IOWA CITY — It was not a bad thing when Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz gently chided wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette this spring about his phone.
It maybe was a bit pointed, but it was miles from an ultimatum or anything serious.
“Whether it’s when he’s in the player lounge, maybe getting off the phone a little bit more and, you know, maybe walk across the hall and watch film, those types of things,” Ferentz said.
Later, Ferentz said Smith-Marsette heard from some of family on that one.
Grandma called. She wasn’t having this.
“She’s a big factor in my life, I love her to death,” Smith-Marsette said Friday at Iowa’s media day. “She was the first person to tell me, ‘What do I hear about your phone?’ I tried to tell her it was a joke, but she’s kind of old school, so she didn’t want to hear the joke part.
“She always tells me to stay focused and give it all you’ve got. She texts me that all of the time. I actually take that in. It actually was a joking matter with the phone.”
The phone thing was an entry point for Ferentz in discussing Smith-Marsette, a true sophomore from Newark, N.J.
“Ihmir is a real football junkie. He’s a football guy. He likes football,” Ferentz said. “That’s a good thing. Maybe it will suck him in the way we want.”
It absolutely has.
“I love the game of football, whatever it is, it could be arena football,” Smith-Marsette said. “I just love to be in the vicinity of football.”
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As a true freshman last year, Smith-Marsette caught 18 passes for 187 yards and two scores. Both of the TDs came in week 2 at Iowa State. The first one was a spectacular catch. Like one for the ages. The second won the game in overtime.
“There is something about Ihmir, a little spirit that we like ... he has a little spunk to him, a little spunk, a little personality, seemed like the kind of guy who could shake that (fumbling the first touch of his career) off,” Ferentz said last season.
Smith-Marsette did fumble his first career touch last season. Fellow Newark native and fellow Weequahic High School grad and former Iowa running back Akrum Wadley had his back on that. Wadley fought through fumble problems early in his career and is now fighting for a roster spot with the Tennessee Titans.
“He told me he’d been there and done that,” Smith-Marsette said. “It’s not somewhere you want to be, but we definitely worked through that and bounced back. From a person who had been there and done that and from the same place, I definitely needed to hear that. He knew what it was like to be down.”
Smith-Marsette showed enough last season for coaches to keep him engaged even when things didn’t go his way. He had a ball bounce off his face mask and go for an interception against Minnesota. He had a failed kick return in the first half at Nebraska that put the Hawkeyes in field position trouble.
But then in the second half at Nebraska, Smith-Marstte returned the opening kick 74 yards. Iowa scored and that ignited a 28-point third quarter that put away the Huskers.
The ups and downs weren’t easy. Coaches helped Smith-Marsette with that.
“Coach Ferentz jokes around with me a lot,” Smith-Marsette said. “My personality is always joking. Coach Ferentz and I are pretty cool.”
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