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NY Post
New York Post
22 Apr 2023


NextImg:Illinois safety’s Sydney Brown, Jartavius Martin poised to be class of 2023 NFL Draft

Sydney Brown is a big hitter, Jartavius Martin is a ball hawk, and both former Illinois safeties are mind readers.

OK, maybe that last description isn’t true, but it sure seemed there was unspoken communication between the two after they played more than 50 games side-by-side as Illinois elevated from a two-win team before their arrival to an eight-win bowl participant last season.

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They both epitomized the program motto of “smart, tough and dependable” (sound familiar, Giants fans?) that Illinois head coach Bret Bielema installed in 2021 after he left Joe Judge’s staff in East Rutherford to take the reins in Champaign, Ill.

“Sydney knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking, a lot of the times,” Martin, who goes by “Quan,” told The Post. “It allowed us to play fast and at a high level.”

Brown and Martin — two of the top safeties available in what is not considered a deep draft class — are about to face a new challenge by changing backfield partners for the first time in six years.

A mold of the two would be a surefire first-round pick, but teams like the Giants that are in need of a safety instead must decide if they are in the market for a downhill run-gaps-shooter with sharp instincts like Brown or a defensive back with a 44-inch vertical leap and rangy coverage skills like Martin (who doesn’t pigeonhole himself as either a free safety or a slot cornerback).

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Let them describe what they each most envy about the other’s abilities.

“His ability to play corner,” Brown said. “Being versatile like he is, there’s so many benefits to stick in different systems.”

Sydney Brown
Getty Images

“The speed he plays with,” Martin said. “He does everything 100 miles per hour.”

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Brown and his twin brother Chase — likely to be drafted as a running back — were raised in Canada by a single mother (their father is former CFL player Darren Isaac) who was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease when they were 16 years old.

The three were living in a homeless shelter and reliant on the boys’ grandparents for support when fate intervened with a host family (the Yates) willing to let two teenage strangers move into their home as they attended a private school in Bradenton, Fla.

“When you are north of the border, it’s almost like you are blind to a lot of American scouts, especially college scouts,” Brown said. “I don’t even know what I’d be doing right now — plumbing someone’s toilet or some sort of trade. But we went to Florida with the motivation to go to college and play football, and we ended up in the right situation. When you can learn from successful people, usually you pick up on their habits pretty quickly. That’s exactly what we did.”

Jartavius Martin

Jartavius Martin
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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At that same time, about two hours away near Fort Myers, Fla., Martin was displaying the leaping ability in a different arena that made him one of the big gainers at the NFL Combine.

“My high school basketball team would start the game off with an alley-oop and I was the [dunk] guy,” said Martin, who took a pre-draft visit to the Giants’ facility. “That goes hand-in-hand with football and the nickel-safety role — being able to go high-point the ball presents an advantage over a lot of guys.”

With Brown, Martin and cornerback Devon Witherspoon (a likely top-10 overall pick) in the same secondary, Illinois disguised coverages, made aggressive calls and led the nation with 24 interceptions last season.

The two safeties were roommates at the combine, sharing notes on team visits to get each other comfortable whenever circumstances allowed.

“When you are at the biggest stage of your career, you want to show you are able to perform,” Brown said. “The lights don’t get in your face and you pee down your leg. I can handle the pressure. The biggest respect you can get is that you are a dependable person.”

Devon Witherspoon

Devon Witherspoon
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There’s some friendly competition between all the Illini alumni over who will get selected first.

“As soon as I hear Quan’s name, it’s going to hit close to home,” Brown said, “because I know his journey and how hard he’s worked to be in the position that he is.”

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In the end, the Brown twins, Martin and Witherspoon helped each other get to this point.

“Everybody is going to be off living their own dream and doing their own thing,” Martin said. “I wish them nothing but the best. Maybe I’ll see them one Sunday or Thursday soon.”