Josh Martin leaned over a white cotton t-shirt with a black permanent marker the night before his first full-padded football practice in seventh grade. His father, Joe, was in the midst of his Hall-of-Fame coaching career at Allen, Texas, in 2001. The Martin boys spent most of their Saturdays watching football and at that time Nebraska was still a national powerhouse. Josh, in Longhorn country, wanted to harness the Huskers’ energy at practice the next morning.
He wrote out B-L-A-C-K-S-H-I-R-T-S. Then he etched a skull and crossbones. Only until then was he ready to practice.
Practice ended and off came his pads. Martin sweated through his etching, causing the marker to run all over. His mother thought they were bruises at first.
“Nebraska is a special place,” Martin told local media on Tuesday. “It just goes to show what at 12, 13 years old this place meant to me. To be able to have an opportunity here, I’m incredibly grateful and incredibly humble.”
Martin met with the Nebraska football media apparatus for the first time earlier this week. He was chosen by circumstance. A former full-time college assistant, Martin spent last fall coaching the offense at Little Elm High School in Texas. Head coach Matt Rhule called with a job offer in December and Martin joined as an analyst and assistant special teams coach. He served in that capacity for eight months until Bob Wager, Rhule’s chosen tight ends coach, resigned following a citation for driving under the influence. Rhule chose Martin to replace Wager, elevating him to a full-time assistant just two days before preseason camp began.
“One of the first things he said was that he stayed ready so he didn’t have to get ready,” tight end Nate Boerkircher said earlier this month. “He’s a tight end coach at heart and he just really wants the best for us.”
Martin didn’t know much about the tight ends before the switch. Boerkircher and Martin exchanged greetings in the hallway but not much else. Thomas Fidone II learned Martin’s background and sometimes asked questions beyond practice. Martin’s status as assistant special teams analyst at that time meant he spent little time watching tight end drills. By the first day of preseason camp, Martin knew the offense enough to help install. He learned the system and says he coaches in the same style as wide receivers coach Garret McGuire and offensive line coach Donovan Raiola.
Tight ends in offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield’s system do everything. They have to run block, pass protect and run routes from different locations on the field. It’s been called a position-less offense. Martin said that makes it a perfect system for tight ends to play in if they want to get to the NFL. This coaching staff is modeling its verbiage, structure and play to resemble an NFL offense. Martin credited the coaching staff and the greater administrative staff for helping him get up to speed.
“Our entire organization, as soon as it happened, they reached out and tried to help me however much they can,” Martin said. “We talk about the brotherhood a lot with our players but the brotherhood with our coaching staff is just as strong. Couldn’t have done it without them.”
Martin previously coached tight ends at Arizona State (2014–17) and at SMU (2018–21). In 2015, he fully assumed the tight ends coach role during a coaching switch two weeks into camp. He told reporters on Tuesday that elevation from graduate assistant helped guide him through this process. At SMU, he coached multiple NFL draft picks. Martin worked under head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Garrett Riley in that stretch. Those innovative offenses are built on the routine play, Martin said. Then came the call from Rhule.
“When we first hired Josh I remembered one of the analytics companies sending me ‘Great hire’ and all the things he’d done,” Rhule said after the first preseason practice. “We’ve just been nothing but impressed with Josh since then. … Josh has done it. He’s done it in two places, he’s had guys go onto the NFL. I watch him today with the young guys and I can tell he’s been coaching a long time.”
Martin’s move is actually a fortuitous turn of events for the Huskers on special teams. He can now work hands-on with the special teams units, allowing the Huskers to run two full-squad drills simultaneously. Special teams coordinator Ed Foley enjoys that aspect of the change. He also sees Martin as a valuable member of the staff that hasn’t missed a beat. Still, Martin considers himself a “tight end guy” and enjoys building a relationship with the Huskers in his room.
“The tight ends as well, they play a lot on special teams,” Martin said. “I was able to have a good relationship with those guys as well. … I tried to continue to learn the scheme as much as I can and whatever I can do, leading up to this point, to help the team, I was willing to do. My goal was to try and learn our scheme, offensively, defensively, as well as special teams.
At some point Nebraska will hire for the special teams analyst position Martin originally filled on this staff. Rhule said that will likely be an internal hire.