Oliver Martin has storybook debut for Iowa
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The word finally came from the Kinnick Stadium press box to the Iowa sideline in the third quarter Saturday: Oliver Martin was going in as the “Z” receiver.
The moment Hawkeye fans had been clamoring for all summer had arrived. The local boy wearing No. 5 jogged onto the field in his black and gold uniform.
The first play was a 16-yard rush by Ihmir Smith-Marsette. That put the Hawkeyes at the 9-yard line, holding an uninspired 10-7 lead on Miami (Ohio).
Martin lined up on the left end of the formation on Iowa’s next play. He noticed Miami defensive back Zedrick Raymond pressed up tight, and knew that meant man-to-man coverage. Martin’s assignment was to run a fade route. He was not the first option on that play but sensed that he might become just that.
Quarterback Nate Stanley glanced at Martin, and they both knew it was go time.
Martin beat Raymond clean off the line of scrimmage and looked up into the night sky, aware that Stanley would be releasing the football in a hurry. Sure enough, it was hanging over Martin’s head. He turned, backpedaled, made one short hop and brought it in.
Oliver Martin fever has been burning up the Hawkeye fan base for three months. In the blink of an eye, the sophomore wide receiver escalated it.
One target. One touchdown.
“Overwhelming energy, emotion when I caught it,” Martin told a crowd of reporters afterward. “It was just a special moment.”
Martin had one more catch Saturday, a short pass that he turned into a 5-yard gain, showing off a mean stiff-arm in the process.
Iowa didn’t need any more from him in a 38-14 rout of the RedHawks. But fans will surely get to see much more of Martin as the season unfolds.
For one thing, he’s already shown he’s capable of playing all three receiver spots. That has impressed coach Kirk Ferentz and Stanley alike.
Martin didn’t arrive until June after transferring from Michigan. Then there was the long wait while the Martin family lawyers, Iowa’s compliance office, the NCAA and Big Ten Conference all hashed out whether he’d be eligible to play for the Hawkeyes this season or have to sit out one year.
A four-star recruit out of Iowa City West, Martin was nervously watching the calendar along with most of the Iowa fan base.
“That was some anxiety towards that. The season was getting closer and closer and I still didn’t know if I was going to be eligible or not,” Martin said. “But I knew it was out of my hands.”
The word finally came Wednesday. Martin was good to go.
And then he waited some more. Martin said he knew he was part of the game plan this week, but wasn’t sure when he’d be called on.
“I was confident in myself if I got in the game I could make a play. I was just waiting for my moment, waiting for my opportunity,” he said. “And when I went in, I did my best to take advantage of it.”
Stanley, who threw three touchdown passes, said Martin brings an extra dimension to the offense.
“The playmaking ability. You see it. He comes in and makes a big impact right away,” Stanley said. “He’s a very consistent player, very cerebral player. Especially to come in this summer and have our offense down.”
Martin said that was possible because it’s similar to the one he first learned at Michigan. The Wolverines changed their scheme this spring. Martin is a Hawkeye now.
“I got to play in front of a community that I grew up in front of, and that was really special,” Martin said. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to come back.”
Martin said he hadn’t thought about scoring a touchdown in his Hawkeye debut, let alone on the first pass that came his way. But his pulse started racing a little when the play call came in and he saw the Miami defensive alignment.
“That’s what I work all the time to do is score touchdowns and catch passes, make explosive plays,” he said. “So to be able to do that on my first play was what I wanted.”
Martin’s celebration was somewhat subdued. He is not excitable by nature. His teammates seemed more amped up than he was.
Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was one of them. He raced to the end zone to pat Martin on the helmet.
“I was going crazy. I was excited for him,” Wirfs said.
“It’s like something out of a movie almost.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
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