Troy’s Jake Andrews, Carlton Martial set to live out dreams in Senior Bowl

Carlton Martial has more hands-on experience with the Reese’s Senior Bowl than his Troy teammate Jake Andrews does, but playing in the game is the culmination of a lifelong dream for both.

Martial grew up in Mobile, the stereotypical kid who would attend practices and the game each year hoping to see his heroes perform up close and maybe get an autograph or two. He leaves Troy as the all-time leading tackler in FBS history, and will be on the field Feb. 4 for the 2023 Senior Bowl at Hancock Whitney Stadium.

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“My father used to bring us and our little Pop Warner team to the game; I even came with (former South Alabama wide receiver and 2022 Senior Bowler) Jalen Tolbert a few times,” Martial said. “It’s such a great opportunity to come here and meet a whole new group of guys and get to know them. That’s the good thing about football — it brings people from different backgrounds together.

“I always thought when I would watch the Senior Bowl ‘I want that to be me.’ My father always said ‘just give it your all this game and just let the cards play.’”

Martial and Andrews are the first Troy players in the Senior Bowl since quarterback Brandon Silvers in 2018 and just the second pair of Trojan teammates in the game’s history. Defensive lineman Brandon Lang and linebacker Cameron Sheffield participated in the 2010 game, and both went on to play in the NFL.

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Andrews, an All-Sun Belt Conference selection as the Trojans’ center in 2022, hails from Millbrook, Ala., just north of Montgomery. His experience with the Senior Bowl was more watching it on television and reading about it in the media.

“It’s really important to me, something I’ve always really wanted to do,” Andrews said. “I’ve always been interested in a game that’s got a lot of tradition has been around for a long time. … I grew up watching it, especially once they started televisioning it. In high school, I remember sitting there and watching the 1-on-1s (practice drills) on my phone. It was hard to get work done. … It’s a blessing for sure. And I’m really excited to have the opportunity.”

Martial is one of college football’s all-time success stories, having gone from walk-on with no FBS scholarship offers coming out of Mobile’s McGill-Toolen Catholic School to a four-year starter and three-time first-team All-Sun Belt pick . He latched on as a preferred walk-on at Troy, earned a scholarship after his freshman year and finished his career with a record 577 tackles.

Generously listed at 5-foot-9 on a 210-pound frame, Martial will have to make an even bigger leap if he’s going to get a shot at pro football. There are few linebackers in the history of the NFL who have held down a roster spot at his size.

“I just want to show that I can compete against the best talent in the country, learn more about the game and have fun,” Martial said. “Not being recruited by schools was a reality check. You have to look at yourself in the mirror and realize what you have to work on. … I had a lot of angels on my shoulders along the way, helping me get my body in shape, letting me know what I need to work on. You just have to have the mentality that hard work, work ethic, just embracing the grind. It’s always going to be a struggle, but it’s about how you go into the struggle. That’s really what all this has taught me.”

The 6-foot-3, 325-pound Andrews was also lightly recruited out of Stanhope Elmore High School, a former high school wrestler who worked as a backup as a redshirt freshman in 2019 before earning the starting right guard position with the Trojans the following year. He started at right guard again in 2021 before moving to center this past season.

Andrews blossomed when moved into the middle of the Troy line, so much so that he chose to enter the NFL draft despite having another year of eligibility remaining. He’s hoping that the versatility he displayed in his college career will make him more marketable at the next level.

“Every team wants those versatile guys,” Andrews said. “I think it was also really important that we kind of got away from a spread-style offense this past year and went to a pro-style offense. That allowed me to really get deeper into the defensive identification side of the game and really being able to not just see the defense what it is, but look a little bit deeper into what they’re trying to do, what they’re trying to hide from you. Especially at center, you have to see a whole lot more than just the guys right there in your face. It wasn’t the smoothest transition, but I finally got the hang of and I’m really I’m really glad I did it. If I hadn’t moved to center, I’d probably still be in school another year.”

The 2023 Reese Senior Bowl kicks off at 1:30 pm Feb. 4, with television coverage via the NFL Network. For ticket information, visit SeniorBowl.com/tickets.

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