Martin and Hicks took over what was supposed to be a four-person rushing attack. With Desmon Peoples injured and ball security issues last week, Michigan State game week projects as a freshman takeover.
“It would have been great to have that earlier in the season, but they both went in there and did a great job for us,” said senior offensive lineman Kaleb Johnson Saturday after beating Indiana. “I’m excited to see how they’re going to top it next week. They both run it very well, and they protect the football. I’m happy for both of them, for sure.”
Hicks and Martin took different paths to playing time.
Hicks, Scout.com’s 86th ranked running back in 2014, spent a perplexing month at safety before his return last week. He worked primarily on special teams before coach Kyle Flood returned him to running back for Indiana.
Hicks broke out for 114 yards and his first-career touchdown on 5.7 yards per carry against Indiana.
“It’s hunger,” Hicks said on the battle for playing time. “It’s like, who wants it the most? But at the same time, [Martin]’s my teammate and a real good friend of mine. We’re going to be alright.”
Martin rushed for the first touchdown hat trick at Rutgers since Paul James tore his ACL. Returning from a torn ACL of his own, Martin is proud of his freshman year accomplishments – 209 yards and four touchdowns.
“I’m definitely proud just to know that I’ve overcome injuries and stuff like that,” Martin said. “I’ve stayed focused, just working hard. You can’t let the negative things that people say impact you. Just push through to achieve your goals.
“ … My hard work is paying off and I’m getting better each week at practice. I’m learning my assignments and stuff like that.”
Martin and Hicks did not know each other well in recruiting. Hicks committed nearly a year before Martin and their official visits did not overlap.
They became close quickly after enrolling together in June for training camp and summer conditioning.
“He’s like my best friend,” Hicks said. “We go over plays together. We look over film, and in practice we get on each other like we’ve got to push harder and basically, compete.”
The duo takes classes together, and spends plenty of time in the film room.
“The relationship is definitely good,” said Martin, who calls himself the funny one and Hicks the quiet one. “We talk a lot. Even on the field, we try to get each other better. We push one another. We’re telling jokes, stuff like that. We’ve got a nice bond.”
Peoples – questionable – and sophomore Justin Goodwin are not out of the picture at running back. Peoples remains the team’s leading rusher, but could not finish Saturday’s game after an upper body injury.
Goodwin remains a co-starter, but his lost fumble against Indiana plays a role in Flood’s decision.
“Right now with Des' situation, we gotta see what his availability will be for the game,” Flood said. “So I think I listed him as questionable. We'll work all that out during the week. I think, similar to last week, there's going to be a role for everybody and then we'll go forward from there. But first priority certainly is going to be to protect the football.”