Is Damien Martinez the answer Oregon State seeks to add explosiveness to running game?

Michael Odle thought he had seen the last of Damien Martinez.

The Lewisville (Tex.) High football coach had a good run with his star running back. Nearly 4,500 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns during his career. A player Odle could count upon to lead by example.

But the end seemed imminent for Martinez’s high school career after suffering a broken right hand during Lewisville’s 2021 regular season finale.

“We were going to shut him down, and just go on to college,” Odle said of the Oregon State-bound Martinez.

Except the following Monday, Martinez had other ideas. Told Odle he wanted to play, despite wearing a club-like cast that ran nearly to his elbow. Odle said, OK, sure, while wondering how to pull it off.

Easy. Martinez carried the ball in his left hand. First playoff game, Martinez ran for four touchdowns. Next playoff game, three touchdowns and 239 yards.

“Just an unbelievable, gutsy performance,” Odle said.

The Lewisville coach told this story when he was asked if there was a game or play describing what Oregon State was getting in Martinez.

Six games into Martinez’s OSU career, some of those signs are there. The 6-foot, 216-pound freshman is among a three-man rotation at running back. Martinez is coming off a career-best game, running three times for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 28-27 win over Stanford.

Is Martinez poised to become the next great OSU running back? If so, Martinez is likely to do it with actions, not words.

Odle learned that when Martinez was a Lewisville freshman.

“He was kind of a silent assassin,” Odle said. “He didn’t say much, but he was very competitive. You could see the flames coming out of his eyes.”

Told of the “silent assassin” comment, Martinez nodded in approval.

“I like to let my work speak for itself. I mean, I’m not really much of a trash talker,” Martinez said.

It’s one reason Martinez didn’t allow outside buzz about his Oregon State arrival get to his head. Last April, Martinez was the talk of spring practice. Graduating early from Lewisville, Martinez enrolled at Oregon State in January and quickly showed what he could do against a college defense. After an impressive showing during the Beavers’ spring scrimmage, fans and media immediately penciled in Martinez as a Pac-12 freshman to watch for the 2022 season.

“I didn’t really try to pay too much attention to it. I just keep my head down and try to be the best I can be for myself,” Martinez said.

That philosophy served Martinez well. It hasn’t come as easy as it seemed in the spring. With B.J. Baylor and last season’s 1,337 yards off to the NFL, four backs came into preseason camp with an eye on opportunity. When the games began, Deshaun Fenwick, Jam Griffin and Martinez emerged in a shared role at running back. Midway through the season, it remains a tight pack.

“Myself, I’ve done probably pretty average,” said Martinez, who has run 41 times for 228 yards. “I really just wanted to get into this rotation and get some experience.”

But keep an eye on the situation. Coach Jonathan Smith has mentioned in recent weeks the need for explosiveness from the running game. Martinez might be that answer after his brilliant 43-yard touchdown run against Stanford.

Oregon State began to show up on Martinez’s radar as a high school junior. Martinez hadn’t heard much about the school other than he knew of Jacquizz Rodgers, the Texan who became an OSU star.

Martinez said running backs coach A.J. Steward is who attracted him to Oregon State. The campus visit the summer before Martinez’s high school senior year sold him.

“I liked how it was real quiet. It was nothing but business and football. It’s what I’m about,” Martinez said.

Martinez, who has a younger brother, was raised by his mother Samantha and grandmother Carla. Martinez says he’s particularly close to his grandmother, who he calls the “sweetest soul.”

Other than make his family proud, Martinez has no specific individual goals for the second half of the season. The Silent Assassin keeps his head down and does what is needed.

“Whatever my team needs me to do, just continue to do that,” he said.

Nick Daschel reported from Corvallis | @nickdaschel

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