IOWA CITY, Ia. – The adulation had already started to roll in by the time Kevonte Martin-Manley checked his text messages Saturday afternoon. He had more than 50 texts congratulating him for his two punt return touchdowns against Western Michigan.
The junior has received a lot of attention since he became the third player in Big Ten history to return two punts for scores in the same game, and the first to do it on back-to-back returns. ESPN gave him a helmet sticker, and he was named the Big Ten’s special teams player of the week on Monday.
“The challenge with that is it’s frustrating, because people keep patting you on the back,” said the junior from Pontiac, Mich. “But I’m done with that. I have to get my mind right and get myself ready for this upcoming game against Minnesota.”
The Hawkeyes open Big Ten play at Minnesota Saturday, and Martin-Manley will be a marked man after his punt returns of 63 and 83 yards for scores in the 59-3 victory. Martin-Manley said he put his record-setting performance on the back burner Sunday night. But he did manage to watch a replay his heroics a time or two before turning the page.
“It was fun to watch,” Martin-Manley said. “But I’m done with that right now. I’m on to the Minnesota film.”
Martin-Manley, who entered last Saturday’s game with 34 career punt return yards, had 184 in the first half alone against the Broncos and needed just 18 more to pass 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick’s school record of 201.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that he was informed of that in the second half. Martin-Manley never got a chance to break the record.
“Nothing ever came of it,” Ferentz said. “Well all love Kevonte. We’re glad he’s on our team and all that. But it is Kinnick Stadium.”
After watching tape of the returns, Ferentz credited Martin-Manley for the decisions he made.
“He was smart letting the blocking set up, and the guys did a great job,” Ferentz said. “He didn’t do it alone, but he certainly got it started. And then he finished. Kevonte is not a burner. That’s not his forte. But I think he’s a pretty smart runner. That’s an important position back there.”
Martin-Manley’s success Saturday made him the nation’s top punt returner with an average of 31.1 yards per game. He’s also the Hawkeyes’ go-to receiver. His 20 catches are 13 more than anyone else on the team.
Asked what wanted to be known as, a punt returner or receiver, Martin-Manley said, “I’d rather he known as a great football player at the end of the day. Making plays and winning games.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football