PASADENA, Calif. — Redshirt freshman quarterback Tate Martell remembers the quarterback room when offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day first arrived, the four quarterbacks Ohio State had on its roster to choose from: J.T. Barrett, Joe Burrow, Dwayne Haskins and himself.
After Barrett left, Martell used both Haskins and Burrow as examples, saying the latter spent one summer with LSU and became its starting quarterback for the 2018 season after his development with the Buckeyes.
“It just kind of shows what we had and still have in our quarterback room,” Martell said.
Martell believes, like the other three quarterbacks in that particular room, no matter whether it was for Ohio State or not, it’s his turn to add to the legacy of that room after his two seasons of development.
Martell said Sunday he will not transfer from Ohio State, even with rumors swirling around the Buckeyes obtaining former five-star quarterback Justin Fields, who announced he would transfer after his first season at Georgia.
Day, the incoming Ohio State head coach, would not confirm the speculation, saying the interest level to play at Ohio State, with the help of the performances Haskins has had this season, is as high as he thinks it has ever been.
But, to put it simply, Martell is not scared of losing the starting job to Fields.
“Why would I leave for someone who hasn’t put in a single second into this program?” Martell said. “I put two years of literally working my ass off into something that I have been waiting for and dreaming of having my whole life. To just run away from somebody who hasn’t put a single second into workouts anything like that and doesn’t know what the program is all about, there’s not a chance.”
Martell is not naive. If Haskins departs, there will be one spot in the Ohio State quarterback room for the taking, one alongside Martell, freshman Matthew Baldwin and junior Chris Chugunov.
But Martell also knows what situation that particular quarterback, whether its Fields or now, is coming into.
“Somebody has to come in and it’s going to take awhile for them to learn the offense. I’m just telling you, it’s not easy. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what you’ve done,” Martell said. “Coach Day brings an NFL-level playbook to our offense and it’s difficult. It’s not something that you can just walk in and three months in, you think that, ‘I’m rolling now.’ It’s not that easy, I promise you.”
Many thought, with Martell’s resume coming into Ohio State, starting three seasons at quarterback for Bishop Gorman, going 15-0 as the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior, that it would be easy for him to leave, eager to get on the field at the collegiate level as quickly as possible.
Martell is that competitor, saying that he wants to get on the field, to show what he can do with the Ohio State offense. However, he said his want and drive to play quarterback for Ohio State, to play for his teammates overpowered all of that.
“There’s been times where I’ve had to look at it like how long am I actually going to sit here and wait around before I go and get my chance, but at the end of the day, I had to sit there and the reason why I have never left this school after everything I have done and all the work that I have put in is because I love my teammates,” Martell said. “My whole team knows that. That’s why I am still here at this point because there are probably a ton of other schools I could be staring for right now, just look like what Joe did.”
Day understands what Martell has gone through this season, but that he has taken advantage of the opportunities he has been given.
“I think he’s been very good. I think he understands the game plan like he always does.” Day said. “It’s hard when you’re not playing to constantly do a good job preparing. Even though you’re not getting on the field. It can be frustrating at times, but he’s done an excellent job this year.”
While Day served as the interim head coach and head coach Urban Meyer was suspended for the first three games of the season, Martell said that was when he began to rotate with the first-team offense, getting some time to mold into what he expects to be next season.
And through this, a confidence and a relationship between a quarterback and his position coach continued to grow.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that coach Day has a pretty good level of confidence in me,” Martell said. “Coach Day knows what I can do and has seen how far I have come. he has a lot of confidence in me and I have obviously a ton of trust in him. He’s a great coach.”
Day’s philosophy as an offensive coordinator and as an incoming head coach has been to match the identity of the offense of the offense with the best qualities of the personnel of the players utilized.
Expecting to be at the helm of this offense, Martell said he does not expect much to be changed, saying a lot of the aspects of the passing game and the zone read will remain like it was with Haskins.
Martell was actually pleased with the run-pass option Ohio State ran with Haskins, something he said he had been able to grow from.
“We are reading the linebackers this year which I was actually really happy about because that’s one thing I had to work on which I have gotten really good at now is the R.P.O. blocking up front, throwing off a backer, which I have gotten really good at just through this year because that’s what we have done with Dwayne,” Martell said. “Now I feel comfortable doing pretty much anything in our offense.”
The zone-read offense and run-pass option is something Martell said he has been comfortable with, something that comes naturally: To use his athleticism to go and make plays, something he said will return to the Ohio State offense.
Martell has shown that in some cases this season, playing in three of the first four games for Ohio State, completing all 10 of his pass attempts against Rutgers on Sept. 8 for 121 yards, adding 95 yards on the ground and scoring two touchdowns.
But, even with glimpses of what Martell could do, he thinks opponents have not scratched the surface of what he has the potential to do.
“Just going in there, running a couple plays and not really having the ability to show everything that I want, it’s difficult that I had to do that. But I told coach Day and coach Meyer that I would do anything for this team. I told them that in the middle of the year, I said, ‘Whatever this team needs, I’ll go do it,’” Martell said. “But now, at this point, when I go out there, I am going to go out there and put on a show.”
Martell has viewed himself as an underdog his entire life, but he has significant goals for himself while at Ohio State. At this point, none of them are for individual stardom: it’s winning games, it’s a national championship.
Those are the goals Ohio State has as well. For the team to get to that point, Martell feels like he should be behind center, not Fields.
And if Haskins leaves, that’s what he thinks will happen.
“I will,” Martell said when asked if he will be the starting quarterback next fall. “I am 100 percent sure on that.”