TAMPA It wasn't too long ago that Doug Martin moonlighted as a defensive back at Boise State.
Five months ago, the sun was on his face. He was on a bus in Hawaii, going to Pro Bowl practice. Sitting with him was his new friend and NFC teammate, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Sitting nearby was his other new NFC pal, who is also a running back: Adrian Peterson.
Sorry - A.P.
"It was pretty surreal for me," Martin said.
But it was all very real for Doug Martin in his astounding rookie season, the 1,454 rushing yards, the 12 touchdowns, the five 100-yard games, the knockout performance in Oakland, 251 yards and four TDs on homecoming in California.
Now he has to do it again, second time around.
"I don't believe in the sophomore jinx at all," Martin said.
But everyone will be watching. Defenses will be waiting.
Bucs running back coach Earnest Byner sees an opening.
"It's good to be hunted, but it's also good to hunt," Byner said. "We're not necessarily just prey."
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman calls Doug Martin "Little Brother." Martin calls Freeman "Big Brother." Martins calls Bucs receiver Vincent Jackson "Grandpa." These three have a good thing going, as does the Bucs offense, which last season was ranked ninth in the NFL.
Throw in the return of guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks and it would seem that there might be even bigger holes for Martin to scoot through in 2013, plus the fact that this will be Martin's second season in this offense, and the offseason workouts and, well .
"We all got better," Martin said. "I got better."
"I think he looks better now than he did at this time last year, physically, understand wise," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "I think there's another level for him, a few."
There is room for improvement, but what Martin did as a rookie bordered on sensational. The Bucs moved up to the end of the first round to grab him in the draft, and was he a keeper, setting franchise rookie records for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage.
We might be looking at Peterson's heir apparent. Martin is only 24, and in his first season, he finished in the top five in the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and carries. Throw in 49 catches. He is true three-down treasure.
The kid was in on a whopping 841 snaps, second among running backs, and had 319 carries, fourth among backs. And as much as he made people miss with those lightning moves, according to one metric he was one of only three NFL runners last season to gain at least 1,000 yards after initial contact. We worried about overuse. The Muscle Hamster hummed his little tune, his mantra.
"Don't ever let one guy bring you down," Martin said.
Hamster kept humble, too, which made people pull for him all the more. When he was all done, he was exhausted. Martin admits it. He retreated to California to decompress.
"It was a long season, from way back to the combine, and pro days, going into the season, training camp and then the season. I just wanted to get home and see my friends and family."
And now it's back to work.
"One of the things I tell Doug is that you're not only competing against the other guys in the league, you're competing against history," Byner said.
Martin shakes his head sometimes. It really happened, Hawaii included.
"Probably three years ago, I was playing nickel back at Boise State," he said. "It's crazy what I've gone through and now where I am."