Sydnee Martin, a senior volleyball player, was celebrating with the rest of her teammates on Friday, Sept. 21, after winning a victory over South Alabama in the team’s home opener at the Jack Stephens Center. Just before the game, Martin received a call from her boyfriend of six years, Jacob Bland, telling her that he was sorry he had to miss her game and that he would see her in a few weeks.
After the game, the Trojan mascot was there spreading cheer among the players, coaches, and fans, so the seniors on the team spontaneously decided to take a group picture with Sporticus. Then, someone suggested that all the seniors take individual pictures with the mascot, and that’s when things started to get weird for Martin. It turns out the pictures weren’t so spontaneous after all. The move was actually engineered by two of Martin’s teammates and friends, Veronica Marin and Taylor Lindberg, who were in on the surprise.
“We took a group picture, and then they said we are taking individual pictures. Veronica went first, and then I went,” Martin said. “It was funny because he got down on one knee and patted his knee to sit on it. I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’ After I shook my head no that I would not sit on his knee, I ended up doing it anyways for a picture. After I stood up, he motioned for me to turn around. I turned around, and I didn’t understand what was going on. Then Taylor started yelling to close my eyes. Why do I need to close my eyes? I hear the crowd start freaking out, and then it clicked for me that I knew what was going on.”
When Martin turned around, Bland, 22, of Tampa, Florida, was down on one knee, grinning ear to ear, holding an engagement ring.
“I really didn’t believe it,” Martin said. “I had no idea he was coming. I freaked out and backed away. At first, I didn’t see the ring. I just saw him, and then I saw the ring. He didn’t say anything. I just nodded my head yes.”
Bland said the secret proposal required a lot of planning. He enlisted the help of Martin’s teammates, who helped him get permission to dress up as the mascot. He also enlisted the help of two other friends to surprise Martin and record the proposal.
“I did a lot to roil her up in a sense,” Bland said. “I texted her before the game and told her good luck and to have fun with your first home game of the season. I had two of our friends from high school, one came from Texas and one came from Arizona, to help take pictures. She didn’t know they were coming, so that was a nice surprise for her as well. The biggest thing was making sure she didn’t know I was going to be there.”
Martin and Bland are planning a summer wedding in California, near their hometown of Mission Viejo. They met when Bland transferred to Martin’s school in third grade. Martin, who was in second grade at the time, became good friends with Bland’s little sister. The two were high school sweethearts and started dating when Martin was a sophomore and Bland a junior. Five out of six years of their romantic relationship has been long distance, with Bland attending college at Grand Canyon University in Arizona, where he graduated last December with a bachelor’s degree in sports management, and Martin at UA Little Rock.
“When the volleyball coaches recruited me, they asked me to come for a visit,” Martin said. “I stepped on the campus and fell in love with the place, and I knew it was where I was supposed to be. I’ve been a student-athlete all my life, and I love it.”
Martin will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in math and a minor in secondary education. After her wedding, Martin plans to move to Florida with Bland and work as a math teacher and volleyball coach.
Martin also said that the surprise proposal allowed Bland to fulfill a long-held desire to serve as a mascot.
“He had no previous experience as a mascot, but I know he always wanted to be one,” Martin said. “He had a lot of fun being Trojan Man, and everybody told him he did a really good job, which doesn’t surprise me because Jacob has that personality.”
At Grand Canyon University, Bland always wished that he could audition to be the school’s mascot, Thunder the Antelope. However, Bland was disheartened when he found out he did not meet the height and weight requirements to be the mascot. He got his chance at UA Little Rock.
“I’m a guy who likes to have a lot of fun and have a lot of school spirit, so this was a good opportunity for that,” Bland said. “Being the mascot was a lot of fun. There were times where I had a couple of wardrobe malfunctions, but it was fun just being able to walk around and interact without them knowing who I was. I’ve never seen a proposal like this before. I knew it would be special for Sydnee, and it would be something she would never forget. I am super excited that I can make this journey with her and see what we have in store for us in the months and years ahead.”