How OSU’s Nick Martin surpassed Malcolm Rodriguez’s best season

How OSU’s Nick Martin surpassed Malcolm Rodriguez’s best season

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Nick Martin went from 15 tackles last season to 140. He and new defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo credit Martin’s work ethic.

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

| Jan 2, 2024, 7:00am CST

Sam Hutchens

By Sam Hutchens

Jan 2, 2024, 7:00am CST

STILLWATER — In the offseason, before Bryan Nardo’s family had moved here with him, the new Oklahoma State defensive coordinator saw something impressive as he roamed the football facility.

“In the defensive room, in the middle of the summer. There’s Nick Martin, on a random Tuesday, in there by himself,” Nardo recalled.

That, Nardo said, explains Martin’s rise as one of the Big 12’s best defenders. Martin finished the year with a conference-high 140 tackles — 25 more than UCF linebacker Jason Johnson, the runner-up.

Martin, a redshirt sophomore linebacker, averaged 10 tackles and made 17 each against Kansas State and West Virginia. He had seven tackles in Houston against Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl.

“I think it’s a testament to how good God is,” Martin said. “How he always rewards hard work. It’s a testament to this whole season, for all of us.”

Martin’s 140 tackles are the most by a Cowboy in a season since 1979. It puts him No. 6 on OSU’s single-season tackling list and ahead of linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez’s 123 tackles in 2021.

“Unbelievable, 140 tackles,” coach Mike Gundy said. “How about that? We didn’t think anybody would ever touch Rodriguez.”

Martin had just 15 tackles in 13 games last season. When he surprised Nardo in the film room last summer, Martin wasn’t even a starter. He entered the season listed as a depth chart “or” with Tulsa transfer Justin Wright. 

When Wright suffered a season-ending leg injury early in the year, Martin took on more workload. Martin played 930 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. That was third most of any Cowboy.

“The physical part can be tough,” Martin said. “Playing this many games in a season can take a toll on your body. But that’s where the mental part comes in. How bad do you want it?” 

Nardo said he’s coached only one other player with a work ethic to match Martin: Jace McDown, a three-year captain linebacker at Emporia State who was the leading tackler in the MIAA over his final three seasons. McDown graduated in 2022 with a 3.99 GPA and is now the linebackers coach at Emporia State.

“(Martin) is gifted,” Nardo said. “He’s a great football player, but his hard work has put him in those positions.” 

Share with your crowd
Sam Hutchens covers Oklahoma State sport for Sellout Crowd. He interned for The Stillwater News Press in 2021 and The Guthrie News Leader in 2022, where he won a first-place OPA award for in-depth reporting. He has also covered sports in southwest Oklahoma for The Lawton Constitution. He strives to tell you the OSU sports stories that you want to tell your friends about. You can email him at [email protected] and connect on Twitter (X) @Sam_Hutchens_

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • From left, brothers Za'brien Shelburn, Zion Shelburn, Charles Shelburn and Ke'shon Shelburn of Wilson (Henryetta) sit during introductions before a Class B boys high school basketball state tournament semifinal game between Duke and Wilson (Henryetta) at State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, March 1, 2024.

    You heard right: Wilson of Henryetta has four brothers in the starting lineup

  • Feb 25, 2024; Stillwater, Okla, USA; Oklahoma State coach John Smith, left, and associate head coach Coleman Scott, right, react on the sidelines at a wrestling match against Iowa in Gallagher Iba Arena . Mandatory Credit: Mitch Alcala-The Oklahoman

    Lessons from Iowa loss: What should Oklahoma State’s postseason expectations be? | Two on OSU

  • Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen (9) rounds first for a double during an NCAA softball game between Oklahoma (OU) and Liberty on opening day of Oklahoma softball stadium Love's Field in Norman, Okla., on Friday, March 1, 2024.

    Love’s Field, Oklahoma’s new, $47.1 million ‘palace’, got the opening day it deserves

  • Miami infielder Jenna Golembiewski (2) celebrates hitting a home run during an NCAA softball game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Miami University on opening day of Oklahoma softball stadium Love's Field in Norman, Okla., on Friday, March 1, 2024.

    Meet Miami (Ohio) slugger Karli Spaid, the answer to an OU trivia question

  • Nov 19, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables speak before a game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Phipps-USA TODAY Sports

    How Brent Venables and Mike Gundy play the portal game | Mind Games with Guerin Emig

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • From left, brothers Za'brien Shelburn, Zion Shelburn, Charles Shelburn and Ke'shon Shelburn of Wilson (Henryetta) sit during introductions before a Class B boys high school basketball state tournament semifinal game between Duke and Wilson (Henryetta) at State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City, Friday, March 1, 2024.

    You heard right: Wilson of Henryetta has four brothers in the starting lineup

  • Feb 25, 2024; Stillwater, Okla, USA; Oklahoma State coach John Smith, left, and associate head coach Coleman Scott, right, react on the sidelines at a wrestling match against Iowa in Gallagher Iba Arena . Mandatory Credit: Mitch Alcala-The Oklahoman

    Lessons from Iowa loss: What should Oklahoma State’s postseason expectations be? | Two on OSU

  • Oklahoma catcher Kinzie Hansen (9) rounds first for a double during an NCAA softball game between Oklahoma (OU) and Liberty on opening day of Oklahoma softball stadium Love's Field in Norman, Okla., on Friday, March 1, 2024.

    Love’s Field, Oklahoma’s new, $47.1 million ‘palace’, got the opening day it deserves

  • Miami infielder Jenna Golembiewski (2) celebrates hitting a home run during an NCAA softball game between the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Miami University on opening day of Oklahoma softball stadium Love's Field in Norman, Okla., on Friday, March 1, 2024.

    Meet Miami (Ohio) slugger Karli Spaid, the answer to an OU trivia question

  • Nov 19, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables speak before a game at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Phipps-USA TODAY Sports

    How Brent Venables and Mike Gundy play the portal game | Mind Games with Guerin Emig