Gophers senior linebacker Kamal Martin will not play in the upcoming Outback Bowl.
The Burnsville native announced his decision on Instagram on Sunday, writing he instead will focus on preparing for the NFL draft and avoiding injury. Martin could be a Day 2, second- or third-round pick come April.
“After much prayer and many discussions with my family, teammates and coaches, I have decided to begin preparations for the NFL draft and will not play be playing in the Outback Bowl,” Martin wrote. “I am extremely grateful to the prestigious University of Minnesota for allowing this hometown kid to both graduate with a degree in business and marketing education and play for our incredible football team.”
Martin missed several games during the 10-2 season. He sat out the opener, serving the final leg of a two-game suspension for violating team rules that also took him out of last year's Quick Lane Bowl. He missed the final nonconference game with a foot sprain. He then sat out games against Maryland and Penn State after enduring an apparent knee injury at Rutgers on Oct. 19. He also appeared to injure himself again in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin, though he did finish the game.
Despite all that, he still came in second on the team with 66 tackles, including two interceptions, two forced fumbles, a sack and a pass break-up.
Martin is the first Gophers senior to announce he will not play Jan. 1 against Auburn in Tampa, Fla. But the Gophers have several draft prospects this year, including senior receiver Tyler Johnson, senior defensive end Carter Coughlin and fourth-year sophomore Antoine Winfield Jr. Winfield, for example, is deliberating on whether to return to the Gophers or declare for the draft with two years of eligibility remaining.
Winfield led the Gophers with 83 tackles and seven interceptions. Him potentially not playing, along with Martin, could greatly impact the Gophers defense. The linebackers, at least, have filled in for Martin before, with sophomores Mariano Sori-Marin and Braelen Oliver stepping up in the senior’s absence alongside fellow senior starter Thomas Barber.
Last season, linebacker Blake Cashman and offensive tackle Donnell Greene both decided to skip the Quick Lane Bowl to focus on the draft. That has become a common theme across college football in recent years, including already at least 10 players for this season’s bowl games, which begin Friday.
Auburn, though, recently had a player decide the opposite. Senior defensive tackle Derrick Brown, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, took to social media Friday to share his intent to play against the Gophers.