For Browns CB Martin Emerson Jr., football has always been a big part of his life. Inspired by former NFL QB Michael Vick, Emerson dreamed of playing quarterback in the NFL.
"When I was a little kid, I would play Madden and NCAA, I loved using Vick," Emerson said. "He made me honestly want to play quarterback."
Emerson liked the style of play Vick brought to the football game at the quarterback position. When he got to Pine Forest High School , his coach Jason McDonald told him he wouldn't play quarterback. Instead, he moved Emerson to play in the secondary.
"I really wanted to play quarterback," Emerson said. "During my sophomore year, Lamar Jackson went crazy, playing just like Vick. I wanted to do that, but my coach decided I was a cornerback instead."
The move worked well as Emerson received a full scholarship to play at Mississippi State, where Pro Football Focus named him third team All-SEC. In his junior year, he declared for the 2022 NFL Draft, and the Browns drafted him in the third round.
"It's a blessing to play in the NFL and to be in Cleveland where I can stay focused," Emerson said. "I live a pretty normal life now, but it wasn't always like that growing up. I am so grateful to be playing football right now."
Emerson was raised by his grandmother Delorise until he was 12 due to her passing away. Emerson's grandmother was a big part of his life as she kept his family together. He got a tattoo of her portrait on his chest over his heart.
Check out photos of the team working to prepare for the Indianapolis Colts
His birth parents were in and out of jail while he was growing up. His mother Tara Davidson lost custody of him and his brother Martel Emerson when Martin was six years old. His father Martin Emerson Sr., who also was incarcerated for part of Martin's childhood, gained custody once he got out of jail and helped raise him.
"My grandma gave me the emotional love while my father gave me tough love," Emerson said. "My dad made me into a man. He taught me to properly look someone in the eye, shake their hand, and maneuver like a man. Both of them helped me into the person I am today."
Off the field, Emerson is well-mannered, always smiling and easy-going – traits he said that he learned from his grandmother. On the field, Emerson brings the toughness and physicality his father taught him.
Emerson is a 6-foot-2, 201-pound corner who loves to play up on the line of scrimmage and be physical with the opposing team's receiver. The Browns have been playing man-to-man often this season, which fits the style Emerson likes. According to Pro Football Focus, Emerson has the lowest allowed completion percentage of any player who has been targeted at least 10 times this season, at just 28.6 percent.
Through five games, he has five pass deflections, 13 solo tackles and grabbed his first interception of his career on Sunday against the 49ers. Emerson is a big part of the overall success of the defense. He even got nicknamed "Emerson Island" by the Browns social team.
The interception made by Emerson in the third quarter, with the game tied at 10-10, was met with excitement from the entire defense. The moment was huge as it gave 49ers QB Brock Purdy his first interception of the season, which added to the thrill of the play.
"Oh, man," Emerson smiled when asked about the interception. "Just doing my job, honestly. I don't really want to try to do anything different. Just doing my job. I Just let the plays come to me."
The interception he returned for 14 yards will be a lasting memory. He decided to keep the game ball from that interception and signed it Wednesday morning. Emerson said they have a cage in the defensive room for when any of the players get a turnover, a stop on fourth down or have a big play, they put it into the cage. So, now his ball from his first interception sits in that cage. Emerson said following the season, he'll take the game ball home.
In his rookie season, Emerson had 15 pass deflections, a sack and 51 solo tackles. Through the first five games in his second season, Emerson is finding a way to have an impact defensively. HC Kevin Stefanski has taken notice of Emerson's progress and success this season.
"I think MJ is a guy (who) continues to get better because he's a young player, but has always had the right mindset," Stefanski said. "I mean, from day one, when he stepped foot on campus, he had the right mindset. And playing that position, you better have that mindset. So, he plays physical. He loves the challenge, so excited for where he is."