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Martin

Illinois freshman cornerback Jartavius "Quan" Martin has started each of the first two games this season.

CHAMPAIGN — Growing up, he's always been Quan.

He's a defensive back with a nose for the football who would rather go by his middle name of Quan than his first name of Jartavius.

So, Quan Martin it is.

But it doesn't matter what he's been called. Martin, a freshman cornerback from Lehigh Acres, Fla., been a key cog in the Illinois football secondary through the first two weeks of the season.

In Week 1 against Kent State, he became the third true freshman to start a season-opener at cornerback for the Illini since 1980, joining teammate Tony Adams (2017) and NFLer Vontae Davis (2006).

His third-quarter interception against Kent State made him the only true freshman in the country to start at corner and haul in a pick in the same game.

When he lined up last week against Western Illinois, he joined Davis as the only other freshman cornerback to start the first two games for the Illini since 1980.

“It’s a great opportunity," Martin said. "Coach has been preparing me since camp just to be ready any time. Anything can happen. I was prepared and it was my time, so I went out and played."

Martin has seven total tackles, tied for seventh on the team with Jamal Woods, and he's tied for the team lead with two pass breakups.

Before he committed to Illinois in July of 2017, he didn't have one single Power 5 Conference offer. He was a three-star recruit according to ESPN and 247Sports and a two-star recruit by Rivals.

“It was a great opportunity," Martin said. "They saw my talent and my ability to play on the field. They recognized it and gave me an offer, and I went with it."

He was the No. 101 safety in the nation by ESPN, No. 105 by Rivals and was the No. 206 recruit in the state of Florida by ESPN and 247Sports.

But Martin doesn't need to use the rankings or lack of Power 5 offers for motivation. He chose Illinois over offers from Air Force, Southern Mississippi, Tulane, Charlotte, Georgia Southern and New Hampshire, and he's happy to be in Champaign.

“I don’t really say motivation, I just go play," Martin said. "A lot of other schools, they kind of overlooked me, but I don’t really hold a chip on my shoulder from that. I’m just blessed with the opportunities I had and made the best of it."

His interception in Week 1 turned the tide and gave the momentum to the Illinois offense, which proceeded to score on four straight possessions for a come-from-behind victory over Kent State.

Martin garnered praise from head coach Lovie Smith, quarterback AJ Bush Jr. and nearly everyone on the defensive side of the football for his interception, though Martin is still hardest on himself for dropping the ball, which was then recovered by safety Stanley Green.

Some of Martin's early season success is a carryover from training camp, where he displayed a knack for finding the football.

“He’s been impressive," Green said. "I know in camp he was tied for the most picks in camp, then the first game he came out and caught an interception. He’s a pretty good corner. I feel like he’s a ballhawk. He knows how to get around the ball."

Green has been part of the veteran contingent on the young team to help Martin through the first two games of the season.

Martin has also relied on cornerback Cameron Watkins, who is second on the team with 17 tackles.

“I’ve had a lot of older guys talking to me," Martin said. "Cam Watkins is one of the main ones talking to me telling me to play my game and not be nervous. Go out there and ball and it will come to you."

The game is beginning to slow down for Martin. He's got two games under his belt and an interception in Smiths' defense that preaches takeaways.

Now, the competition picks up. At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the Illini kickoff at Soldier Field in Chicago against South Florida (2-0).

All the time Martin has spent with the Illinois coaches will take extra meaning against South Florida, which drubbed the Illini 47-23 last season.

He's listened to the words of the coaching staff intently from the second he arrived in Champaign.

“He’s done a nice job," defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson said. "For a young guy coming in, he’s picked up things pretty fast. We’ve been working really hard getting him prepared and getting all the guys prepared each week. He’s been able to translate all the meeting time and classroom time and all the hard work we’ve been putting into training camp over to game day. It’s been pretty exciting to watch."

Martin figures to start again on Saturday. Watkins has to sit out the first half of the game after being ejected against Western Illinios for targeting. Adams is "close" to returning after missing the first two games of the season with an injury, and Nate Hobbs is one of five players who are still serving an indefinite suspension.

“Just play to the best of my abilities and listen to what the coaches tell me — key, technique and all that stuff — and everything will come to me," Martin said of his plan against South Florida.

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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