By HANNAH OSSMAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland is three games into his second season, and joining him are second-year receivers Brandon Smith, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, and Nick Easley.
“The transition with the players has been great, being with these guys for a second year,” Copeland said. “They have a relationship with me and I have a relationship with them. I’ve gotten to know what they’re about on and off the field.”
Easley, a senior, transferred to Iowa from Iowa Western Community College, while Smith and Smith-Marsette are two of 10 true freshmen to play in the 2017 season.
“A year makes a world of difference,” Copeland said. “Nick coming in as a transfer from junior college, it was his first time playing ‘big-time football,’ and it takes a while to get used to that transition.”
Like the offense as a whole, Easley saw a slow start in the Hawkeyes’ first two games, recording one reception for 15 yards. In a 38-14 win over the University of Northern Iowa, Easily got the rhythm going, compiling 10 catches for 103 yards.
Smith and Smith-Marsette have collectively added eight catches for 146 yards, on the season. The pair recorded career-long receptions of 30 and 45 yards, respectively, against Iowa State in week two. Smith has already tied his freshman reception total in just three games, and Smith-Marsette is just under half of his total yards from last season.
“They did a tremendous job [last year] and now we’re starting to see the benefits of them going through those growing pains the first year,” Copeland said. “When you talk about younger guys like Smith and Smith-Marsette, you’re talking about coming from Mars to Earth, another world, high school football to now. [You’re] talking about playing Big Ten Division I football and all the things we expect on and off the field that comes with that. That’s hard for anybody.”
Copeland sees advantages in having Smith and Smith-Marsette in practice only one year removed from their first college season. They are able to connect with this year’s freshmen on a different level and relate to their transition into collegiate football.
“When Tyrone [Tracy, Jr.] comes to me with questions, I tell him it’s probably a better question for Brandon [Smith] or Ihmir [Smith-Marsette], because those guys just, literally, went through what [he’s] going through now,” Copeland said. “It’s really positive and helpful for me that I have ‘older guys,’ now, that can help those younger guys out.”
With the Hawkeyes relying heavily on a run game, a key element where the veterans have helped younger players with is blocking. As an offense, Iowa has put up 521 rushing yards to its opponents 126.
“To me, blocking is a mentality,” Copeland said. “It’s all about production. Anyway we can help our offense produce, whether is running the ball, blocking, catching passes, or getting open for somebody in the pass game, it’s all production. It’s about getting on the field and executing what we’re trying to do. If you’re a part of Iowa football, then you’re going to do what it needs to produce.”
The Hawkeyes host No. 16/No. 18 Wisconsin on Saturday in Kinnick Stadium at 7:35 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised on Fox.