Kerry Reed-Martin, San Diego State’s starting tight end, might in some ways be a victim of his own success.
Once known mainly as the backup to Rob Awalt during the Aztecs’ 1986 championship season, Reed-Martin emerged last year not only as a worthy successor but as the Aztecs’ leading receiver.
But Reed-Martin is finding that duplicating success is not that easy.
Catches have been harder to come by. He lost his place in the starting lineup for one game. Teams have defensed him more closely. He has had to adjust to the differences between the experience of Todd Santos and the potential of Brad Platt at quarterback. And, with a new quarterback, he has found more of a premium placed on his blocking than in the past.
The changes have not necessarily meant a lessened role for Reed-Martin, a 6-foot 3-inch, 230-pounder, but they have left a statistical mark.
Reed-Martin, who had team highs of 49 catches for 719 yards last season, is not the Aztecs’ leading receiver. He enters Saturday’s Western Athletic Conference game at Colorado State a distant second in catches (19) and third in receiving yards (179), with 1 touchdown. Wide receiver Monty Gilbreath leads with 33 catches for 487 yards and 2 touchdowns.
What’s more, Reed-Martin was even further behind until he had the most productive game of his career last Saturday in a 32-30 loss to Hawaii--8 receptions for 51 yards, including his first touchdown of the season.
“I had a constructive game,” Reed-Martin said. “I had more receptions because I fit more into the game plan.”
Until that game, Reed-Martin had been having his trouble finding a comfortable place in the offense. He grew last season into one of Santos’ favorite receivers, especially on third down or when Santos scrambled.
But the offense this season has tried to use a passing game more suited to the outside speed of such receivers as Patrick Rowe, Alfred Jackson and Gilbreath. Coach Denny Stolz has said all along that he wanted to stretch the field with the deep threats and use Platt’s strong arm.
The inexperience of Platt, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Southwestern College, also has added an increased blocking role for the tight end. The Aztecs have been more concerned with protecting Platt, especially in light of 26 sacks allowed in 6 games.
“This year the most important thing has been to protect the quarterback,” Reed-Martin said. “That is the first rule.”
That has meant more playing time, and even a start against Oregon, for Jim Hanawalt, a sophomore transfer from Arizona.
“Jim is a real fine blocker,” Stolz said. “Kerry is a little better receiver, and that’s why we alternate them a little bit.”
That equation might begin to tilt more in Reed-Martin’s favor after his game against Hawaii.
Reed-Martin’s difficulties might in part have to do with his success last season. Knowing of his reputation, opposing defenses paid him close attention.
“When teams are defending him so tight, we can’t go to him as much as we want to,” Platt said. “Teams have been really working to stop the tight end.”
But after some early games in which the Aztecs did not feature Reed-Martin as they had in the past, Hawaii decided to play him a little looser. The Aztecs exploited the tactic.
"(Hawaii) allowed the tight end a little bit more freedom because we haven’t been giving him the ball much,” Stolz said. “That’s the way it usually goes. As soon as we saw that, we got the ball to him, and he caught some nice passes.”
One of the best might have been his 5-yard touchdown catch with 4:13 to play. It will be remembered not only because of the Reed-Martin’s effort but because it came with the Aztecs playing one man short. SDSU had 10 men on the field on fourth-and-2 after both tight end Ray Rowe and flanker Patrick Rowe went to the sideline. (The confusion occurred because the coaches were yelling for “Rowe” to leave the field, Stolz said. They meant Patrick Rowe, but both came out.)
“I got to the line and turned around and saw no one there (at the other tight end),” Reed-Martin said. “I didn’t know if it would affect the outcome or not. As it turned out, it did because the guy (Ray Rowe was supposed to block) helped flush Brad out of the pocket. We still came out smelling like a rose.”
Such confusion should never be a problem for Reed-Martin, whose last name is a melding of his father’s name (James Reed) and stepfather’s (John Martin).
While the Aztecs succeeded despite the mix-up, little about the rest of Reed-Martin’s senior season has been so heartening. The Aztecs (1-5, 1-2 in WAC) have lost 4 games in a row and need a victory at Colorado State (0-6, 0-4) if they are to avoid their second consecutive 1-6 start.
It is quite a comedown from when Reed-Martin took over Awalt’s position in the aftermath of the Aztecs’ first WAC championship. Awalt, an All-WAC selection and now playing for the Phoenix Cardinals, helped make the tight end an important part of the Aztec offense.
Reed-Martin came to SDSU in 1984 from Monte Vista High School in Danville, Calif., as a linebacker prospect. He redshirted his first season but was moved to tight end by Doug Scovil, Stolz’s predecessor, in the spring of 1985.
He caught 5 passes for 36 yards as a redshirt sophomore in 1986 before coming into his own last year. He was named the starter before the opener against UCLA, but it was not until midyear that he began to make an impact. After catching 18 passes for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Aztecs’ first 6 games, Reed-Martin caught 31 for 519 and 2 touchdowns in the last six.
Maybe his strong game against Hawaii was a sign that Reed-Martin is about to close out this year as strongly as he did the last.
“I want to do whatever I can to get some wins,” Reed-Martin said. “I want to do whatever it takes to win these last 5 games. I like to get my hands on the ball as much as possible and, if doing that it means we will win more, that’s what I want to do.
“I don’t want to look back. You can’t do anything to change those mistakes. I look to the future because you can always work with the future.”