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Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette catches the ball during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Smith, Smith-Marsette continue to lead younger receivers

Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith arrived in Iowa City as raw freshmen but have since became leaders for Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini.

December 15, 2019

In 2017, Ihmir Smith-Marsette was a 159-pound undersized freshman receiver embarking on his journey of college football. He fumbled in his first game.

That same year, Brandon Smith was a 6-foot-3, 219-pound freshman wide receiver who oozed athletic potential. He finished the season with three catches for 12 yards.

But they’ve gotten older. They’ve improved on the field. They’ve grown off the field.

Fast forward to any picturesque Saturday in Kinnick Stadium, and it’s almost a guarantee that one of them will be making a big play.

Smith and Smith-Marsette closed the regular season as Iowa’s top two receivers with a combined 1,083 yards and eight touchdowns, and behind all the numbers they’ve put up, they’ve served as leaders for the next wideouts in line: Tyrone Tracy and Nico Ragaini.

“We kind of threw them in the water before they really could swim two years ago,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We had to. It was just the situation we were in. And they dealt with that fine. They worked through it and all that, but it’s fun to see them now really learning how to play.”

“They’re having more fun than they’ve ever had, and both of them have tremendous attitudes. They’re good practice players. They have a smile on their face. They enjoy being out there. They’re good with their teammates. And as a coach, you value that as much as you do their production, although I’m not minimizing their production; it’s been pretty good, too.”

There’s been a long line of leadership in the wide receivers’ room inside the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center next to Kinnick.

Shivansh Ahuja
Iowa wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette signals a first down during a football game between Iowa and Minnesota at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.

Matt VandeBerg served as C.J. Beathard’s go-to option in 2015 and 2016. In 2017, Nick Easley learned from him. That’s the same year Smith and Smith-Marsette entered the program. In 2018, Easley, Smith, Smith-Marsette, Tracy, and Ragaini were all in the program at the same time, with Tracy and Ragaini redshirting.

One year later, when Smith went down with an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter against Purdue on Oct. 19, the Hawkeyes needed Smith-Marsette and the rest of the group to step up.

That’s when it happened — the revelation that Iowa’s receiving corps was one of the strongest position groups of the team, something that hadn’t been true since the Marvin McNutt-Derrell Johnson-Koulianos days in 2010.

It’s been Smith and Smith-Marsette leading the way in the air attack, with Tracy and Ragaini keeping pace behind them.

“Looking back on the years, we were young guys — we ain’t know nothing from nothing,” Smith-Marsette said. “Just being able to grow and learn the system, take advantage of everything. It’s been great. Being able to go out there and experience college football, Big Ten football, it’s helped us elevate our game.”

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