With the departure of Chris Perry in 2003, Michigan was on the lookout for its next great No. 1 ball carrier. David Underwood was a stopgap, Tim Bracken couldn't stay healthy and Jerome Jackson wasn't a viable every-down ball carrier. But in February, the Wolverines thought they landed their future stud - Max Martin.
No. 15 - Max Martin - 2004
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The Maize and Blue were in on a few backs that year, and in the middle of the summer, they would land a commitment from a three-star out of Syracuse named Mike Hart. That kid had a highlight-reel package that made your jaw drop, and drew comparisons to Barry Sanders, but he was small - too small for Michigan standards - and according to one famous recruiting aficionado, destined to be a defensive back.
Besides, two months earlier, a four-star, in the mold of Tyrone Wheatley, Anthony Thomas and Perry, had dropped for the Wolverines when the 6-2, 210-pounder Martin committed to Michigan on May 27, 2003.
The Madison, Ala., native held offers from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and Notre Dame, but Martin originally hailed from the Midwest and grew up a fan of the Wolverines. After sending running backs coach Fred Jackson his film in early May, Martin heard back from his childhood favorite and was ecstatic that an offer was forthcoming.
"Coach Jackson called my film the best he had seen this year," said Martin. "Then he went on to explain what kind of opportunity I would have at Michigan.
"I wasn't really surprised when Michigan showed interest because I knew I was talented enough and could compete at that level. But we're kind of in the middle of nowhere down here. It's a lot different than being near Chicago, and it was tough at the time to move."
Wanting to prove to the coaching staff just how badly he desired to wear the winged helmet, Martin then did something of legend - he hopped in his car and started driving. Through Alabama, then Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. He put 635 miles on his career before arriving in Ann Arbor. He committed to the coaches, then turned around and drove back home, staying over in Muncie, Ind., where he was reached by TheWolverine.com. (Ironically, two months later, Hart drove in from Syracuse to commit to the coaches also).
Martin would spend the next few months getting amped up for Michigan while talking up his own expectations.
"Everybody can be good, but I want to be the best anybody has ever seen," said Martin. "Nobody's perfect, but I'm always striving to be. I feel I'm really powerful already, but I want to keep working hard so I'm three or four levels ahead of everybody else. I feel like I can play any position except the offensive line.
"When I get to Michigan people will see the size, but size is only half of my repertoire. I like to show my speed and agility as well and I think a lot of people will be surprised by me."
Martin, to his credit, was an ideal recruit. He actively tried to bring others into the U-M class, including future teammates Adrian Arrington, Doug Dutch, Alan Branch and Tim Jamison, all four of whom he played alongside at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and he vowed to make the kind of impact at Michigan that people talked about for a long time after his career came to its end.
Eight years after Martin last set foot on the U-M campus - departing from the team at the conclusion of the 2005 season - his name is bandied about, but largely as a punch line or as fans play trivia: who was the higher ranked running back that was signed in Mike Hart's class? Max Martin.
A 6-2, 215-pound rookie, Martin didn't adjust to college football as quickly as expected, and he had to watch as Hart set Michigan freshman rushing records (1,455 yards and nine TDs) while Martin finished with 132 yards and a score on 32 carries (4.1 yards per rush).
Still, going into the 2005 season, Martin believed he could carve out a far bigger role and even unseat Hart. Jackson, his running backs coach, wouldn't go that far - he was already enamored with Hart after one year - but he told The Wolverine back in 2005 that he anticipated playing two backs because Martin was deserving.
"There are going to be games where Mike is hot and you stay with a guy that is hot, but there is not going to be a time where he's so hot that you don't give anyone else a chance," Jackson said. "Unless there's a gap between your one and two backs, but I don't see that gap.
"Max had a terrific spring; he did all the things I asked him to do. He has a great body with great speed. He doesn't have average speed - he can run."
Jackson cautioned, though, that if Martin continued to have trouble holding onto the football - he fumbled in a Rose Bowl loss to Texas the year before - he would find himself on the bench.
It wasn't fumbles that handicapped Martin, though, and would eventually lead to his discharge. The young man that loved Michigan soon found himself in trouble with Michigan, drawing complaints from athletic department officials and coaches of other sports for his behavior off the field.
Clearly discontent with his role - he had only 226 yards on 53 carries as a sophomore during a year in which Hart was oft injured and limited to 150 touches - Martin expressed his displeasure with immaturity and it became clear there was need for an attitude adjustment as U-M left him behind during his 2005 Alamo Bowl trip.
Martin simply had had enough, believing he was unfairly passed over and now being held down by the very people that had promised to be his biggest cheering section. He couldn't see anything but Max Martin, and he transferred, to Alabama, a school that was OK with all of his unreported scruples except a pair of mortal sins apparently the Crimson Tide even deemed excessive.
It didn't take long for Martin to get in trouble again, though, and he was kicked off the Alabama team in Sept. 2006, before even toting the football once for his home-state team.
He tried once again with Alabama A&M, but before the 2007 season began, was one of five players suspended and ultimately booted.
"We're moving on without those guys," A&M Coach Anthony Jones told the Huntsville Times back then. "It would have been nice to have them, but we don't."
Martin hasn't surfaced since.
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