How 'late bloomer' transfer punter Jack Martin ended up with Alabama football

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

The kicker stepped up and boomed the punt.

Then he crushed another.

Either punt rocketing through the air for 5 seconds would have been terrific for Jack Martin. On this 2018 day at the Louisiana specialist camp, one punt with a hangtime of 5.3 would have definitely caught coaches’ attention. Martin had two.

“We didn’t know you were a punter,” an LSU football coach said.

“Honestly, I didn’t know I was either,” Martin replied.

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Punting, for much of Martin’s career, hasn’t been his focus. He has always been a kicker who can also punt. But the more he punts, the more it’s clear he’s meant to be doing it.

Here’s one prominent sign: He’s the latest transfer headed to the Crimson Tide because of his punting.

“Punting wasn’t really on my mind until about a year-and-a-half ago, halfway through my freshman year of college when everything started to, I guess, progress,” Martin said. “I just noticed a jump and was like, ‘This is something I really can do.’”

Troy kicker Jack Martin (43) as Troy University football media day is held on the campus in Troy, Ala., on Saturday August 10, 2019.

The numbers left little doubt. During his sophomore year at Troy in 2020, Martin averaged 46.1 yards a punt on 25 attempts. That was good enough for top 10 in the country.

He’s come a long way from the day his dad, Neal, nudged him to kick a football instead of a soccer ball.

Martin was in seventh grade, and his dad said he should give kicking a try. So, they grabbed the only football they owned, ran to the store, bought a cheap kicking tee then drove to a nearby field with a football goalpost.

“I told him I didn’t want to do it,” Martin said. “I was trying to put my foot down and tell him no, but I ended up being pretty good at it right away.”

Back up three steps, his dad told him, then move two to the left. And kick.

That attempt became the first of many. Martin started liking kicking when he made the game-winning extra point in a 7-6 middle school game. Then, come high school in Dothan, he really liked it when he hit a 53-yard field goal as time expired at the half.

He also flashed his powerful leg while handling kickoffs, something he might do for the Crimson Tide, too. Martin could kick so far that his high school coach, Josh Parrish, never made the Northview football team practice kickoff coverage during 2018.

“I knew there was never going to be a situation where we had to cover,” Parrish said. “He kicked it out of the stadium several times.”

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His punting served the team well in games but became a bit of a distraction in practice. Many wanted to try to catch a punt from Martin’s mighty leg, even assistant coaches.

“No, you need to be coaching,” Parrish would tell them. “We’re not over here trying to catch Jack’s punts.”

Still, Martin viewed punting as something he just had to get through. He and kicking consultant Brian Jackson have worked together since Martin’s eighth-grade year, and they always practiced kicking as his primary skill. Jackson said they included punting mainly to make Martin a dual threat for college recruiting purposes.

Troy kicker Jack Martin (43) as Troy University holds a football scrimmage on campus in Troy, Ala., on Saturday August 10, 2019.

The start of his collegiate career backed that up. When Martin went to Troy, he contributed right away as a kickoff specialist, not a punter.

Then his old friend, punting, re-appeared in 2020. The Troy starter was struggling, so the Trojans inserted Martin into the game against BYU in the fourth quarter. Three games later, it became Martin’s job.

He will compete for the same spot at Alabama this fall. Martin said the Crimson Tide coaching staff sees him as a punt and kickoff guy. He could also back up kicker Will Reichard on field goals if need be.

He might even be of some help in punt or kick coverage. He’s not a small specialist. Martin is listed at 6-foot-2, 222 pounds. He’s also a regular in the weight room, where Parrish said Martin outworked everybody in high school.

Martin couldn’t bench the bar when he started, though. He also stood only 5-feet-5 before he grew about 9 inches as an upperclassman.

“I guess,” Martin said, “you could say I was a late bloomer.”