MUSKEGON — Cameron Martinez has featured in many big games throughout his football career, but nothing compares to the fight he’s preparing for this weekend.
The former Muskegon Big Red star brought his talent to Columbus, Ohio after graduating high school and has become a key element in the defensive backfield for the No. 2-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes this season.
Martinez is now gearing up for a game he vividly remembered years ago as a young football fan in Muskegon, when No. 2 Ohio State (11-0) defeated No. 3 Michigan (11-0) in a matchup Saturday afternoon. 0) receives with Big Ten and national championship implications.
“Those games are why you come here,” Martinez told MLive. “You want to play in these types of games and this type of atmosphere. It’s the final game of the regular season between two unbeaten teams with plenty to play for. It’s the game that the whole country wants to see, so I love the atmosphere of this game. I’m just doing everything I can in training this week to prepare for the game. Then when I come out, I’ll be as prepared as possible to play the best game I can play.”
The redshirt sophomore has seen both sides of the rivalry between his time in Michigan and his three years in Ohio and relishes the opportunity to play in such a heated rivalry.
“I definitely appreciate the rivalry more now that I’m involved,” he said. “Growing up I used to watch all these games and now fast forward to the present and I’m getting ready to play in the actual game. It’s kind of surreal, but it’s something I’m going to enjoy every second of this weekend.
“Just being able to say you played to a full house at the (Horse) Shoe vs Michigan when both teams were unbeaten is something that not many people experience, so I don’t take any of that for granted. I’ve been training all week because I know if I get an opportunity, I have to take it.”
Martinez has adapted well to the new defensive scheme introduced by first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, having spent the majority of his defensive snaps as a slot cornerback, having switched between safety and cornerbacks in previous years.
“I would say that’s a really big difference,” Martinez said of the changes in the defensive coaching staff. “Coach Knowles is just a guy who knows the game really well and he’s also a really good play-caller. He’s really invested in us and this program. He’s the kind of person that makes you want to go out and fight for him. My coaching position, Coach (Perry) Eliano, is the same. These guys have really helped me take my game to the next level and I give them a lot of credit.”
The two-time MLive Player of the Year for the Big Reds had to overcome some early adversity when he arrived on campus in Columbus when a global pandemic forced him into a vastly different college experience than he originally signed on to.
“The first year was tough because I got COVID pretty early in my freshman year so I was out for a while and I also had an injury to deal with during the season,” Martinez recalled. “I didn’t get a chance to really get to know my teammates either because everything was so spread out and everyone was isolated.
“Things sort of went back to normal in my sophomore year and I started hanging out with my teammates and really getting to know people and reconciling with the people I’m playing with now. I would say it’s my third year here, comfortable and used to everything that’s going on.”
Martinez has recorded a total of 15 tackles so far this season as a redshirt sophomore. A redshirt freshman, the 4-star playmaker notched a pick-6 against Tulsa and also had five tackles in his team’s win over Utah in the 2021 Rose Bowl.
The transition from high school football to the collegiate game can often be steep, but Martinez believes his time at Muskegon has served him well in preparing for the leap.
“The pace of the game at the collegiate level is much faster, and you’re up against some of the best athletes in the country and a lot of guys who were high-level players out of high school,” Martinez added. “You have to bring your A-game here every day in practice, especially when you’re up against our offense. If you practice well throughout the week you will come into the game with more confidence, so you have to do your best here every day.”
The Buckeyes have a well-stocked roster on offense, including standout wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka. Martinez was baptized by fire facing a slew of potential first-round picks in future NFL drafts, and it has helped him become a dependable fullback for Ohio State’s defense this season.
“Jaxon is probably the hardest to guard,” Martinez admitted. “I’ve competed against him since I’ve been here. I would say he’s by far the best person I’ve worked against since I’ve been here. He’s just a different kind of athlete and he just knows how to it gets open.There are many things you can try as a defender to disrupt him but he’s always able to either create a break and open up or pull off a difficult catch.He just plays out there .”
Before his stint as a lockdown fullback, Martinez lit up opposing defenses as a starting quarterback for the Big Reds. The dual threat playmaker finished his prep career with 6,954 rushing yards, including 2,124 as a senior, with 47 total touchdowns.
Martinez had a 26-2 record as a starting quarterback at the high school level and has used that knowledge to his advantage as a defensive back in college.
“It definitely slowed down a lot of things for me because I can kind of see how a quarterback thinks,” Martinez said. “I feel like now it’s definitely been an advantage for me as a defender because I can anticipate how he’s going to react to certain covers and that gives me a chance to generate turnover.”
Martinez got the chance to watch his cousin M’Khi Guy serve as the starting quarterback for the Big Reds this season as the junior playmaker led his roster to Saturday’s Division 3 championship game against Detroit Martin Luther King has 7:30 p.m. from Ford Field.
The former Big Red is hoping to celebrate two wins for his family back home and his Buckeye brothers in Ohio on Saturday night.
“He’s definitely carrying on that legacy and he’s doing it in his own way, too,” Martinez said of Guy. “He’s a really good leader and is having a really good season. You can never count him out, no matter what the score is or what the situation is. I think he’s always someone who overcame those obstacles and I give him a lot of credit for that. I know he will shine on Saturday night.
“I contacted him after his game last weekend and just congratulated him. We talked the week before his game and I’ll try to follow their game on Saturday night and cheer for them too.”
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