Iowa Football

Iowa receiver Oliver Martin returns to Michigan to face former team

Just 5 games into his Iowa career, former Iowa City West prep goes back to place he played last season

Teammates celebrate a touchdown by Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Oliver Martin (5) in the third quarter at an Iowa Hawkeyes football game with the Miami-Ohio Redhawks at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019.  (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Teammates celebrate a touchdown by Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Oliver Martin (5) in the third quarter at an Iowa Hawkeyes football game with the Miami-Ohio Redhawks at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — It didn’t get much traction Tuesday at Iowa’s weekly football media availability. No one even brought it up to Hawkeyes Coach Kirk Ferentz.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. Low-key opps here and everything.

Oliver Martin is headed back to play another game at The Big House this weekend, only he’ll be wearing black and gold instead of maize and blue. The sophomore wide receiver from Iowa City West transferred over the summer, of course, from Michigan to Iowa and was granted an appeal to play right away for the Hawkeyes.

It’s got to be a little bit awkward that his fifth game as a Hawkeye takes him back to Ann Arbor.

“I’m sure it will be a little nerve-wracking going back to a place where you formally played at,” said Iowa tight end Nate Wieiting. “But I hope that he knows that he can trust anyone on this team. That we’ve got his back, no matter what happens. No matter how the fans receive him, no matter how the fans treat him, if they boo or whatever. We are a team, and, when it comes down to it, we are going to have each other’s backs.”

For his part, Martin has consistently and politely declined to discuss why he decided to transfer. He was not made available to local media Tuesday.

He was a 4-star guy at West, part of a 2017 recruiting class at Michigan that brought in a handful of elite receivers. Martin had 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown last season and participated in the Wolverine’s 2019 spring game.

Him leaving made most people at Michigan surprised.

“Yeah, I was, kinda was,” Michigan receiver Nico Collins told Michigan reporters this week. “But you gotta make the decision best for you. Wasn’t mad, wasn’t mad about it. (He’s) just doing the best, that’s what he feels like he needed to do to chase his goal. And he made that decision. But we still support him. Not mad because he left. Just hoping for the best for him.”

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To a man, Iowa players asked Tuesday about Martin heading back to Michigan claimed they had not talked to him about it. They expressed confidence it will not affect him much, if at all.

“I don’t think he’s too focused on it,” running back Toren Young said. “He played there, obviously, and he knows some of the coaches. Those were his old teammates. So I’m pretty sure it’ll be exciting for him to go back. But, overall, I think the main focus has been right here, what we’ve got going on. Just kind of the game plan.”

“I think he’ll handle it very well,” said Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley. “That’s just the type of guy he is. I don’t think he’ll let the external situation, with the environment and the crowd, get to him at all. I think he’s a very even-keeled guy, very heady on what he wants to do and how he wants to approach it.”

Martin has not played much, yet, for Iowa. Basically the team’s fifth receiver, he goes into Saturday’s game with five receptions for 28 yards and a TD in four games, and one jet-sweep rush for five yards.

That’s not what many Iowa diehards envisioned, though immediate expectations for the kid very much were unrealistic. He is learning a new offense, and this is as deep of a receivers group that Iowa has had in years.

“We have a lot of talent in that room,” Stanley said. “Then we’ve got guys like Brandon (Smith) and Ihmir (Smith-Marsette) who have played for three years. I wouldn’t say those guys are more talented than Oliver, but their knowledge of the offense is just a little better. Obviously all of those guys can make plays, and that has shown out on the field for us.”

Perhaps the biggest role Martin can play this week is giving Iowa coaches a scouting report on certain Wolverines players. Michigan has a new offense under first-year offensive coordinator Josh Gattis that Martin had only a brief time learning and playing.

“Oliver’s knowledge of our offense grows every single day,” Stanley said. “He does a great job of learning the offense, learning what he needs to do and where he needs to be. Then, obviously, he is very talented and makes plays for us in practice. He has made plays for us out on the field as well. I think he is just continuing to make those steps every single day mentally and physically.”

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

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