IOWA CITY — No one knows with certainty how Oliver Martin’s career story will play out with the Iowa football team, but the first few chapters indicate it could be one of the more-interesting tales the program has published.
The CliffsNotes are well-known in these parts. Martin put up the kind of yardage and touchdowns numbers at Iowa City West that normally are reserved for the best receivers in 8-player prep football. Then, he became resented by many here when he spurned the Hawkeyes in favor of Jim Harbaugh and Michigan.
After two years in Ann Arbor — a redshirt season and last year, when he caught 11 passes — he entered the transfer portal in June, quickly joined the Hawkeyes, got his waiver to play this year from the NCAA just days before this season began, and caught a touchdown pass Saturday night in a win over Miami (Ohio).
It kind of makes you want to turn the page and see what’s next, does it not?
Now, everyone loves Martin within the 2.2 miles of Melrose Avenue from the Nile Kinnick statue to West High, and on all other streets in Hawkeyeland.
His hasn’t been the standard route to finding a Kinnick end zone with the football on a Saturday night. All the recruiting backstory aside, it’s hard enough joining a major-college team in June and entering a game that counts in August when your team holds a third-quarter lead of just 10-7.
Martin scored the first time he was targeted by Nate Stanley. It was 9 yards, it was a perfect pass, it was Martin getting behind Miami defender Zedrick Raymond and clutching the ball in the left corner of the end zone.
That’s called making an entrance. More impressively, perhaps, is that Martin put himself in a position to contribute so quickly.
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“You can have all the talent in the world,” he said after the game, “but you’ve got to know the playbook to go in.”
The difference between him and a first-year freshman with skills is he’s had two years of living the major-college receiver’s life. That doesn’t mean it’s a snap to go from one offense to another.
Martin learned Harbaugh’s offense. Then Harbaugh hired Josh Gattis to be his offensive coordinator in January, and Martin learned Gattis’ up-tempo, spread offense. Then Martin got to Iowa in June and needed a crash course in Brian Ferentz’s offense.
“Being at Michigan, I feel like I learned how to learn offenses,” Martin said. “That made it easier for me here.”
Easier, not easy.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “I knew it would be a challenge here, so I just kind of had to have a mindset where I had to pick it up fast. I just had to be focused on what I wanted to do here.
“I wanted to be able to play this season. That required a lot of time learning the playbook, a lot of time being around the players, developing relationships.”
It’s funny how fast things change on football teams. Last season, Iowa had the best pair of college pass-catching tight ends in the last 13.8 billion years. The wide receivers were the supporting cast. Now, we’re talking wideouts, wideouts, wideouts.
Brandon Smith, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Nico Ragaini, Tyrone Tracy and Martin all had their moments Saturday.
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“I think we can be really good,” said Martin. “We’ve got a lot of talent and everyone has kind of different traits, and we have a lot of depth as well.
“We can spread it out and attack defenses in different ways. The versatility is a strength of our receiving room.”
Martin may be the most versatile in the room of versatility.
“He can pretty much play all the receiver positions,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday. “So he’s picked it up really quickly. Not everybody can do that.”
Martin’s saga has already been quite a story. The drama has finally moved between the sidelines, and he’s happier about it than anyone.
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