By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Ivory Kelly-Martin knew exactly what to expect from the media on Tuesday.
After having lost two fumbles in Iowa’s first three games, the senior running back assumed that ball security would be a hot topic, and he was right.
“Trust me, I was expecting it, I was ready,” Kelly-Martin said Tuesday while surrounded by members of the media. “
Kelly-Martin as a fifth-year senior isn’t about to let a couple fumbles destroy his confidence. The Illinois native has been through enough adversity on and off the field to know that the best way to handle personal setbacks is to stay positive, stay confident and stay the course.
It also helps to have a short memory.
Kelly-Martin expects to be a major part of the game plan against Colorado State on Saturday, and he looks forward to the challenge.
“Luckily. I’ve been able to play a lot of good football in my days and I know my ability,” Kelly-Martin said. “And I’m not going to lose any bit of my confidence.”
Kelly-Martin fumbled twice in last Saturday’s 30-7 victory over Kent State, and then was replaced by redshirt freshman Gavin Williams as the backup for Tyler Goodson in the second half.
His first fumble resulted in a turnover, while his second fumble was recovered by Iowa.
Kelly-Martin also lost a fumble in the season opener against Indiana, so it made sense why the media was pushing that topic on Tuesday.
But Kelly-Martin never became defensive with the media, nor did he make excuses. He just focused on staying positive and moving forward.
Iowa running backs coach Ladell Betts has tried to encourage Kelly-Martin to stay confident while also reminding Kelly-Martin about all the positive attributes that he brings to the offense.
“He just told me the same thing, keep my confidence, I’m doing extremely good things out there on the field,” Kelly-Martin said. “And while it didn’t look too good out there for me, I know there is still plenty more that I can give to this football team and I’m going to continue to do that.”
The concern with a player that struggles with ball security is that it eventually becomes a mental obstacle.
Kelly-Martin tried to downplay that concern on Tuesday.
“The thing about fumbles I wouldn’t say it’s anything like mental,” he said. “A lot of people might think it gets a little bit mental at some point. But as football players we’re taught to think about the next-play mentality. Don’t’ think about the past. If you start thinking about the past, that’s when it starts to be a problem.
“So, we just look at trying to do the best we can on the next play. And that’s something I was able to learn. I’ve been playing football for a long time. So, I’ve been able to kind of instill that in my play right now.”
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Kelly-Martin’s situation is sort of like when a person who gets bucked off a horse and then gets right back on that horse as a show of confidence.
That’s why he is eager for that first carry against Colorado State.
“Definitely, itching to get a carry,” Kelly-Martin said. “I’m in the game plan still, and I’m going to get work this game. So, I’ve got to continue to show my ability.”
To say that Kelly-Martin is highly respected among his teammates and coaches would be an understatement.
He was voted a team captain for the Kent State game, and is also part of Iowa’s Player Council, which consists of six seniors and 10 juniors.
Kelly-Martin also showed leadership during the summer of 2020 when multiple former Iowa black players accused the program of racial disparities.
“He’s good,” Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said when asked about Kelly-Martin’s mental state. “Yeah, he’s good.
“Ivory is an outstanding teammate and an outstanding player, and really, he does a great job of ball security. Those were some tough plays that happened, and they’re going to happen. But he’s good.”’
Kelly-Martin was hit hard on both of his fumbles against Kent State. On the fumble that Kent State recovered, the ball popped loose when the helmet of a Kent State defender hit the ball.
“I said this the other day about Ivory. I mean Ivory’s played,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “ So it’s not like he doesn’t know what to do. He knows what to do. And that’s part of the film review, too. You go back and look at those two plays. The guy got a helmet on a ball. That’s tough. It was one of those circumstances. Not excusing it or saying it’s okay, but it’s a tough situation. And the other one I’m just glad he was able to get up and walk away. It looked like a car wreck out there. It was really a crazy play. And just bad timing for him obviously at that point.
“But he’s practicing well. We’ve had two days already. He’s practicing well, and he’ll play well Saturday, I’m confident of that. It’s part of life. You can’t dwell on things. And if there’s something that has to be corrected, then it has to be corrected, but that’s not the case in this one.”
Kelly-Martin’s experience helps him deal with adversity because he has developed more mental toughness as a Hawkeye. And with mental toughness comes a short memory.
“We try to talk about it, and you try to reinforce it in whatever way you can,” Kirk Ferentz said. “But ultimately players just have to develop that. That’s where mental toughness comes in, too. And you learn from anything that happens in life, whether it’s good or bad, but at some point you have to move on. And that really — you know, if you’re in the business of, which our players are, competing out there on Saturdays, you just can’t sit and dwell on things and you can’t celebrate a good thing too long, either. Celebrate it. I’m all for that. But in a game you have to keep moving, you have to keep your eyes looking forward.
The fact that Kelly-Martin still is a Hawkeye speaks volumes about his loyalty because he easily could’ve transferred after he lost his starting position in 2018, or after the racial unrest in the summer of 2020.
He also has been hampered by injuries, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament that required surgery this past December.
“It definitely helps a little bit, just having that experience,” Kelly-Martin said. “I’ve been through a little adversity in my days. And just that experience of knowing what I’m capable of is really important to know that I shouldn’t feel down about anything.
“There still is so much that I can give and if I’m thinking about the past too much in my head that’s a bad thing, and that’s something that is absolutely not in the picture for me. I just have to continue to know what I can do and look at it that way as what I’m going to do.”
Even with all that’s happened to him on and off the field, Kelly-Martin said he never has considered transferring from Iowa.
“I wanted to stay here,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to stay here. I love the people here, and I’ve always felt like this was the best place for me. And I’m not just thinking about right now, I’m thinking about down the road, real far down the road and my connections that I have here and the people I’m able to learn from.”
Kelly-Martin said Tuesday that he wants to get into coaching after he graduates from Iowa and finishes playing the sport that means so much to him.
“Honestly, once I get to the future I want to coach,” Kelly-Martin said. “That’s where my aspirations are.”
Kelly-Martin already has started to lay the groundwork for a coaching career by building relationships and connections that will help down the road.
“That’s like a real big thing as far as coaching, so I’ve been making sure to keep those bridges open wherever they are,” Kelly-Martin said.
Kelly-Martin’s perseverance and his positive attitude as a Hawkeye football player should help him later on in life.
Of course, he’s upset about fumbling. But he won’t let adversity define him, or hold him back.
Kelly-Martin is determined to get back on the horse and show that these fumbles were an aberration.
And with everything that he has had to overcome at Iowa, there is reason to believe that he will respond in a positive way.