BY MASON PLUMMER | Lead Writer | Ball State Sports Link
After a season filled with success and triumph, the Ball State football team has plans to give it another shot in 2021 and #RunItBack.
This charge and mantra, led by many of the graduating seniors of the team, continued to pick up momentum through the weekend as now 20 of the 22 seniors are expected to return in 2021.
Redshirt junior linebacker Brandon Martin, coming off winning the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, a MAC Championship and a bowl win, is back for the Cardinals next season, too.
Martin has two full seasons of eligibility left at Ball State due to redshirting his freshman season and taking an injury redshirt a year ago, but it was still not a foregone conclusion that Martin would return.
“My plan was always to come back, but I knew I was coming back after talking to my family and teammates,” Martin said. “I can’t wait to be back and do this again with the boys.”
Martin has been a leader throughout his time as a Cardinal, but every football player dreams of playing at the next level in the NFL. It did not go unnoticed when Martin put up career numbers this season, en route to leading his team to the arguably best season it has had in program history.
In eight games played this past season, Martin tallied 90 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and one sack from his inside linebacker position. The 6-foot-0, 232-pounder was a mainstay in the dominant Ball State defense under first-year defensive coordinator Tyler Stockton.
“After the bowl game win, a lot of us were looking around the locker room and thinking about next season already,” Martin said. “Why not take the extra year of eligibility and the opportunity to run it back and do it all over again? This is a special group of guys and we are coming back to do it again.”
Along with Martin, there is a star-studded cast of playmakers returning in the Cardinal and White next season. Safety Bryce Cosby, wide receiver Justin Hall, quarterback Drew Plitt, linebacker Jaylin Thomas and others have announced they will be back to chase another MAC Championship and bowl game win this upcoming season.
“I’m so proud of our football team and the effort that’s been put in week in and week out,” head coach Mike Neu said after his team’s bowl victory. “It’s high-character men doing things the right way. We got here because of hard work. We embraced the underdog role, and we came out with a purpose. We wanted to seize the moment, and we’ve done that.”
Martin refused to take credit for initiating the #RunItBack mantra, but it seems clear he is at least one of the leaders of it. With COVID-19 granting an extra year of eligibility to NCAA athletes, Martin and his teammates jumped at the opportunity.
“It came down to us wanting to spend more time together,” Martin said. “We all want to play more football together. It wasn’t just me, right after the celebration was over after the bowl game, we all realized we wanted to be back together and do this one more time.”
The success Ball State had this season was unprecedented and unexpected to some, but this team is working to make it the standard.
To cap an amazing 7-1 campaign, Ball State won the first bowl game in school history defeating San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl. It had also not won the MAC Championship in over 20 years, part of the inspiration for the 2020 team’s Detroit or Bust motto.
However, each and every one of the current Cardinals know that this team is different.
“We always expect success, but before the season we were so confident and we knew we were an extremely talented team,” Martin said. “It was the look in our eyes this season that was different. Every practice, every workout, we were committed to winning. That is when I knew this team would be successful and a very dangerous team.”
The work for the 2021 season has already begun for Martin and company. They are committed to changing the culture and outlook of Ball State Football and it all starts over again in winter workouts.
Martin knows his team is talented enough to be just as good, if not better, than the 2020 team, but it all starts with hard work and keeping that chip on the team’s collective shoulder.
As for now, he is enjoying the success of last season and is preparing to get working again here soon with his teammates.
“Creating history with these guys has been amazing,” Martin said. “On the bus ride back to the airport, we were all singing the fight song and I was thinking about how these are moments I am going to carry with me forever. This team is so special and my time here has been priceless.”
Ball State kicks off its 2021 season against Western Illinois in Muncie Sept. 2.