Leistikow's 5 Citrus Bowl thoughts: On Ivory Kelly-Martin's opportunity, Kaevon Merriweather's Iowa media award
IOWA CITY — Fifth-year senior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin hasn’t received a carry in any of Iowa’s past five games. But he’s on track to get the first one in the Hawkeyes’ Jan. 1 Vrbo Citrus Bowl matchup against Kentucky.
Through a combination of Tyler Goodson’s early departure to the NFL and getting healthier, Kelly-Martin has gone from off Iowa’s depth chart to the top line.
For a Hawkeye that has faced so much adversity over the course of his career — including various injuries, losing his starting job and fumbling issues — it would be quite a story to see Kelly-Martin shine in the Sunshine State.
“When T-Good decided he was leaving, it really opened up the windows for me,” Kelly-Martin said Thursday at the Iowa Football Performance Center, just three days before the team flies to Orlando to prepare on-site for a battle between the 10-3 Hawkeyes and 9-3 Wildcats. “All season, I’ve been able to have the ability to shine like I know I can. It’s just (that) the opportunities have been small.”
Kelly-Martin’s most recent carry — the only one he received Oct. 30 at Wisconsin — was forgettable. He fumbled the handoff exchange, and the Badgers recovered at Iowa’s 1-yard line in what became a one-sided Hawkeye loss. Kelly-Martin hasn’t played at running back since, with Gavin Williams getting all the No. 2 reps behind Goodson. Kelly-Martin dealt with turf toe for much of November and missed three games and was relegated to special teams for the other two.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz’s decision to put Kelly-Martin at No. 1 is an example of the trust Iowa coaches have in a guy that is a world-class teammate. At the same time, Ferentz did say Thursday that Kelly-Martin and Gavin and Leshon Williams would see action in the Citrus Bowl. (On Leshon, Ferentz said, “He really caught my eye in the spring, and I think he’s ready to play good football.”)
Kelly-Martin was a Hawkeye starter in 2018. He has played in five different seasons for the Hawkeyes and rushed for 792 career yards. He would have the option to return for a sixth season by using a year of eligibility afforded by COVID-19, but his mentality is that this will be his final game.
“I know I have the ability,” Kelly-Martin said. “I’m just excited I have the opportunity now.”
What’s extra special about this chance for Kelly-Martin, who is a Chicago-area native: His parents, Jamar and Idaly, moved to Orlando about a year ago. They live 15 minutes from Camping World Stadium and will get to see their son play, probably for the last time in black and gold. Kelly-Martin praised his father for helping to encourage him to stick it out at Iowa, even through a lot of adversity.
His teammates will be cheering for him, too.
“If he’s having a good game, that means we’re probably running the ball pretty well,” consensus all-American center Tyler Linderbaum said. “If we can have a special day for 'Ivo,' send him out on a good note, that’d be awesome.”
No quarterback decision yet, but …
Spencer Petras, who left the Big Ten Conference championship game with an unspecified midsection injury, has returned to practice.
“He looks really good out there,” Ferentz said Thursday.
Ferentz said he would decide next week whether Petras or Alex Padilla would start the Citrus Bowl. Padilla led Iowa to three wins when Petras was sidelined in November but returned to relief in the 42-3 loss to Michigan and went just 10-for-15 for 38 yards after Petras got hurt again.
Teammates confirmed that Petras and Padilla have been getting first-team reps in practice; Ferentz said freshman Joey Labas has gotten some time with the No. 2 unit when Petras was recovering.
Media members will get a peek inside Iowa’s Dec. 28 practice in Orlando and talk to Ferentz again then. Stay tuned.
Kaevon Merriweather a deserving winner of Duke Slater-inspired award.
Merriweather, a junior safety for the Hawkeyes, was presented Wednesday with the Duke Slater Golden Gavel Award. The award was created by media members this year (and approved by Ferentz) as a way to honor Slater’s legacy as a football player and renowned judge. The former Hawkeye was a charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame, a recent inductee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the first African-American elected to the Cook County Superior Court in Chicago.
By its description, the Golden Gavel will be given annually “to the Iowa football player who not only is most cooperative with local media but exhibits themself with professional integrity in all interactions."
I was fortunate to be on hand to help present Merriweather the honor, but The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman deserves the most credit for spear-heading the media movement. Dochterman gave a terrific speech and revealed the winner at the team’s Wednesday-night meeting. Merriweather said he was confused about the new award at first, then saw UI photographer Brian Ray pointing his camera toward him as Dochterman spoke.
“He was taking pictures, and he was looking at me. And that was kind of interesting,” Merriweather said. “And as he said ‘Kaevon’, that’s kind of crazy, that’s kind of amazing. I’m definitely thankful for the award.”
Merriweather received more than 75% of the final votes from media that regularly cover the team. He was one of the most outspoken players following the program’s racial-bias outcry in June 2020 and helped unify the team through that turbulent time. Whenever he meets the media, he delivers genuine answers with kindness and a big smile.
Look for Riley Moss and Jermari Harris to start at cornerback again.
Though Ferentz did say cornerback Terry Roberts had his best day of practice in a long time Thursday. Roberts has been dealing with a bone bruise suffered Oct. 16 against Purdue and missed five games before playing on special teams against Michigan.
As for Moss, he met with the media for the first time since he was named the Big Ten’s defensive back of the year.
“I just came in, went to work and bought into what coach (Phil) Parker was teaching and saying,” the former two-star recruit from Ankeny Centennial who now has 10 interceptions said, “and look where I ended up.”
Moss won this year’s honor despite missing 3½ games with a knee injury. The good news for Iowa: Moss said his knee is 100%. He said coaches and the medical staff weren’t thrilled he ditched his titanium knee brace, which had been used to support his left knee — which doesn’t have a posterior cruciate ligament after it was completely torn against Penn State.
Since the season, Moss has accepted a bid to play in the Feb. 5 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. That would seem to indicate his mindset is to head to the NFL, but the cornerback still wasn’t ready to announce a stay-or-go decision. He could return as a fifth-year senior.
“I kind of know what I want to do. After the bowl game, I’m going to figure it out for sure,” Moss said. “It’s a big decision, but it’s a win-win in my eyes. If I stay, I get to live out my dream one year longer. If I leave, I get to play the biggest dream of my life (the NFL)."
Last word from Tyler Linderbaum.
Iowa’s got some pretty outstanding men on this Hawkeye football team. Punter Tory Taylor raised $11,000 for the cause “Count for Kicks,” which aims to reduce the frequency of stillborn births. His name and No. 9 jersey number adorns the “Punting is Winning” T-shirts printed by Raygun.
And then there’s Linderbaum, who made headlines this week for the $30,000 he gave to the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital through sales of merchandise through a company and website managed by his father’s cousins. Under the NCAA’s name, image and likeness legislation, Linderbaum could have profited personally but didn’t keep a dime.
The expected first-round NFL Draft pick in April said this about the money he left on the table.
“Giving 100% of the profit was my whole mindset of it. I’m not too worried about how much money I have right now. … I think having 100 bucks is a lot. So I’ll be fine,” Linderbaum said Thursday. “I don’t have to pay for school. I’m living life fine. Donating $30,000 to the children’s hospital is more important than that."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.