Breaking down the race for Iowa City West star Oliver Martin
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The wait is almost over for Oliver Martin — and for those college fans repeatedly searching "Oliver Martin" on Twitter.
Nobody knows what’s exactly going on in the 18-year-old’s head right now. The Iowa City West receiver has some of the elite national football programs vying for his services. There's also the lure of playing for Iowa, no slouch itself, in his hometown.
But, according to what Hawk Central does know, here’s the latest recruiting outlook for the state's top prospect as we near National Signing Day on Wednesday.
Reasons to believe: The Wolverines have made Martin, a record-breaking receiver at West, a top priority after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. New passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton hopped on a private jet from Cleveland to Iowa City to visit Martin two weeks ago, making him a priority. Then Jim Harbaugh came the following week, and Martin took an official to Ann Arbor, Mich., this weekend.
Martin has been open about how much he likes Harbaugh, and the feeling appears to be mutual.
Michigan sits firmly in the top tier of the Big Ten and the national football scene, and it has a good track record with producing NFL receivers, including Amara Darboh, a Dowling Catholic product, and Jehu Chesson this season.
Reasons to doubt: Michigan backed off Martin in December when four-star WR Nico Collins was an apparent lock to be its fourth receiver commit. That was when Jedd Fish was still the passing game coordinator. But Michigan’s brief retreat from this race allowed other schools to slide into it; Martin might already be a Wolverine if that hadn't happened. Plus, Collins may be trending back toward Michigan after his official visit to Georgia this weekend.
If Martin does ultimately sign with the Wolverines, he would be part of a crowded receiver class.
How much of a contender? Michigan is the odds-on favorite. Several schools were fighting for Martin’s final official — including Ohio State — and the Wolverines got it.
Reasons to believe: Don’t underestimate the lure of hometown hero status. And don't underestimate the lure of a good relationship with the strength and conditioning coach, which Martin has with Iowa’s Chris Doyle, a family friend.
With Iowa’s dearth of receiver depth, Martin would likely see plenty of time as a freshman and might even be a three- or four-year starter. Martin is considered to be the No. 47 player in the entire country, according to 247Sports.
Also, for as much flack as the Hawkeyes got for not offering a stud in their backyard way sooner, they've been a big presence in this closing stretch. Defensive line coach Reese Morgan, who had a standout coaching career previously at Iowa City West, visited Martin Thursday; Kirk Ferentz visited him Jan. 16; and Iowa also visited Martin at school the week before that. And remember, Martin has taken an official (and many unofficials) to Iowa.
Reasons to doubt: That hometown hero status could be a double-edged sword. Martin is not a fan of the intense attention his skyrocketing prospect status has brought him.
“He can’t really turn around without somebody asking him what’s going on,” West head coach Garrett Hartwig said in November.
Iowa’s inept 2016 passing game can’t be encouraging, either. And with no guarantees the offense will change immediately, Martin might have better on-the-field options.
How much of a contender? Iowa is an underdog to Michigan. But when Kinnick Stadium is five minutes from Martin's high school, Iowa will have a shot.
Reasons to believe: In November, Martin told Hawk Central that Michigan State was, in his mind, the first real top-tier power program to pursue him — and that left an impression. Mark Dantonio took to Twitter, himself, to tell Martin the Spartans were interested. Martin also speaks highly of Terrence Samuel, Michigan State’s wide receivers coach.
Martin’s childhood friend, three-star Valley High quarterback Rocky Lombardi, is a Spartan recruit and Martin took his official to Michigan State with him.
Reasons to doubt: The Spartans’ odds suffered the most from Martin’s stellar performance during All-American Bowl week. Suddenly Michigan, UCLA, Ohio State, Auburn and Florida were all pushing hard for Martin, and Michigan State may have lost ground.
Michigan State also hasn’t had any known in-home visits recently. It’s possible Spartans coaches slipped into and out of Iowa City quietly. But it appears they haven’t had any in-person contact with Martin since his official on Jan. 13.
Plus, if a team’s record the previous season matters, last year’s 3-9 performance sure doesn't help.
How much of a contender? Because of Martin’s relationship with the coaching staff and the Lombardi factor, Michigan State could still be the surprise winner.
Reasons to believe: C’mon. It’s Notre Dame. Last year’s 4-8 record doesn’t matter. The Fighting Irish bleed the bluest blood of any program in the country, and if they call, you’re going to pick up. Every single time.
Martin took an unofficial and official to South Bend, and he’s had as much recent contact with Notre Dame as Iowa and Michigan. The Irish visited him last Thursday night, as well as Jan. 19 and Jan. 12.
The most recent visit, from offensive coordinator Chip Long and wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander, reportedly went very well. And Martin’s family has some Notre Dame fans. That might not mean a whole lot, but it’s certainly a factor to consider.
Reasons to doubt: Although Martin has said he isn’t too worried about it, Notre Dame’s staff upheaval has to at least raise a red flag. Also, if you trust 247Sports’ Crystal Ball, the predictions now favor Michigan after swinging toward Notre Dame for a while.
How much of a contender? Notre Dame falls in line with Iowa and Michigan State — an underdog with a puncher's chance.
Reasons to believe: Ohio State is the best team in the Midwest and, despite Michigan’s skyrocket back to national prominence, it figures to be so for the foreseeable future. Urban Meyer flew into Iowa City to personally court Martin Jan. 19, and they had an official set up for the following weekend before flight issues derailed those plans.
Reasons to doubt: The Buckeyes might have jumped into this one too late. They had little time to recover after missing out on Martin’s official and apparently couldn’t persuade him to schedule another official for this past weekend.
How much of a contender? As it stands, Ohio State is probably trailing the others.
Reasons to believe: It’s not every day the SEC looks to Iowa for a skill position player. But that’s what happened, as both Auburn and Florida had in-home visits with Martin two weeks ago. Auburn offered him a couple weeks before the All-American Bowl and the Gators were the first to do so after.
Auburn currently boasts a young receiving corps that Martin would fit with; he could even compete for a starting job. Plus, the Tigers will likely start former five-star recruit and Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham and should return to a more balanced up-tempo offense in 2017 (Auburn finished dead last in passing offense in 2016).
Florida gained momentum quickly after it offered Martin and word circulated that he was going to take an official there two weekends ago. If that was ever true, the visit didn't materialize.
Reasons to doubt: It’s long been thought that Martin would stay in the Midwest. So if he were to go to a school in the SEC, you’d figure he’d need to visit it first to gauge life outside of the Midwest. Same story with UCLA, who flew head coach Jim Mora Jr. out to talk to the Martins Jan. 16.
How much of a contender? Without any visits to either school, it’s hard to see Martin signing with Florida or Auburn.
Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.