Tay Martin arrived in Stillwater in the height of a pandemic, and with a whirlwind of uncertainty.
The former Washington State receiver wasn’t all too worried about trying to learn a new offense – especially one that had its origins with the Mike Leach system – it was more about off the field.
The Louisiana native moved to Pullman, Washington, had exploded his first two seasons in the high-octane offense for the Cougars. But his junior year saw his starts and production dip – going from 69 catches for 685 yards in 2018 to 43 for 564 in just seven starts in his last season with the Cougars.
And he arrived in Stillwater unable to do a whole lot to prepare due to the pandemic.
Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said throughout the spring and fall camp that Martin just never got in the shape mandated of the Cowboy receiver corps – and had to sit behind an NFL talent Tylan Wallace for much of the season.
But there has been a transformation in the past 12 months.
“Completely different person and player – not that it was not, but his life’s in order, he’s confident every day in himself,” Gundy said following the season opener. “He’s confident in practice. He’s competing. I’m sure health wise he’ll be fine. He’s worked in the last nine months and put himself in a position to have a lot of success.”
And while Martin plays for a position coach in Kasey Dunn who has churned out NFL talent during his decade in Stillwater, the second-year offensive coordinator concedes the growth of Martin to his time spent off the field with the head man of the program.
“I think Coach Gundy had a lot to do with that. You know during the spring, coach and Tay had a lot of meetings and heart-to-heart times,” Dunn said. “I’m not taking credit for that. That’s Coach Gundy all the way and it’s also Tay.
“Tay’s got this vision for himself for the next 10 years, and it’s playing NFL football. So he’s driven right now, and a lot of seniors are, you know, but he certainly has taken and run with it.”
The 54-year-old father of three who has made a career with football was able to instill advice on a multitude of things for the 23-year-old receiver.
“Tay and I spent a lot of time together, I don’t pretend to be a counselor, but I learned a lot about him, and hopefully I was able to help him with some things outside of football,” Gundy said. “The football side of him is going to be just fine. He’s got a gift. With the distractions and things that were tugging on him, didn’t allow him to perform at a level that he needed to perform at.”
One of the biggest struggles for Martin was being a father who doesn’t get to see his daughter all too often as he’s chasing his football dreams.
His daughter, Reign Christine Martin, was born in February of 2019. She lives in Louisiana – which was over 2,000 miles from where he played with Washington State, and still 700 miles from his current home of Stillwater.
“We talk all the time whether it’s about my daughter and his kids or other normal conversations that can get me going,” Martin said. “Just get to know each other more since I just met him this past year. It is a great relationship.”
Gundy said of their one-on-one conversations, “That was one of them, in that, in my opinion, he needed to work on life skills as well as football to improve in areas that would, at some point, if his daughter ever says, ‘Hey, why did this happen?’ He can give her an answer that he would be proud of. Sometimes when we’re young, we don’t think that way.”
The football skills certainly were on display in his first start for the Cowboys in the season opener against Missouri State.
Filling in the shoes of Wallace at the Z receiver position, Martin had his first 100-yard receiving performance as a Cowboy – and his first since his sophomore season with WSU.
“Tay does very well at everything, but one thing I would say he does very well at is just go getting the ball at the high point. I mean his vertical is unbelievable,” starting quarterback Spencer Sanders said prior to the season. “I can’t really compare Tay and Tylan together because they are kind of two different receivers, but at the same time too they’re both great receivers and I feel like Tay is really good at making that catch and securing that catch, whether it’s going to high point the ball, whether it’s going low and scooping, or diving or anything.”
Follow News Press sports editor Jason Elmquist on Twitter @jelmquistSW for updates on Oklahoma State athletics.
“Part of its maturity, but he's got a great heart. He's a good person, and he wants to do the right things for all the right reasons, so that gives him a chance.”