Leistikow: Iowa football welcomes Oliver Martin, and both parties are thrilled

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Oliver Martin was feeling like a college freshman again Monday.

Except that this time, it was as a newcomer at the University of Iowa.

Martin, who started his college football career at Michigan, plans to finish it at Iowa. He was among the 37 new players, mostly freshmen, that Hawkeye football coaches introduced to the team Monday night.

“He let us know that he’d be interested in coming here. We were thrilled about that," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz told the Register on Tuesday in an interview that will air in full on Wednesday's 5 p.m. Hawk Central radio show on KxNO (1460 AM) in Des Moines. "We think very highly of him. I think he’ll be a really good addition to our football team. Obviously, he’s a good athlete, but a quality young person as well.”

Yes, the coveted wide receiver is officially part of the Iowa football program.

Oliver Martin caught 11 passes, including this touchdown pass from Shea Patterson at Rutgers, as a Michigan freshman in 2018. Now at Iowa, he hopes to get an NCAA waiver to be eligible for the 2019 season.

It was certainly a (belated) welcoming party in many ways for a young man who was once one of the hottest football recruits of the last decade in our state.

Forget the idea that there is any bad blood at Iowa just because Martin, 2½ years ago during his initial recruitment, spurned his hometown Big Ten Conference school for another. Martin quickly had those apprehensions washed away in conversations with influential Iowa coaches. Once that air was cleared, Martin was ready and willing to wear the black and gold.

Rob Howe of HawkeyeNation.com, a respected colleague and competitor on the Iowa beat, was the first to report Martin’s intention to be a Hawkeye. He also reported that Ohio State and Notre Dame (among others) reached out to Martin upon his entry to the NCAA's transfer portal. Those schools wanted Martin out of high school, where he was a record-setting wideout for the Trojans, and they still want him today.

That should tell you something about Martin's allure and talent.

But this time, overtures from college-football heavyweights were pointless. There was little doubt in Martin’s mind: Once he decided to leave Michigan, home was where his heart was.

Maybe in time, he concluded that — even while playing 13 games (and starting one) as a redshirt freshman — Michigan wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.

Maybe in time, we’ll learn what truly led to Martin’s decision to leave Ann Arbor.

It’s hard to say when Martin, a highly private 20-year-old despite the publicity his recruitment received, will conduct interviews or if he'll ever open up about that.

But for now, what’s important is that Martin is happy to be a Hawkeye.

And the Hawkeyes are happy to have him.

This could mark a significant day for Iowa football, which has historically struggled to land big-time receivers. Martin carried that four-star label out of high school and dabbled in top-100 national lists at the time. You'd have to think he’s light years ahead of any incoming freshman Iowa could have grabbed after spending two years at one of college football’s blue bloods.

You never know in recruiting. But with Martin, there’s at least some history (11 catches, 125 yards and a touchdown as a freshman) to suggest that this could be the beginning of a productive relationship.

As I opined last week, Iowa has some extremely talented (albeit raw) quarterbacks coming up the ranks behind senior Nate Stanley. And now Martin is part of the futures of Peyton Mansell, Spencer Petras, Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan. This is an exciting addition for them, too.

What’s especially notable about Martin’s desire to become a Hawkeye is that he knew, by making this choice, he could very well lose his 2019 eligibility because of the NCAA’s transfer rules.

However, he also has a chance to be playing in Iowa's Aug. 31 opener against Miami of Ohio.

Iowa will apply for a waiver for Martin to be immediately eligible. An argument could be made that, because Michigan changed offensive coordinators, Martin should get some leniency from the NCAA.

After all, Ferentz has long been miffed that the NCAA didn't grant Drew Ott a hardship waiver, but that it did give a Nebraska quarterback an extra year of eligibility because his previous school changed systems.

Or maybe Martin can articulate another reason for hardship that pushed him closer to home that we don’t yet know about.

Maybe Ferentz will finally get one back from the NCAA.

If Martin gets a waiver, he would have three years of remaining eligibility in Iowa City.

If he doesn’t, he’ll still be available for Iowa's 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Either way, it’s a premier acquisition.

At Iowa, Martin could fit at any of its three receiver positions. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz looks for versatility in his wideouts, and Martin’s size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), speed and experience certainly helps there.

Martin can start training with the Hawkeyes immediately, as he is enrolled in classes.

I can assure you with certainty that Martin was itching to get started.

And as far as Iowa is concerned, the feeling is mutual.

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.