Boise State senior running back Martin shows finisher's flourish

BOISE, Idaho — Leslie Baranco Martin fights dueling emotions as she watches her son smash into, fight off, elude and outrun defenders.

As the mother of Doug Martin the college football player, she worries.

As the mother of the once-little boy with an NFL dream, she smiles.

"I'm always happy to see him get up," she said. "On the other hand, it just reminds me of when I used to watch him play Mario Bros. Sometimes I think he's doing his Mario Bros. moves, where it's a jump or a flip or a turnaround. ... He always wanted to play football. I wouldn't let him play football until high school. So I'm just glad to see him doing well at it."

Martin, Boise State's senior tailback, will play his final college game Thursday against Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.

He has topped 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and ranks fifth in school history in rushing yards (3,280) and third in TDs (46) with just two years as a starter.

The two-time all-conference first-teamer also is the highest-rated NFL prospect the Broncos have had at running back in at least 30 years, accepting an invite to next month's Senior Bowl.

All of the yards and accolades can be traced back to his unique running style, an aggressive, violent, relentless pursuit of the end zone.

"He has that violent running style that really makes him who he is as a football player," said nickels coach Jeff Choate, who was the running backs coach for Martin's first two years. "... He's a great finisher. That's probably one of the things that describes him very well — he always finishes runs." Martin's toughness sometimes obscures his explosiveness. At 5-foot-9, 208 pounds, he is one of the strongest and one of the fastest players on the team.

He has scored this season on six runs of longer than 20 yards and a 71-yard reception. He rumbled 84 yards for a touchdown in last year's MAACO Bowl, the second-longest run in school history.

"He's one of those guys who even if it's not blocked up, that thing can always go (the distance)," running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said. "You never know when it's going to happen, but it always seems to happen."

Martin was lightly recruited out of Stockton, Calif., and was overshadowed initially by D.J. Harper, who played as a true freshman in 2007 while Martin redshirted.

But during that redshirt year, while on the scout team, Martin emerged as a can't-miss prospect. Teammates and coaches described him as "a beast," "ridiculous" and "the best running back we faced" — and Choate called him an "angry runner."

Clearly, it wasn't empty hype.

Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who was the line coach that year, was one of those who raved.

"He's so intense and physical and his effort is just unbelievable," Kwiatkowski says now.

Martin's running style developed during high school, he said. Coaches constantly urged him to run downhill — footballspeak for running toward the end zone, not the sideline.

Martin took it a step further — toward the end of runs, he runs at the tacklers, pushing them farther down the field.

"My theory is hit them first, before they hit you," he said. "When you're doing that, my momentum is going into them ... which is good for the body." His body anyway.

Defenders, on the other hand, are put in the unusual position of absorbing the blow rather than delivering it.

"It's not fun," senior linebacker Byron Hout said. "That pretty much sums it up." Martin's aggression allows him to break tackles and, like Bhonapha says, turn seemingly innocuous plays into big gains.

But if you ask him to describe one of those runs after a game, he can't.

"It's all instincts," he said. "After a big play I try to think about it. I don't know how I did it." Athleticism and attitude — the two attributes that wowed everyone in 2007 — play key roles, too.

"He just has no fear whatsoever," coach Chris Petersen said. "... He's going to hit it as hard as he can possibly hit that crease and somebody is going to pay the price." It's such an entertaining style that teammates like to watch him run as much as the fans.

"People love watching him," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said, "because he's constantly going and trying and his effort is so high."

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