Iowa receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette is fast and (he says) serious

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Ihmir Smith-Marsette brings a light-hearted touch to the Iowa football team. He’ll tell you that. Everyone will tell you that.

“He’s one of those kids that you just like being around. There’s never a dull moment with him,” Hawkeye wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland said of his talented sophomore. “He has a great sense of humor. Almost sometimes too much of a sense of humor. But that’s my job is to control that a little bit and don’t change who he is.”

Still, there was that one time last season when things got a little dark.

Iowa's Ihmir Smith-Marsette jokes around with teammates during Iowa football media day on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, in Iowa City.

Smith-Marsette had bounced back from a fumble in his first career game to record a pair of touchdown, including the game-winner, in his second, at Iowa State.

Then came an Oct. 28 home game against Minnesota, when Smith-Marsette lived out a receiver’s nightmare. He was wide-open for what would have been a big gain, a Nate Stanley pass heading straight for him. Smith-Marsette put his hands up, and watched in dismay as the ball bounced off of him and directly to a Gophers defender for an interception.

“That was a tough one. Mentally, that threw me off,” Smith-Marsette acknowledged at Iowa’s media day Friday, his first chance to speak with reporters.

“Just the jitters of the first year, the ball coming out. ‘Oh my God, I’m wide-open.’ It was a jitters thing, first-year experience thing. But Year 2, those plays will be made.”

Hawkeyes sure could use his 'jets'

Smith-Marsette is the fastest player on the Iowa team. He’ll tell you that. Everyone will tell you that.

“I’ve got jets,” Smith-Marsette said without hesitation. “I can jump, too. But yeah, I’ve got jets.”

This is significant because the Hawkeyes enter this season, as they always seem to, in search of someone who can be a persistent vertical threat in the passing game. Senior Nick Easley is the team’s leading returning receiver, a reliable option whenever a key first down is needed.

But he is not that guy.

Sophomore Brandon Smith is a physical specimen at 6-foot-3, 219 pounds.

But he is not that guy.

Smith-Marsette is that guy. Or at least he wants to be. He showed it at times a year ago, when he caught 18 passes for 187 yards, with a long gain of 31 (the drop against Minnesota would likely have topped that). He returned four kickoffs for 134 yards, with a long of 74. Iowa handed him the ball seven times for 41 yards, with a long of 17.

Keep an eye on those long-gain numbers this season. Smith-Marsette will be.

“I’ve got my confidence Year 2. I see things different,” he said. “My game has definitely taken off.”

An Akrum Wadley protege. Only faster, and more talkative.

Smith-Marsette is from the same New Jersey high school (Weequahic) that produced former Iowa star running back Akrum Wadley. Wadley has moved on to the Tennessee Titans now, but the two remain in touch, Smith-Marsette said.

It was Wadley who pulled him aside after his early fumble a year ago and gave him a pep talk he’ll never forget.

“From a person that had been there, done that and from the same place? I definitely needed to hear that,” Smith-Marsette said. “Just knowing that he’d been through it and he knows what it’s like to be down.

“He was somebody that could give me a word or two of what to expect and how to manage yourself in certain situations.”

Smith-Marsette pointed out two comparisons between Wadley and himself. First, he’s the faster of the two.

“By far,” said Smith-Marsette, a mischievous grin spreading the width of his face.

Second, he’s the more talkative Jersey guy.

“Akrum don’t really talk too much,” Smith-Marsette said. “He’s more of an action guy. But I’m more vocal.”

And that leads to one more knock on Smith-Marsette that he’s eager to outrun: the notion that he’s not serious enough about his sport.

In the offseason, both Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and Copeland made reference to Smith-Marsette needing to spend less time gazing at his phone and more time perusing the playbook.

“His ability is so above the average college football player that sometimes in the past, I’m sure in high school, he got away with skipping corners,” was how Copeland phrased it Friday.

But also: “I don’t see him much with the phone anymore.”

Smith-Marsette indicated it was all a misunderstanding.

“That was just a joke. He was just playing with me,” Smith-Marsette said of his coach’s “phone” conversation.

Smith-Marsette is new here. There’s no way Ferentz was joking, although he has more than once said how much he enjoys Smith-Marsette’s spirit.

“I’m the cool guy in the crew,” said Smith-Marsette, before pivoting to point out that he was becoming more serious at practices and certainly when gameday rolls around.

“There’s a time and a place for jokes. And when it’s that time and place, I’ve always got a joke or two.”

That’s fine with his coaches and teammates. As long as Smith-Marsette finds the time and space each Saturday to make a big play or two.