listen to the most: Lil Wayne
This feature was originally published in the Nov. 5, 2011, edition of Michigan State Football Gameday Magazine. Updates made following the Minnesota game.