Iowa transfer Oliver Martin in limbo as season approaches
By LUKE MEREDITH
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa fans spent years hoping to see native son Oliver Martin catching passes for the Hawkeyes.
They'll eventually get their wish - although no seems to know if Martin's playing career at Iowa will start in three weeks or 13 months.
Martin, a former Iowa City West High star who spurned the Hawkeyes for Michigan in 2017, abruptly announced that he was coming home in June. Martin has since applied for a waiver that would allow him to play this fall, but there has yet to be a final ruling on his case.
Iowa opens play Aug. 31 against Miami (Ohio). Martin said he and his family, who've hired a lawyer to help their cause, expect to hear whether or not he can play in that game and beyond within "a week or two."
"As far as I understand, it's been forwarded to the NCAA. What happens thereafter, there's probably no way to predict - just like most things that go that direction. So we'll just wait patiently and see where that goes," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Friday at the team's annual media day. "There's not much we can do."
As a prep star, Martin appeared to be a perfect fit for the hometown Hawkeyes.
The 6-foot-1 Martin was an extremely talented wide receiver - and Iowa always seems to be short on those - who grew up mere miles from Kinnick Stadium. Martin produced at a prolific clip, too, catching 30 touchdown passes in his final two seasons while setting state records in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in 2016.
But when Martin was in high school, Iowa's passing game was in shambles - ranking just 118th nationally in passing yards per game during Martin's senior year. With a host of offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, Wisconsin and others, Martin chose to sign with Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines.
After redshirting in 2017, Martin made 11 catches for the Wolverines last fall and figured to be in line for a starting spot in 2019.
"You can tell that he's physically developed. He's been in somebody's program," Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland said. "When he's running routes, physically his speed, his strength, his catching ability, all of that, you see the polish."
Martin declined to discuss the specifics of his departure from Michigan, which hired a new offensive coordinator in the offseason, instead saying that coming home was a major draw for him.
"This has always been a place where I envisioned myself being," Martin said. "I'm really glad to be back."
The Hawkeyes certainly won't be happy if Martin loses his case to play in 2019.
But for once, Iowa might have enough depth to absorb such a blow.
Juniors Brandon Smith and Imhir Smith-Marsette are expected to blossom into legitimate outside threats that can help the Hawkeyes bounce back after losing tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant, both first-rounders in May's NFL Draft.
The coaching staff is also optimistic that redshirt freshman Nico Ragaini can be their new slot receiver, and 2017 Indiana state player of the year Tyrone Tracy Jr. is likely ready for snaps as well.
Still, Martin is a proven Big Ten receiver with his best days ahead of him. The Hawkeyes just don't know when those days can begin quite yet.
"We've know about Oliver for quite some time. He's a tremendous young person, and he's been warmly received by his teammates," Ferentz said. "He's earned their respect. If he can get eligibility, I certainly think he'll help our football team this year. If he doesn't, we'll bag this year and use it as a learning year."
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Updated August 9, 2019