I will not be coming back for the 2014 season I have decided to move on to the NFL and declare for the… http://t.co/H5zNvatIwR— Marcus Martin (@ScreamMulahASAP) December 27, 2013
"I will not be coming back for the 2014 season I have decided to move on to the NFL and declare for the draft . Thank you Trojan Family for all that you've done for me ! This will be a season I will never forget as long as I live and I wanna thank the coaches my teammates and the fans for all that we've endured as a family ! I am and always be a Trojan for life #FightOnForever" -- Martin's full message on Instagram
Martin was the soul of this year's offensive line taking over the center duties after Khaled Holmes graduated last year.
The Crenshaw (Los Angeles) HS product wasn't a highly regarded recruit, entering as a consensus three-star prospect, but he blossomed into a contributor almost immediately as he trimmed away the baby fat from the 350-pound frame he carried in high school. (He was listed at 6'3", 310 pounds this season.)
In only his third career game, Martin was named the starter at left guard -- the first true freshman to start at guard for USC since 2004. The 2011 Trojans and their record-setting offense put together a 10-2 campaign. Playing beside Matt Kalil, the No. 4 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Martin was named a Freshman All-American.
"Being between Matt and Khaled, they were like teachers for me."
"Matt showed me aggressiveness and how to do it, and Khaled was more like a teacher and gave me the whole philosophy. Early, some of it went over my head, but they influenced my perspective on how to play." -- ESPN We Are SC
Martin remained at guard in 2012 before switching to center to replace Holmes this season.
"We didn’t know how well that move would go," former head coach Lane Kiffin said before the season. "We didn’t start the spring in that direction. We really just experimented with it."
The experiment paid off as Martin became the leader of the offensive line that jelled more and more as the season progressed. His impact was particularly noticeable when he was absent. On the first series of the rivalry game against UCLA, Martin went down with a left knee injury.
Without Martin (and starting guard Aundrey Walker, who also had to be carted off), the Bruins defense constantly harassed quarterback Cody Kessler. UCLA pulled down Kessler six time for sacks and forced a pair of fumbles -- both of which it recovered.
With Martin's early departure, the Trojans will have to develop a new center for the second straight season. The early candidates include freshman Khaliel Rodgers, who redshirted this season after being Scout's top center prospect in 2013, and former high school All-American Cyrus Hobbi.
Another possibility could be starting left guard Max Tuerk as Kiffin also experimented with Tuerk playing center last spring.
The biggest question following Martin's announcement is will he be the last? Besides Marqise Lee, who is expected to enter his name in the draft pool in the next week or so, and Dion Bailey, who has already declared, will anyone else make the jump?
Is Martin the tipping point of an exodus or an outlier? New head coach Steve Sarkisian better be sending the recruiting train through the McKay Center, up through frat row and into the living rooms of the remaining draft-eligible Trojans.