Oliver Martin thriving after long road to Nebraska
For the past four years, Oliver Martin has been searching to find the right football fit.
A former four-star wide receiver recruit out of Iowa City (Iowa) West, Martin committed to Michigan in 2017. Two years later, he transferred back home to Iowa.
A year after that, the 2017 Iowa Gatorade Player of the Year was on the move again, this time ending up at Nebraska as a walk-on.
While his road has been full of speed bumps and detours, the fifth-year junior seems to have finally found where he belongs in Lincoln based on how well he's settled in over the past 12 months.
"I feel fast, explosive. I'm really confident in my abilities right now," Martin said. "I feel like I can execute the plays that the coaches are calling, whether it's getting up into the zone or getting up against man coverage. I feel really good with where I'm at right now."
Talent and athleticism have never been issues for Martin. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder was a Rivals250 prospect who held offers from half of the Big Ten Conference, Auburn, Florida, Oregon, Notre Dame, and several others.
Martin set multiple Iowa high school records, including career receptions (239), receiving yards (3,449), and touchdowns (33). He was also an eight-time state champion swimmer.
After redshirting his first year at Michigan, Martin saw action in 13 games (one start) for the Wolverines in 2018, finishing with 11 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
He then decided to return to his home state for a fresh start at Iowa, but he only had five receptions for 28 yards and one score in five appearances as a redshirt sophomore in 2019.
Needing another change of scenery, Martin transferred to Nebraska in 2020.
"I just felt it was in my best interest to seek out a different option than the situation I was in (at Iowa)," Martin said. "I got into contact with Coach (Erik) Chinander and Coach (Matt) Lubick and Coach (Scott) Frost. Shortly after I was in the portal, they expressed a lot of belief in me, which I liked a lot, so I committed to coming here."
Along with the uncertainties surrounding the season's fate due to COVID-19, he was also unsure of his eligibility last season while waiting on a waiver approval from the NCAA. Finally, after sitting out the first three games, Martin got his waiver and became immediately eligible.
Despite seeing limited practice reps while the NCAA reviewed his waiver, Martin saw action in NU's final five games and started the last four. He caught five passes for 63 yards, posting a reception in four of the five games he played.
"Practicing game reps help a lot more than just mentally going through it in your head," Martin said. "I think it was the sixth game, like my second game in, it became more second nature to me. I could see it and process the plays a lot more quickly and not have to think as much out on the field."
Now a relatively established piece in an otherwise inexperienced wide receiver room, Martin has been working primarily on the perimeter at the "Z" receiver spot this spring. He's also been getting reps inside at the slot, a role he could potentially see more time at going forward.
"We do one-on-ones about every day, and I don't think he's lost the rep of that," sophomore receiver Wyatt Liewer said of Martin. "He looks really good."
Along with making the most of his opportunities in practice, Martin also made everyone take notice of his athleticism during winter conditioning.
He posted the team's highest vertical jump at 40 inches, and he ran a 4.5-second "double-laser" 40-yard dash.
"I was one of the fastest on the team, but they were saying (to take) about two tenths off of that because it was a laser start and laser finish. At the combine, it's hand (timed) start, laser finish. It's the slowest timing system."
Frost said Martin "has been exceptional through spring," and Martin saw the lion's share of reps with the first-team offense during Nebraska's open practice on Saturday.
As long as he stays on his current trajectory, Martin appears well on his way to finally finding his fit as one of the Huskers' go-to receivers.
"He's always had great athletic ability; we knew that," Lubick said. "I actually recruited him out of high school when I was at Oregon, but now he's taken it a step further because he understands the offense. He knows what routes to run. He knows who to block.
"He had all these great skills, but when he was thinking, he was playing a little bit slow. It does that to everybody. But now that he's playing with some confidence, knows what he's doing, you can actually see his athletic ability come through, and it's been impressive."