STILLWATER — Markelle Martin jumped in his car alone on May 9 and began the journey toward his NFL future.
The road trip started in his hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas. Little Rock was the first stop. Then Memphis. He didn't really do much besides grab a quick bite to eat and a couple hours of sleep. He spent more than 12 hours on the road.
But since Martin was alone, he made sure to take in the scenery around him while he was driving through the South. Trees. Mountains. Terrain not exactly common in Texas and Oklahoma.
Then, suddenly, he was greeted by traffic and skyscrapers. He felt the big-city vibe.
He had made it to Nashville, his new home.
“It was an overwhelming experience,” Martin said. “Just to get a sense of the next step of your life.”
Martin officially joined the Tennessee Titans last weekend for rookie minicamp, essentially completing what has been an interesting and emotional ride to the pros for the former Oklahoma State safety. After being projected to go in the middle rounds of last month's NFL Draft, a knee injury during the pre-draft process caused him to slip to the sixth round.
“All you need is an opportunity to get the foot in the door,” Martin said by phone from Nashville. “You have to make the most of it. I'm just thankful God and the Titans gave me the opportunity … just to be a part of a nice franchise where the team is just phenomenal. It's exciting to be here.”
Still, Martin admits the last few months, when he could not work out for scouts and other NFL personnel at the combine or at OSU's Pro Day because of the injury while he watched his draft stock fall, were not easy.
Martin waited for more than four hours on the final day of the draft before the Titans took him with the No. 190 overall pick. He expressed his frustration and sadness on Twitter as the rounds went by. Even deeper in his mind, he was replaying his entire OSU career. Had the injury happened because he trained too hard after the season? Did that one missed tackle hurt him? Or that dropped interception?
“You start looking at things that maybe you should have done better or a particular reason why you're not getting drafted,” Martin said. “Ultimately, once you get your name called, you just take a deep breath and you understand it's a blessing and it's a business at the same time.”
The Titans were always a team interested in Martin, however, as new secondary coach Brett Maxie attended Martin's personal Pro Day just before the draft. Now, Martin will be one of Maxie's first pupils in Tennessee.
“I'm pretty much going to be his player that he molds into the system that he wants,” Martin said of Maxie. “It's easy for him to teach me these things, because I have the raw talents (but) I don't have the bad habits that maybe a vet may have that's been doing it for 12 years. He can instill things in me a lot easier.”
Because of the knee injury, Martin was limited during last week's minicamp, particularly in 7-on-7 drills. But that hasn't prevented him from studying the playbook and bouncing ideas around with cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, the Titans' fourth-round selection out of Clemson whom Martin has already bonded with. And on the field, Martin has tried to focus on refining his technique, such as the proper stance before the snap and the correct way to plant his foot when changing direction.
“Just small, detailed things,” he said. “I think my injury kind of helps me, because I don't go full speed and they don't want me go full speed. I kind of slow things down and learn how to properly plant and how to properly do certain things you get to used to doing that you just don't think about.”
Martin looks forward to returning to full strength, to show the Titans that they made a wise choice in selecting him and to prove to other teams that he was not “damaged goods.”
But he's also felt plenty of gratification throughout this process, like when he walked into the Tennessee locker room before mini camp began and saw a No. 31 NFL jersey with the Titans' logo on the front and his name on the back.
All of that has driven him to become a successful pro.
“It took a lot for people to believe that I can still bounce back from my injury,” Martin said. “I understood everything that happened, and it happened for a reason.
“It's something that you put in your pocket and you remember that people passed up on you. You have to use that to motivate you and keep going.”