Ronald Martin wants to put the 2013 season behind him.
LSU’s senior safety entered last year’s campaign looking to emerge as a premier starter in the Tigers secondary. Martin played in all 13 games with only one start in 2012, and he saw limited action in three games during his freshman season in 2011.
The 2013 season was Martin’s year to see his name on top of Les Miles’ depth chart.
It was his chance to run out of the tunnel to a crowd more than 92,000 who expected to see the continuation of elite defensive back play in Tiger Stadium.
Through the first three games of the schedule, Martin got to take a firm grasp of that opportunity, logging starts against TCU, UAB and Kent State.
He played against the Golen Flashes with a heavy heart, though.
Martin’s father, Ronald Martin Sr., died of cancer that weekend at 40. Ronald Martin Jr. went on to record five tackles against Kent State.
“I wasn’t expecting any of that to go down like it did,” Martin said. “Me and my father were really close. When I lost him, that took a big toll on me, and it kind of took me under for that year. I shied away from a lot of stuff.”
The White Castle native was not alone during those dark hours.
Everyone from Miles to LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond to NFL players Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon reached out to Martin, providing a support system to help guide him.
Martin said his team proved to be a family, with several squadmates stepping up and talking to him whenever he needed a kind word.
After missing the next weekend against Auburn, Martin returned as the starter against Georgia and Mississippi State, sporting an extra “JR” on his nameplate to indicate he wanted to go by his full name as a tribute to his father.
After making two more starts against Ole Miss and Furman, Martin experienced another hit — a stress fracture in his right foot that kept him out of four of the squad’s remaining five games.
The injury kept Martin out of the annual spring game and put his quest to be a starter at strong safety in 2014 in jeopardy.
But now Aug. 30 approaches, and Martin is recovered and primed to guide a young secondary next to junior free safety Jalen Mills against Wisconsin.
Martin said he knows he still has plenty to prove, both as a physical presence and as a veteran general for the defensive backs.
“With (Mills and I) being old enough and knowing the system, those younger guys look up to us for information,” Martin said. “They want to learn things from us, and they want to be like us. They follow everything we do, so we have to lead by example every day.”
Over the past few seasons, the Tigers have had at least one senior patrolling center field in Death Valley.
With a number of incoming freshmen making an impact early in fall camp, including Jamal Adams, John Battle and Ed Paris, Martin’s role as a senior leader has never been more pertinent.
Sophomore defensive back Dwayne Thomas said having Martin and Mills behind him is exactly what LSU’s group of young defensive backs needs.
“It’s fun because once you become a freshman and you take that next step to become a veteran, you become more confident and you get to make more checks,” Thomas said. “You feel comfortable with your call, and everyone on the defense supports your call. Having those guys behind you to protect you over the top gives us a big advantage in the secondary.”
Junior cornerback Jalen Collins said he believes Martin and Mills are “two are the best safeties in the nation right now,” and Martin specifically has improved on his leverage and his attention to detail.
Thomas said he’s seen Martin mature over the past year, and he’s noticed his senior teammate has put an increased focus on studying the game.
For Martin, 2014 is a chance to wipe the slate clean. It’s his opportunity to move forward.
His team rallied for him throughout last season. Now he just wants to help the Tigers reach their ultimate goal.
“I don’t have personal goals for myself (in 2014),” Martin said. “I just want great things for the team. I want this team to reach the highest level, including being in the playoffs for the first time and being in the national championship game.”