MORGANTOWN, W.Va – West Virginia has housed one of the toughest defensive lines in the Big 12 Conference for several seasons. The unit’s experience put it in the top tier of the league consistently.

Over the years, that’s the position group that featured the most veteran players on the defensive side of the ball for the Mountaineers, but that won’t quite be the case in 2023.

After five seasons, Dante Stills, the program’s leader in career tackles for loss, is pursuing his NFL career, while Jordan Jefferson and Taijh Alston transferred out of the program in the offseason. They both were in Morgantown for four years.

With those departures, Sean Martin is the only returning defensive lineman with starting experience in Jordan Lesley’s system.

“I’m the leader of the d-line now, so I have to lead by example and make sure everybody is doing the right things,” Martin said.

The Bluefield, West Virginia, native added depth on the line for his first two seasons at WVU.

In 2022, he began the season in a backup role and quickly battled his way to the front of the rotation. He started the final eight games of the season at defensive tackle.

“Sean’s biggest growth is his consistency,” defensive line coach Andrew Jackson said. “He’s not going to be a guy that says a whole lot, but I think that he’s taken a major step from beating a guy out and earning a role to being a guy who we can rely on to make plays every series.”

He led his position group in total tackles with 34. He was second on the team in sacks (4) and third in TFLs (8). He had a career night vs. Baylor with six tackles, including a sack and 1.5 TFLs to go along with a forced fumble.

As Martin takes over Stills’ role as the leader upfront, he isn’t putting pressure on himself to try to be the next Dante, especially when it comes to leadership style.

Martin is a quiet guy who prefers to let his skills do the talking on the field, but he did spend the past three seasons absorbing everything he could from Stills to prepare himself for this moment.

“I just learned how he plays his gap and his technique. He works hard and now I just have to try and follow in his footsteps,” Martin said.

The West Virginia native has big shoes to fill as the defensive lineman with the most experience. He’s up for the challenge and his position coach has no doubt he’ll rise to the occasion in the fall.

“I expect Sean to take off and be an all-conference player. I expect him to close off one side of the field,” Jackson said. “I’m not necessarily going to put pressure on him to be one of the next Stills brothers, but I think he should be a playmaker for us.”