Leistikow: Thoughts on Michigan's Oliver Martin entering NCAA transfer portal

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

I didn’t think I’d be writing a column about Oliver Martin in the first week of June 2019. But here we are …

The former wide receiver sensation from Iowa City West has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal. He’s leaving Michigan. From what I’m told, this isn’t a young man testing the waters. He’s done after two years in Ann Arbor.

So, what happens next?

The prevailing and understandably natural thought is that Martin is destined to come home to Iowa City. Sit out one year, then play two for the Hawkeyes.

A lot of thoughts are racing through my head. I’m certain even more are racing through Oliver’s. Let’s tackle a variety of angles.

If you read nothing else in this column, read this.

This is a time to give Martin and his family some space and consideration.

In today’s social media era, it’s easy for a few poorly worded hot takes to reflect an entire fan base. Before firing off commentary, please first try to put yourself in Martin’s shoes and how your words might be received.

(No, most of us weren’t coveted by the likes of Michigan and Notre Dame in the recruiting process. But try.) 

Oliver Martin (80) made 11 catches for 125 yards with one touchdown during his redshirt freshman season at Michigan. He played in all 13 games, with one start.

Understand that Martin is still just 20 years old. Understand that he’s still finding his way. That he believes his entry into transfer portal offers him a path to a fresh football start.

By the way, I’m working on a story for Sunday’s Register about a former Iowa high school star who transferred from a Big Ten school with two years of remaining eligibility — and it worked out beautifully. A change of scenery and finding a better fit can often recharge a player’s internal fire and bring out the best in him.

There is no good reason to trash or pester Martin. Be supportive of a young man who desires to make the best decision for his future.

Why do we care so much about Martin?

I thought about this a lot Wednesday night, after the news broke. There’s legit buzz about the mere possibility that Martin, who has 11 career college catches, will wear a Hawkeye uniform.

He’s an in-state kid. He’s an in-town kid. A kid whose recruiting profile exploded. Every time a major school offered Martin, stories were written about it. Auburn, Florida, Ohio State and UCLA wanted him, too. Martin’s recruitment almost became a reality show, in which even a nationally recognized coach jumped into a swimming pool with him as a recruiting stunt.  

And just because Martin hails from our state … a lot of us felt like he should want to be a Hawkeye.

I think there’s another lingering factor, too.

Wide receiver is THE position at Iowa that has been traditionally finicky. (If only the Hawkeyes had an elite receiver in 2015 ...)

Under Kirk Ferentz, the program has churned out great offensive linemen, great tight ends, great defensive linemen, great defensive backs … even a Doak Walker Award winner at running back and a Heisman Trophy runner-up at quarterback.

But receiver? The only Ferentz-era wideout who has caught an NFL pass is Kevin Kasper, and that was 16 years ago. And Kasper was a walk-on who pre-dated Ferentz's Iowa arrival.

The best in-state receivers usually flee for out-of-state programs. That's an unfortunate fact.

I think a lot of Hawkeye fans felt like Martin would change the narrative. After all, he’s an Iowa City guy. From the school that Reese Morgan once coached. A teammate of the son of Chris Doyle. And (at one point) a top-100 national recruit.

But once Jim Harbaugh swooped in and convinced Martin to wear maize and blue, it felt like Roy Williams and Raef LaFrentz all over again.

If Martin does choose Iowa, how would he fit?

For the record, I do think Iowa has the best shot of any FBS program to land Martin’s services. And the Hawkeyes (who only have eight scholarship receivers and zero 2020 commitments at that position) would be crazy to turn him down.

Martin played in every game for the Wolverines last fall, with one start. He’s added 15 pounds (up to 200) to his 6-foot-1 frame since setting state records at West High. There’s no doubt he would upgrade Iowa's wide-receivers room.

He would have to sit out one season, unless he somehow received a waiver to be immediately eligible. (Hey, you never know these days.)

With a full year to learn Brian Ferentz’s offense, he would enter the spring of 2020 as a tantalizing potential star.

Yes, Iowa would presumably have two senior wide receivers in Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, not to mention up-and-coming sophomores Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy Jr. But Martin should, at minimum, be well-positioned for a starting (and starring) role in 2021.

This is only my theory, so take it for what it's worth.

I see Iowa as transitioning into a pass-first offense under Brian Ferentz.

Yes, I know the narrative is that Iowa is the archaic program that still uses a fullback, still huddles up and still is determined to run the football.

But I'm looking at an ascending wide-receivers room under Kelton Copeland. You know the tight ends will always be a force in Iowa City. And the stable of backup quarterbacks is already encouraging for the future (with Peyton Mansell, Spencer Petras, Alex Padilla on campus and Deuce Hogan on the way).

Adding Martin would have the potential to inject fuel and speed into Iowa's (theoretical) offensive evolution. So, yeah ... Oliver Martin has once again become a hot recruiting topic.

And the Hawkeyes have a wonderful second chance to land him.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.