PASADENA, Calif. — In Tate Martell’s mind, there’s no doubt about who will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback in 2019 if Dwayne Haskins Jr. departs for the NFL.
“I will,” Martell said during Rose Bowl media day on Sunday.
How sure is he about that?
“100 percent sure on that,” he said
That sounds like a guarantee.
Martell is a two-time Gatorade national high school player of the year. He redshirted in 2017 and was Haskins’ backup this year, playing in mop-up and some goal-line situations.
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Haskins has not tipped his hand about his future next year, but he is widely expected to declare for the NFL draft. In the meantime, rumors are swirling that former five-star recruit Justin Fields, a freshman at Georgia who has entered the NCAA transfer portal, has Ohio State at the top of his destination list. There’s been speculation that Martell would transfer if that happened.
He strongly refuted that.
“Why would I leave for somebody that hasn’t put a single second into this program yet?” Martell said, referring to Fields. “I’ve put two years of literally working my ass off into something I’ve been working for and a dream I’ve had my whole life.
“To just run away from somebody that hasn’t even put a single second into winter workouts and doesn’t know what the program is all about, there’s not a chance.”
He didn’t sound worried that Fields or any other transfer could learn Ryan Day’s offense quickly enough to win the job.
“If somebody thinks they’re going to walk in and start, it’s probably not going to happen,” Martell said. “The offense that coach Day has set for us is an NFL-type offense. It’s difficult to learn. It takes awhile to get it down.
“I was talking to Dwayne about it and he was like, ‘Bro, it took me over a year to even feel I was comfortable on the field.’ I felt the same way. That’s why after two years of being in this, I know what I’m doing and am on point with everything I do. I’m running the offense sharp.”
At 5-foot-11, Martell is used to having to prove himself. He obviously isn’t lacking confidence. Martell acknowledges frustration with having to wait to play, even if he knows it will serve him well.
“We’re at a big-time program where a lot of the best players in the country come,” he said. “Sometimes it plays out like that. All it’s done is make me is make me hungry and ready to play when I get my chance.
“At this point, I just keep getting better every single day. I feel it’s my turn to go out there and do my thing. I feel I’ve earned that. I’ve worked extremely hard to get to the point I am and every year I keep climbing and getting better.”
The biggest question about Martell is about his throwing ability. He’s not Haskins, but well, who is? Martell didn’t need to be reminded that he completed all 10 of his passes against Rutgers after relieving Haskins.
Martell said he believes the perception that he has trouble in the pass game stems from his role this year or his performance in the spring game. He said an assessment of that April scrimmage should take into account that he was throwing to third-string receivers.
Martell said he is now to the point where he is surprised when he throws an incompletion in practice.
“I wish you guys could watch a full practice,” he told reporters. “That’s all I can say.”
Now he is itching to show what he can do at Ohio Stadium as a starter on Saturdays.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface yet, I’m going to be honest with you,” Martell said. “Just going in there and running a couple plays and not really having the ability to show everything I want, it’s difficult I had to do that.
“But I told coach Day and coach Meyer that I’d do anything for this team. I told them that in the middle of the year. Now at this point, I know when I get out there, I’m going to go out there and put on a show.”
He said he and Day have a good relationship and that the incoming head coach has provided reassurance despite the rumors about Fields.
“I think there’s no doubt that coach Day has a pretty good level of confidence in me,” Martell said. “Back when coach Day was our interim head coach early in the year (when Urban Meyer was suspended), that’s when I was actually rotating with the 1s and getting some time. Coach Day knows what I can do and has seen how far I’ve come. He has a lot of confidence in me and obviously I have a ton of trust in him. He’s a great coach.”
On Friday, Day was asked about his level in confidence in Martell as a starter for next year.
“I think when you're not playing all the time, it is hard, because you're preparing,” Day said. “You're getting the game plan down. You're practicing in practice and you are getting reps with the 2s, so that's a little bit frustrating.
“But I think he's done a very good job of that all season managing that as we go. He's gotten better each week. And so if he gets called on in the game, he's got to be ready to go.”
If Martell had stuck to his original commitment, he would have been on the other sideline for the Rose Bowl. He committed to then-Washington coach Steve Sarkisian entering his eighth-grade year. He later switched to Texas A&M before ultimately signing with the school for which he said he always wanted to play.
“I want to play for Ohio State,” he said. “This has been my dream since I was born — to play at Ohio State. I’m not just going to walk away from something that I’ve put so much time into. There’s not a chance I won’t go out there and fight for my job.”