Catching a Hawkeye legacy
For Kevonte Martin-Manley, the countdown began during the Nebraska game.
Nine-yard reception, eight to go; 15-yard catch, seven; a third catch for 25 yards means only six left. Just five remained after another 9-yard reception. A 1-yard out made it four, then an 8-yarder left just three.
Martin-Manley has said all season that breaking former Hawkeye Derrell Johnson-Koulianos’ career-reception record at Iowa would mean something to him. Heading into the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl against Tennessee, Martin-Manley — who has 171 catches in his Iowa career — needs just 3 more to set a new mark.
His chasing the record hasn’t been in a “look at me” sort of way, either. His productivity, he said — whether it’s 8 catches a game or just 2 — has more been about helping the team win.
“Yeah, I was counting down a little bit,” he said after Iowa’s 37-34 overtime loss to Nebraska. “But it’s kind of pointless right now because we didn’t get the win, butdefinitely something that I still want to do.”
Iowa’s postseason game will be his last chance to break the record. It’ll be his 51st game in a Hawkeye uniform, which is one of the main reasons he’s in the position to break the record.
Unlike most college receivers, Martin-Manley saw the field right away. He redshirted in 2010, then saw action in 13 games in 2011, including two starts.
“The numbers back it up,” Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Nov. 25. “He has really had a productive career here for us. He’s got a great attitude and obviously good durability to play as much as he has played.”
That consistency and longevity has been the source of some good-natured jokes, too. Martin-Manley has earned a nickname among Iowa’s receiving corps because he’s been here so long — and perhaps the receding hairline helps add to the moniker.
“I tell him that he’s the grandpa of the group,” receiver Tevaun Smith said on Sept. 9. “He’s been here for a while now, so it’s fun making fun of him.
“He’s got respect, but it’s always fun to just make fun of him.”
There’s another reason Smith calls Martin-Manley grandpa. He’s not just old in age but in presence as well, bringing a level of maturity to the locker room.
The winner of Iowa’s Offensive Coaches Appreciation Award in 2013, Martin-Manley always appears to be levelheaded and honest, always careful to never get too high or low.
This is perhaps one of the reasons he was targeted more than any other receiver on third down this season. He’s reliable and doesn’t back down from big moments.
Of his 49 receptions this season, 19 occurred on third down, for 219 yards. Of those 19 catches, 18 moved the chains.
“His technique, his confidence, and his ability,” Smith said in describing why Martin-Manley has enjoyed success. “He knows how to get open, and he catches the ball all the time.”
It’s hard to pinpoint one catch out of his 171 career receptions has the most meaning. Ferentz referred to his catch against Pittsburgh in 2011, the one that capped off a 17-point comeback and gave Iowa the lead with around three minutes to play.
Carl Davis did the same after the Nebraska loss. Looking over at the picture of the catch that’s plastered on the wall underneath Kinnick Stadium, where the Iowa players meet with the media after games, Davis reminisced about a career that’s not yet over.
“I’m looking at the poster over there,” Davis said, looking at the image of Martin-Manley reaching over his head for the touchdown grab, one that made him known to every fan as a freshman. “I can remember that play, when Kevonte made it.”
Martin-Manley has one game left to make memories. And against Tennessee, the countdown will be much shorter.
At the end of the countdown is the record, one that Johnson-Koulianos predicted Martin-Manley would break when he first became a Hawkeye.
“It’s something I would love to leave here with,” Martin-Manley said. “Something to mark my legacy.”
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