The Miami Hurricanes’ high-profile quarterback competition just got super spicy.
Tate Martell, the 2016 Gatorade Player of the Year who transferred to Miami from the Ohio State Buckeyes in January, is immediately eligible to play for the Hurricanes after the NCAA on Tuesday — the first day of spring practice — approved a waiver request submitted by the quarterback.
Martell, who played sparingly as a redshirt freshman for Ohio State last season, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining for Miami.
The approved waiver is a major boon for the Hurricanes, whose quarterbacks struggled throughout 2018. It means that Martell will now be competing for the starting job during spring practice with rising redshirt sophomore N’Kosi Perry and rising redshirt freshman Jarren Williams. They will be joined in the summer by Peyton Matocha, a 6-4, 199-pound incoming freshman from Houston’s St. Thomas High.
“We aren’t ready yet.. but we will be!” Martell posted on Twitter after the decision was announced by UM on its Twitter feed at 3:29 p.m. “oh btw... I’M ELIGIBLE TO PLAY!”
UM athletic director Blake James thanked the NCAA in a written release.
“We are pleased with this ruling and appreciate the NCAA recognizing that this waiver met the criteria under the membership established guidelines,” James said. “We would like to thank the NCAA, as well as Ohio State University, for their assistance and support throughout the waiver process. We look forward to seeing Tate compete for the Hurricanes this season.”
NCAA spokeswoman Michelle Hosick told the Miami Herald on Tuesday morning that as of late Monday, the NCAA had approved 19 FBS waiver requests and denied 12. It is believed that Martell’s waiver approval was at least the 20th.
The Hurricanes, who primarily split snaps at quarterback last season between graduated starter Malik Rosier and Perry, ranked near the bottom of the nation in nearly every passing category in 2018. Among 129 teams, Miami ranked No. 112 with 167.3 passing yards per game, No. 118 with a 51.1 completion percentage and No. 114 with a 112.2 passer rating. The Hurricanes’ 14 interceptions were fewer than only 19 other teams.
Rosier exhausted his eligibility after starting for Miami in its 35-3 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Pinstripe Bowl. That left Perry competing only with Williams after UM announced on Monday that fellow former contender Cade Weldon would be transferring. Now, Martell might become the favorite.
Tuesday, new UM offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Enos spoke about all his quarterbacks before the NCAA decision was announced.
“Very competitive young man, very good intellect, highly energetic,’’ Enos said of Martell. “Extremely, extremely good athlete. He’s got great lower-body explosiveness, really good short-area quickness and showed a very live arm today, so that was good to see, but I’ve been very impressed with Tate. He’s handled himself very well and I think as a transfer coming in, as a brand-new guy, he’s done a very good job.”
A former four-star prospect, the 5-11, 210-pound Martell was one of the most highly touted quarterbacks in the recruiting class of 2017. Coming out of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, Martell threw for 2,362 yards and 41 touchdowns and ran for another 1,257 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior. Rated the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the 247Sports composite rankings for that 2017 recruiting class, Martell threw for 7,507 yards and 113 touchdowns, with nine interceptions, leading Bishop Gorman to three state championships in his three seasons, according to MaxPreps.com. He added 2,294 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns on 317 carries for an average of 7.2 yards per carry.
After Tuesday’s practice, UM starting tight end Brevin Jordan was asked about Martell, with whom he played at Bishop Gorman.
“Tate, he’s a character, dude,’’ Jordan said. “He’s a 5-11 little white dude with tattoos, running around with high energy. Cocky. Just loves the swag. His swag is so Miami. Tate, he’s going to fit in. He fits in pretty well.”
Added Jordan: “He’s elite. Elite. Just simple as that. Elite.’’
And this, from running back DeeJay Dallas on Tuesday: “He’s a cool dude. That’s my dog. Don’t mess with Tate. That’s my boy. He comes to work and he’s prepared and plays the game with passion.... Him and Brevin are cut from the same cloth. You know, that Vegas swag as they say.’’
Martell nonetheless rode the bench for his first two seasons in Columbus. In 2017, Martell sat behind quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was a first-team all-conference selection. In 2018, Martell sat behind Dwyane Haskins, who was a Heisman Trophy finalist and now projects as a likely top 10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Martell was the favorite to take over at quarterback in 2019 until star quarterback Justin Fields decided to transfer to Ohio State from the Georgia Bulldogs in January.
On Feb. 8, Fields was granted a waiver to play immediately for the Buckeyes after the rising sophomore pointed to a racial slur used against him by a Georgia baseball player last season. Martell’s case dragged out for weeks after Fields’ decision was rendered.
Martell went 23 of 28 for 269 yards and one touchdown and ran 22 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns as Haskins’ backup last season. Former coach Urban Meyer retired following the 2018 season, and Ryan Day was promoted from offensive coordinator to coach.
“I think he’s a very confident guy,’’ Meyer said of Martell in August 2017, his freshman season. “He’s a guy that’s had great success as a player in the bright lights of one of the top high school programs in America. I love where he’s at right now. I love his mentality. I love the look in his eye. I love the fact that he understands he’s got work to do, and it’s not going to be easy. He’s a real competitive guy, real confident guy, and he wants to play so bad. Those are the people to be around.’’
With Martell eligible, the Hurricanes are on track to have six transfers play immediately in 2019. The others: Former Buffalo Bulls wide receiver K.J. Osborn, former FCS Butler Bulldogs offensive lineman Tommy Kennedy, former Virginia Tech Hokies defensive end Trevon Hill, former UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Chigozie Nnoruka and former Southern California Trojans safety Bubba Bolden.
Former UCLA defensive end Jaelan Phillips, the nation’s No. 1 defensive player in the recruiting class of 2017, announced on Feb. 21 that he will transfer to Miami, but that he will sit out in 2019 and be eligible to play in 2020 and 2021.
UM coach Manny Diaz foreshadowed the news with one of his trademark GIFs. This time it was a shirtless man holding a large American flag in what appears to be hurricane-force winds. His caption: #TNM, which stands for The New Miami.