Hawkeye Running Backs Competitive, United

October 15, 2020

Written by John Bohnenkamp

Hawkeye Nation

Derrick Foster said there was unselfishness among Iowa’s running backs, and he pointed to Ivory Kelly-Martin as one example.

 

Kelly-Martin, heading into his junior season in 2019, came in with 22 games of experience, including six starts.

 

But Iowa’s crowded backfield, especially with the emergence of true freshman Tyler Goodson, didn’t have room for Kelly-Martin.

 

“As we know, there’s only one ball to go around,” said Foster, Iowa’s running backs coach. “But Ivory is not a selfish player.”

 

Kelly-Martin played in four games last season, the limit to take a redshirt season. So he decided to surrender the rest of the season, with Goodson and veterans Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young getting the carries.

 

“He clearly saw it correctly how the rep counts and everything was going,” Foster said. “His numbers weren’t as high as the other guys, honestly.”

 

But Kelly-Martin used it as a chance to grow.

 

“He just didn’t take (the season) off,” Foster said. “This wasn’t an ‘off’ season for him. It wasn’t, ‘Hey, I’m just going to hang out, I’m not going to be playing, I’m not going to be focused.’ He was well aware of what was going on on the field. To that point, he was kind of like my assistant coach in the background, talking to the other guys, maybe explaining to the younger guys something that they didn’t quite get, which is something I truly appreciate.”

 

The room is going to be crowded again this year. Young is gone, but Goodson and Sargent are back, and Kelly-Martin is back in the rotation.

 

It’s why offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz called his running backs “dynamic,” and why Foster agreed.

 

“They’re fun to work with,” Foster said. “They can do multiple things.”

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And the best part?

 

“It’s hard to tackle these guys,” Foster said.

 

Goodson led the Hawkeyes with 638 rushing yards last season. Sargent, a senior, has 1,308 rushing yards in his two seasons with the Hawkeyes. Kelly-Martin has 548 career yards.

 

Yes, there is one football, obviously. But the running backs don’t mind sharing.

 

“I’m very lucky to have a group of guys in my room who do not have selfish attitudes,” Foster said.

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“They’re team-first guys, supportive of one another. You see it in practice, you see it in games. It makes you proud as a coach, to be quite honest with you.”

 

“It’s a very competitive room,” Goodson said. “The sport is competitive. So you hope to see competition among the room.”

 

“We’ve come together multiple times just to talk about how we can make ourselves more useful in this offense,” Kelly-Martin said. “And it’s brought a lot of competition in the room. It’s brought a lot of insight into helping one another.”

 

Goodson calls Sargent “a great mentor.” And Sargent said Goodson’s performance last season was “really huge.”

 

“We’re still competing with one another,” Sargent said. “We’re giving each other tools to get better. We’re still learning the game of football and having fun with it.”

 

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Goodson’s emergence last season was gradual. He had just 258 rushing yards in the first seven games, but closed the season strong, finishing with a rushing touchdown in each of Iowa’s last four games. He had a season-high 116 yards in the regular-season finale at Nebraska.

 

“Tyler just brought a whole different type of, I would say, a skill set to the room,” Sargent said.

 

“Last year, my mindset at the beginning of the season was just get comfortable, earn the coaches’ trust,” Goodson said. “My mindset toward the end of the season was the game slowing down for me, getting comfortable. Once the game slowed down, I had some success.”

 

“Sometimes, to a freshman, it can be overwhelming,” Foster said. “I think he’s been able to slow the game, understand what we do conceptually as an offense, and then go out there and apply it to his ability.

 

“I definitely expect him to improve. I know that sounds cliché. But we’re always looking for ways to improve, and capitalize off of things you did last year.”

 

I told him, ‘Last year is over. You’re not a freshman anymore.’

 

Sargent had 563 yards and four rushing touchdowns last season. He had double-digit carries in six of Iowa’s first eight games, but just 21 carries total in the final five games.

 

Kelly-Martin, now back on the depth chart behind Goodson and Sargent, brings versatility — he’s also worked as a kickoff returner in his career and has been a receiving option out of the backfield.

 

“I’m just trying to make myself as useful as I can on the field,” Kelly-Martin said. “I know I’m trying to do as much as I can off the field as well in terms of leadership. Just trying to help everybody come along.”

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