Land of 10 has embarked on a series of “Next Generation” articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the class of 2017 signees. Land of 10 Iowa writers Scott Dochterman and Bobby La Gesse are hard at work visiting the Iowa incoming freshman class to show you more than its 40-yard dash times and recruiting rankings. Though the series officially will debut in March, we talked with 3-star RB Ivory Kelly-Martin to give you a sneak peek about what you can expect.
OSWEGO, Ill. — On the verge of entering high school four years ago, Ivory Kelly-Martin kept hearing the same things from his friends.
We want to play football with you.
We would be so happy if we could see you every day.
They weren’t thrilled he would attend Nazareth Academy in LaGrange, Ill., instead of Oswego East High School.
Kelly-Martin didn’t let it get him down too much because he knew something they didn’t: He was already planning his return.
“I kind of set out to eventually go back to East,” Kelly-Martin said.
Kelly-Martin, after three seasons which included two state championships, came back to Oswego East for his senior season to play with his friends. It turned out to be as fun as any season at Nazareth.
“Just being able to reconnect with all the people I’ve known for most of my life was the best part,” said Kelly-Martin, an Iowa signee. “Being able to play for people I grew around, people in my neighborhood, letting them be able to see how good of a football player I’ve become, was great.”
Oswego was always home
He never really left the community. He would hang out with friends on weekends. If Nazareth played a Saturday game, he’d be in the Oswego East stands on Friday night.
He was around, just not playing. His friends and neighbors didn’t see him rush for a Nazareth-record six touchdowns in a game or witness how he earned All-State honors from the Chicago Tribune as a junior. He would commit to Iowa shortly after transferring to Oswego East midway through his junior year.
Running in front of everyone he knew mattered to him, and when he got the chance to this past fall, Kelly-Martin made the most of if. He led Oswego East to a 9-2 record and a playoff berth. Kelly-Martin earned 247Sports All-State honors while rushing for 1,360 yards and 22 touchdowns.
“He has the ability,” Oswego East coach Tyson LeBlanc said. “He made the guys around him better because teams focus on trying to take him away, and it opened up our passing game up a little bit more. Some other guys were able to flourish.”
The Nazareth days
Kelly-Martin headed to Nazareth to play with his older brother, Decxavier, who already attended the school. The family rule was one high school for all the siblings, especially with the drive to Nazareth potentially taking up to an hour each way.
“We weren’t going to do two schools,” his father, Jamar Kelly, said.
So Kelly-Martin headed to Nazareth. He would win a state title with his brother as a sophomore. His second state title, as a junior, meant more to him. Injuries limited him in 2014. Kelly-Martin wanted to play a bigger role on the team, and got his wish in 2015, becoming the centerpiece of the offense, rushing for 2,036 yards and 36 touchdowns.
“For me to help my team as much as I did to that point, that second one was the biggest one,” Kelly-Martin said.
He did more than help the team. He carried Nazareth to the 2015 state title, rushing for four touchdowns in a 42-21 win over Lincoln-Way East in the Class 5A championship game. His 96-yard touchdown run set a state championship record.
“Right after that touchdown people were telling me to look at the big screen,” Kelly-Martin said. “I didn’t know what I did. That was a pretty good feeling.”
Thanks to Everyone that has helped me on my journey! I'm officially a Hawkeye and ready for the next chapter of my life! ?? pic.twitter.com/7R45OU71fA
— Ivory Kelly-Martin (@kellymartinivo) February 1, 2017
It almost didn’t happen. Kelly-Martin wanted to transfer back to Oswego East after his sophomore year. His brother was headed to Illinois State to play linebacker, and he wanted to head back to his friends.
LeBlanc heard rumors about Kelly-Martin’s potential return from his players.
“You never want to put too much stock in that,” LeBlanc said.
It’s a good thing. Kelly-Martin returned for one more season at Nazareth, in part for his sister, Ty, who wanted to go to the school, and in part to chase another state title. But going back required a promise from his father.
“He wanted to be over here with those guys his senior year,” his father said. “We wanted to make sure we got him over there.”
Kelly-Martin used to wake up at 4:45 a.m. to head to Nazareth and wouldn’t return home until 8 or 9 p.m.
Now, he rolls out of bed at 6 a.m. for his 7:20 a.m. first period and rolls through the hallways saying hello and slapping hands with friends between classes. They watched him run the football when they weren’t sitting next to him in class.
It is the perfect way for him to wrap up his high-school career.
“I’ve made the best of my senior year,” Kelly-Martin said.
For the complete Iowa NextGen series, click this link.