After two years at his hometown Rochester Community and Technical College, Cazz Martin was looking for a place to play football and Minnesota Duluth happened to be looking for some depth at running back.
It didn’t take the Bulldogs long to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
“They were the ones who wanted me as much as I wanted them,” Martin said. “Whenever you have a situation where it is mutual like that, you just want to be there.”
Martin has since emerged as a sparkplug in the Bulldogs’ backfield.
While Martin has only rushed the ball 23 times, those 23 carries have gone for 204 yards and four touchdowns going into UMD’s NSIC showdown at 2 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota State-Mankato.
The No. 12 Bulldogs (4-0) will be looking to get off to a better start offensively but it won’t be easy against the No. 3 Mavericks (4-0), who come in only allowing 9.8 points and 44.8 rushing yards per game to rank third nationally.
“Everyone has been very loose and zoned in for this game,” Martin said. “You don’t have to try to be a hero, but just do your job. If we take care of our assignments and do the things we need to do, then getting off to a fast start will come with that.”
Martin is off to a fast start with the Bulldogs. The junior is averaging a team-leading 8.9 yards per carry, buoyed by last week’s 77-yard TD scamper to cap the scoring in UMD’s 42-7 victory at previously unbeaten Bemidji State.
“Cazz has been really productive and we’re going to continue to be creative in finding ways to get him the football,” UMD coach Curt Wiese said. “He is exactly what we thought he’d be when we were looking for a running back to fit our need for a No. 2 back. It has taken him a little bit of time to adjust, but he’s caught up to speed.”
Martin took a visit to UMD in December, and two weeks later, it was a done deal.
“It was a quick two weeks,” he said.
Martin was enrolled for spring semester, allowing him to be on campus in time for spring drills and to get acclimated to his new teammates. Martin knew of UMD from another Rochester John Marshall product, former Bulldogs defensive lineman Emmanuel Tetteh-Jada.
“When I came to visit, my mom fell in love with the school and I fell in love with the place, which is the most important,” Martin said. “The coaches and everyone was very welcoming during my visit, and everything checked out well in terms of school.
“I love this team. It’s just like a big family, and there’s so much great competition, especially going against our defense every day in practice.”
Martin isn’t the first talented UMD running back to hail from Rochester -- Isaac Odim is the school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,242 yards from 2008-10.
“Cazz has got a long way to go to catch Isaac,” Wiese said, laughing.
While 6-foot-1, 230-pound sophomore Zach Ojile is a bruiser and Byron Bynum, who converted to running back from slot receiver, is more of a slasher, Martin and featured back Wade Sullivan are similar. They’re both all-purpose backs with breakaway speed and quickness, and while they might not be big -- in thet 5-foot-7 to 5-foot-8 range -- they run hard.
“We both kind of have that little bully mentality,” Martin said.
Sullivan leads the Bulldogs with 41 carries for 242 yards and three scores, and he has also caught seven passes for 123 yards and another score, but Martin has yet to catch a pass with the Bulldogs.
Martin was used primarily as a slot receiver his second year at Rochester Community and Technical College, with a team-high 24 receptions as a sophomore, so he assures Bulldogs fans he can catch the football.
“Oh, I’ll catch one here eventually,” he said, laughing, “and then I’ll try to get off a big one.”
NO. 12 MINNESOTA DULUTH AT NO. 3 MINNESOTA STATE-MANKATO
What: NSIC football game
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Blakeslee Stadium (7,500 capacity, natural grass)
Mankato forecast: morning showers with a high of 61 and 21 mph wind
Radio: KDKE-FM 102.5 (dukefmduluth.com)