Oliver Martin’s success helping to inspire a team in Oklahoma
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Former Iowa City West football coach Brian Sauser still vividly remembers the first time he saw Oliver Martin catch a pass.
It was the summer before Martin’s freshman year at West High in 2013. He and some other kids were playing a 7-on-7 pickup game on the practice field.
“I had heard his name a little bit when he was in junior high, and there were a lot of good kids in that class,” Sauser said Friday in a telephone interview. “But you kind of wait and see. I just remember the first night I ever saw him, I’m looking down the field and all of the kids are out there and I see a kid just jump up in the middle of a crowd of people and go up and snatch the ball with one hand.
“And I’m like, who in the heck is that? And it was Oliver. And I’m like, okay, this is a little bit different.”’
Turn the calendar back to the present and Martin still is different.
The same kid who wowed Sauser with his athleticism barely three years ago is now a hot commodity as a receiver.
In barely a month, Martin has received scholarship offers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State, Iowa, Indiana, Brigham Young, Oregon and Michigan.
He also was upgraded to a four-start recruit by Scout on Friday.
The offers, especially the one from Iowa, might have come later than some had expected, including Sauser, considering Martin’s credentials. But 2017 national signing day still is nearly seven months away, so it’s not that Martin is a fallback recruit, either.
Martin has started for West since he was a freshman and is coming off a junior season in which he had 73 receptions for 1,187 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But it wasn’t until Martin shined at The Opening in May in Chicago that his recruiting stock started to soar.
Martin now has a difficult decision to make.
Does he stay home and realize a childhood dream by being a Hawkeye? Or does he carve a path away from home at a traditional power like Michigan?
Martin addressed his recruitment with Scout while attending The Opening Finals last week in Oregon. He said there was some pressure to attend Iowa, but that he wanted to explore his growing list of options.
Sauser has kept close tabs on Martin since leaving West after Martin’s freshman year in 2013 to become a football coach and administrator for Yukon High School in Yukon, Okla.
Sauser isn’t surprised that Martin has reached this level as a football recruit.
The way Sauser describes it, Martin’s unique talent is matched by his desire to succeed.
“What’s really separated him throughout his career is his work ethic,” Sauser said.
Sauser uses Martin as inspiration for his players in Oklahoma and for his two sons.
Sauser often tells his players the story about the time he was pitching batting practice to his sons on a hot and steamy summer day at a park in Coralville when a car being driven by Martin’s mother pulled into a nearby parking lot.
“It was probably like 95 degrees and we had already had workouts that morning at West and I see this car pull into the parking lot and this kid gets out and I’m kind of looking at him and I’m like, ‘that looks like Oliver,’” Sauser said. “And he gets out and he’s just got a bag over his shoulder and I could tell that he had cones in there.
“And he goes out on the soccer field and his mom leaves. So nobody is there with him and he’s just laying out all these cones. And for about an hour, he just did all these cone drills, all on his own. Nobody out there telling him he had to do it.”
Martin’s mother returned about an hour later to pick up her son, who was in ninth grade at the time.
“He got in the car and went home and I’m like, ‘that’s just different right there,”’ Sauser said. “Nobody is telling him to do it. He’s out there by himself. And God only knows how many times he was out there doing it on his own.”
Sauser had concerns about elevating Martin to the varsity team as a freshman because Sauser thought the veteran players might resent it.
“We had a good team coming back and we had a lot of upperclassmen and I remember being kind of worried a little bit,” Sauser said. “I was like, `okay, if we bring a freshman in, you don’t want to disrupt things. We have a really good group of kids.”
Any chance of resentment ended after the veteran players saw Martin in action.
“We took him to a couple of seven-on-sevens with the varsity kids and Oliver wasn’t around, but some of the older kids are like, `hey coach, Oliver needs to play varsity and I hope we’re planning on doing that,”’ Sauser said. “And I remember when that happened, I’m like, ‘okay, `he’s on the team.”’
Martin isn’t your typical recruit in this age of social media where many prospects update their status on a regular basis.
He doesn’t announce his scholarship offers on Twitter, nor does he do many interviews.
He was interviewed a few times while attending the Opening Finals last week and he spoke with the Iowa City Press-Citizen on Thursday after baseball practice.
But as far as seeking attention or responding to interview requests, Martin doesn’t seem very interested.
“He’s really quiet,” Sauser said. “He’s always been that way.
“He’s been very driven. This was his goal all along. But he’s always been real quiet and he doesn’t like the spotlight, the limelight; all that stuff. It kind of embarrasses him a little bit. You try to make a big deal out of the things he does.”
It’s hard to stay out of the limelight when you’re one of the most heavily recruited players to ever come out of Iowa City.
Not since A.J. Derby in 2009 and Tim Dwight in 1993 has a player from Iowa City been this heralded as a football recruit. That covers nearly a quarter century.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Martin also excels as a swimmer and stars for the West High baseball team as a hard-hitting second baseman. He reportedly has scholarship offers from Iowa and Illinois for baseball, but Sauser assumes that Martin will play football in college because that has been Martin’s goal for several years.
There was some concern this past winter when Martin didn’t have any power five scholarship offers for football. But Sauser figured it would only be a matter of time before that happened.
“I’m like, eventually this is going to work out,” Sauser said. “There is just no way it’s not.”
Sauser isn’t sure how it’s going to turn out, though. Iowa wasn’t the first school to offer Martin a scholarship, but he lives about two miles from Kinnick Stadium and grew up cheering for the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin was the first power five school to offer Martin a scholarship. All of his offers, including the one from Iowa, came within about a five-day period.
“A few weeks ago when he got the Wisconsin offer, that seemed to kind of kick things into motion,” Sauser said. “It’s just great to see a kid who just works his butt off and stays focused on a goal see it all pan out for him.”