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Ihmir Smith-Marsette happy to be embraced by his Hawkeye teammates after arrest

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Ihmir Smith-Marsette wondered if he’d ever play football for Iowa again in the hours after his Nov. 1 arrest for driving while intoxicated.

One month later, Smith-Marsette spoke to reporters for the first time about the incident, relieved that he has been embraced by his teammates and coaches and adamant that he will not repeat the mistake he made.

“I was thinking, ‘My football career is probably done,’” the senior wide receiver said of his initial reaction to his arrest.

Smith-Marsette spoke to coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland. He said they each reassured him that they weren’t giving up on him, as long as he showed that he had learned from his actions. Kirk Ferentz told Smith-Marsette he would be suspended for the next game, vs. Michigan State, but could reclaim his spot as a starting wide receiver and kickoff returner after that.

More:Iowa WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette arrested for operating while intoxicated after Northwestern loss

Smith-Marsette was pulled over for driving 74 mph in a 30 mph zone at 1:30 a.m. Nov. 1, hours after Iowa fell to 0-2 on the season with a 21-20 home loss to Northwestern. His blood-alcohol level was 0.13%. He was charged with OWI, a serious misdemeanor, and speeding. Smith-Marsette has hired attorney Matthew Petrzelka of Cedar Rapids to represent him, and his next court appearance has not yet been scheduled.

Iowa receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette signals first down after pulling down a reception in the first quarter against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

“After that happened, I just felt down. I felt like I let the whole team down, the coaching staff,” Smith-Marsette said.

Instead, his coaches told him: “They still support me no matter what. We’ve just got to put this behind us. Mistakes happen. And as long as it’s a mistake and not something that you do again — which I won’t be doing again, trust me — as long as it’s a mistake and you own up to it, it will fly by.”

Smith-Marsette spent that week on the practice squad. He said he worked hard to regain the trust of his teammates.

“I’m here to do anything I can to show you all that I’m with you all 100%,” Smith-Marsette said he told them.

An example of that came Friday, when Nebraska was determined not to let Smith-Marsette return a kickoff. The Cornhuskers kept kicking off short and away from Smith-Marsette, who is the leading kick returner in Big Ten Conference history with a 29.3-yard average.

“We knew going into the game it would be something that they would consider doing,” said Smith-Marsette who returned a kickoff for a touchdown last year against Nebraska.

“(But) field position was immaculate for the offense. All I had to do was be a team guy and go out there and block for Ivory (Kelly-Martin).”

Earlier:Iowa's Ihmir Smith-Marsette turns Holiday Bowl into his personal playground

Smith-Marsette has been able to return only five kickoffs all season, for a 24.6-yard average.

Iowa senior receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette breaks Northwestern tackles en route to a first down in the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

Likewise, he has been limited as a receiver, with only 14 catches for 173 yards and one touchdown. He scored 10 times last year to lead the Hawkeyes.

But Iowa (4-2) is heading into a 2:30 p.m. Saturday game at Illinois (2-3) that should give Smith-Marsette some happy memories. He had a career-high 121 receiving yards in last year’s 19-10 win over the Illini.

Smith-Marsette insisted that defenses aren’t concentrating on taking away deep passes in his direction. He’s ready whenever Brian Ferentz wants to try one. Instead, he said his reduced impact as a receiver is because Iowa’s rushing game is working so well. The Hawkeyes have scored 16 touchdowns on the ground.

“The run game is at a high point right now, so that’s what we focus on, getting the ball out in the running backs’ hands,” Smith-Marsette said. “Why shy away from something that’s working?

“When the deep ball comes, it’s going to come. Until then, you work with what’s working.”

Brandon Smith, another senior wide receiver, echoed those thoughts. He has 15 catches for 143 yards and leads Iowa with two receiving touchdowns. Those statistics are a testament to how much the offense is geared toward the run.

“The typical receiver stats are catches and touchdowns and everything. But something that will be overlooked sometimes is the blocking aspect of the game,” Smith said.

“And I do take pride in springing the running back for explosive runs.”

Smith said he does believe that opposing defenses are focusing on stopping Iowa’s pass game, well aware of the fact that the Hawkeyes boast four experienced wide receivers with varied skill sets.

Neither senior receiver pointed to first-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras as a reason that the passing game is taking a back seat, although that certainly has to be a factor. Brian Ferentz has been more cautious with his game plans after Iowa’s 0-2 start, which included a three-interception outing against Northwestern.

Smith-Marsette had three catches for 44 yards against Nebraska. His longest gain was 16 yards, and he fumbled the football at the end of that play. It bounced out of bounds before Nebraska could recover it. The Hawkeyes got a field goal on that second-quarter drive.

But Smith-Marsette felt he had to defend himself on Twitter after former Hawkeye Tyler Kluver called him out for what he said were ongoing issues with ball security.

“Be happy we just won our 6th straight year” against Nebraska, Smith-Marsette replied to Kluver, who has since deleted his original tweet.

Smith-Marsette said Tuesday he agreed that he needs to concentrate more on protecting the football. He said he only responded because the criticism came from a former teammate.

“I feel as though I didn’t turn the ball over. That’s something I’m going to fix,” Smith-Marsette said.

“He can talk about it all he wants. He’s not in the building. He’s done.”

Smith-Marsette is happy that he is not yet done as a Hawkeye. He stopped short of guaranteeing that he would be on the receiving end of a long pass soon. But you know he’s working to make that happen, and he’s shown that he can help generate big plays against Illinois.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.