There was plenty of hype prior to the season surrounding Brandon Martin, a former LSU signee and one-time Auburn commit.
The 6-foot-4 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College receiver started the season off slowly, however, and was shut out of the stat sheet in the the Bulldogs’ losses to Itawamba and East Mississippi.
In the last four weeks, Martin’s touches have improved. And with his increased involvement have come more wins for Gulf Coast, which enters Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at Southwest riding a two-game winning streak.
Opposing defenses made Martin a priority and his lack of touches early, coupled with getting acquainted with a new quarterback in transfer Kalen Whitlow, were understandably frustrating. In recent weeks, Martin has found his role and has started to make more of an impact for the Bulldogs.
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“He’s coming into his own a little bit,” MGCCC coach Chad Huff said of Martin, who has 11 receptions for a team high 153 yards with two touchdowns. “Obviously not everything was going his way early, but he has made this season a lot better for himself by being a guy who is believing in the system, getting better each week.”
Running with purpose
It’s notable that Martin’s emergence has been coupled with improved rushing results for a Bulldogs team (3-3, 2-1) that prides itself in rushing with purpose.
After failing to crack 100 yards rushing in the first two games of the season, MGCCC has hit at least 120 yards in each of the last four contests. In wins over Hinds and Mississippi Delta, the Bulldogs eclipsed 270 yards, averaging more than 6.7 yards per carry.
“I feel like we’re taking on that identity that we’re able to mix it in,” Huff said. “I think what’s helped is the receivers making the routine catches on the perimeter, which forces the defenses to play honest.”
On the flip side, former South Carolina signee Octavis Johnson has quietly put together a strong sophomore campaign.
Johnson returned his third career interception for a touchdown last week at Delta and is tied for the team lead in interceptions (2) and pass breakups (5). He also has 17 total tackles.
“Octavis has been a solid player for us this year,” Huff said. “He’s a lockdown guy who can play man-to-man and mix in to help the run.”
Huff said Johnson’s emergence in the secondary hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“As a defensive back, if you’re getting beat deep your name comes up a lot,” he said. “He’s been kind of silent, which is good sometimes. He’s been consistent.”
The Bears (2-4, 1-2) head into Thursday’s game fresh off of a 31-21 win at Pearl River.
In leading Southwest past the Wildcats, freshman quarterback Neil McLaurin was named the MACJC’s Offensive Player of the Week. The dual-threat quarterback threw for 200 yards and three scores and rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown.
In five games, McLaurin has thrown for 618 yards and six touchdowns with five interceptions. He’s also second on Southwest with 221 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
His top target is tight end Ravian Pierce, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound Mississippi State commit from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He’s among the nation’s leaders with 38 receptions to go along with 345 yards and two touchdowns.
MGCCC enters the contest riding a nine-game winning streak against Southwest. The Bulldogs own a 56-22-3 all-time record against the Bears.
Gulf Coast at Southwest
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: John I Hurst Stadium, Summit
Radio: 103.1 FM