14 hours ago • By Joe Lyons jlyons@post-dispatch.com

Andre Martin grew up a Rams fan in Ferguson. Not far away, in Florissant, Robert Steeples did the same.

And, for now at least, these 23-year-old cornerbacks with similar stories are seeking to make the most of an opportunity at Rams rookie minicamp, which opened Friday and wraps up this afternoon.

“It’s a blessing,’’ Steeples said. “They say God never throws more at you than you can handle. ... It comes down to time and chance. I’m big into my Bible ... the way stuff has been falling into place for me is kind of like a dream. At the same time, I’m going to pray for it and then I’m going to work and go get it.’’

Martin added: “It’s just home. I feel comfortable coming back and having an opportunity to compete and play at this level, a high level. Just looking for a chance to showcase my talents.’’

Steeples, who starred at De Smet, signed a free-agent contract with the Rams shortly after the NFL draft late last month.

Martin, a McCluer product, is one of 27 players in camp for tryouts, hoping to catch the eye of the Rams’ coaching staff for a contact.

“Football is football, you know, the ball gets a little bigger and play on a different day, but it’s still football,’’ he said. “You just have to keep working. You just have to learn what they’re trying to teach us and showcase your ability.

“I feel I should’ve been drafted. I’m good; I’m pretty good. God puts you in situations for a reason, so this is the route he wanted me to go.’’

Road to a title

After a stellar career at McCluer, Martin played three seasons at Northern Iowa. He started in 2009 and 2010, coming up with seven interceptions.

Injuries and a coaching change limited Martin to just one start in 2011. So, after earning a degree in in gerontology (“the study of old people, basically,’’ he explained), he transferred to North Dakota State University.

“The coach that recruited me, he left for (North Dakota State) a year earlier and I wanted to finish out with him,’’ Martin said. “I had learned so much from Chris Klieman, just a great coach.’’

Healthy and reunited with Klieman, Martin started 13 games, led the team with six pass breakups and came up with his lone interception in the fourth quarter of the Bisons’ 39-13 win over Sam Houston State in the Division I FCS national championship game.

Following Friday’s workout, Martin was sporting a championship hat and even treated reporters to a glimpse of an impressive championship ring.

Although just minutes from home, Martin does not expect to visit with family and friends this weekend.

“They know this is a business trip for me,’’ he said.

Martin, a 5-foot-11, 195-pounder, played both cornerback and safety in college. He describes himself as an “aggressive corner’’ but is open to playing anywhere.

“I prefer to play football,’’ he said. “I just want to play football.’’

Steeples transfers, too

Like Martin, Steeples spent four years and three seasons at one school (Missouri) before wrapping up his career at another (Memphis).

“I just felt like I had something more to offer than what Mizzou was trying to utilize,’’ said Steeples, who played in the nickel and dime packages for the Tigers. “Barry Odom, he’s like family to me, and he ended up getting hired as defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis from Mizzou. And (cornerbacks coach) Chris Vaughn and (defensive line coach) Tim Billings both recruited me out of high school.

“I only had four scholarship offers coming out high school and three of the coaches who recruited me were at Memphis. So I ended up there and it worked out great.’’

He was able to transfer and play right away because he graduated from Mizzou with a degree.

“Business management. Graduated with a 3.0-plus; I’m always proud of that,’’ he said.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Steeples played in 12 games and started 10 in Memphis. He finished with 42 tackles, six pass defenses and three fumble recoveries, one of which he returned 27 yards for a touchdown against Central Florida.

When the draft came and went with no calls, Steeples opted for the Rams.

“I talked to my agent and we did our homework and ranked about 15 teams and the Rams were No. 1,’’ he said. “After the draft, we fielded a bunch of calls, so when No. 1 offers what you want and it just so happens they’re in your backyard....’’

Being a hometown player has its advantages, Steeples said.

“My parents actually moved out to O’Fallon (Mo.), so (on Wednesday) I said my last good-byes, gave them a hug and a kiss and drove 20 minutes to work,’’ he kidded.