Iowa Football

Fully healthy Ivory Kelly-Martin should be a boon for Iowa football

Sophomore running back returned to lineup 2 weeks ago, used bye week to continue to heal

Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Ryan Connelly (43) trips up Iowa Hawkeyes running back Ivory Kelly-Martin (21) for a loss of four yards on a third down in the third quarter of their game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Ryan Connelly (43) trips up Iowa Hawkeyes running back Ivory Kelly-Martin (21) for a loss of four yards on a third down in the third quarter of their game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — He won the open competition with a strong spring and solid camp. Then Ivory Kelly-Martin got hurt.

In his first game as a starter. There’s not much worse than that.

“I’m sure that everyone that has ever received an injury definitely feels much frustration,” Iowa’s sophomore running back said. “Because there is a lot of work we put into this. Just for us to come back another day and put in that extra work, it’s all a blessing. I’m glad to be healthy now and getting back into the flow of things.”

Kelly-Martin missed two games with a bad ankle but returned to start two weeks ago against Wisconsin. It was a strong re-debut, as he rushed for a team-high 72 yards on 14 carries.

Iowa’s plan still is to employ a three-headed monster at running back. Toren Young is the bull, Mekhi Sargent the small, quick guy.

Kelly-Martin is a combination of both, and, if he’s fully good to go, as he insists he is, the Hawkeyes’ offense is more dangerous. Iowa plays Saturday afternoon at Minnesota in a battle of 3-1 teams, 0-1 in the Big Ten Conference.

“Ivory is kind of more well rounded,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “Can’t run with the same power that Toren does. But there’s a spot for all three of the guys. We’re pleased with all three of them as well.”

“Definitely an all-around running back,” Kelly-Martin said, when asked to describe himself. “That’s what I’ve been trying to put my game on. Being able to be physical and hit a hole extremely fast. Have a really strong burst. And also be effective in the passing game as much as I can.”

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Iowa has not employed its backs much in the passing game to this point in the season. Fullback Brady Ross actually leads the way with three catches, Sargent has two and Kelly-Martin and Young one each.

If Kelly-Martin has anything to say about it, that will change moving forward. He considers himself a versatile guy who can give Iowa a pass-catching presence, a la Akrum Wadley.

The Plainfield, Ill., native was asked if he sees himself as a Matt Forte type. He had a successful career in the NFL, mostly with the Chicago Bears.

“Yeah, I’d say Matt Forte,” he agreed. “Definitely one of my favorite running backs is Marshall Faulk. That’s probably who I model my playing style (after) the most.”

Last week’s bye came at a perfect time for Kelly-Martin, who was able to get an extra week of healing for his ankle. Iowa allowed him and other veteran players an extra day off during the bye, with everyone receiving last weekend off.

“Most of us starters definitely got enough work in to keep the ball rolling,” he said. “But definitely we were able to rest a little bit. Take a little bit of the load off throughout the week and have a few days off.

“The biggest thing is just doing everything you can to recover. When you’re on the field, you’re going to try and play lights out every single play. The biggest thing is once the game is over, you want to get your rest, you want to get your food in. Heal your body as much as you can. Get in the trainer’s room ... in order to get ready for the next game.”

Kelly-Martin said he spent his injury time watching a lot of film and helping out his fellow running backs as best he could, giving them his observations from the sideline. He likely wasn’t overly vociferous, as he is very soft spoken in an interview setting.

Apparently away from interview settings as well, according to his coach.

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“I just thought about it, they might be the quietest group I’ve ever seen,” Ferentz said. “They don’t talk, at least in front of me very much. They’re quiet guys that work hard and really do a good job out there. They’re really good. And (Ivory) is feeling better. too. That week off came at a good time for him.”

“We’ve been coming together as a whole, entire team,” Kelly-Martin said. “Last week, we were all contributing as much as we could. For all three of us, I definitely see a lot more. That’s one of our biggest goals almost every single game, to establish the run game as early as we can and as often as we can. We’re going to continue to do that. That’s just the Iowa way.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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