It was the final question of his video interview with the media on Thursday when Ihmir Smith-Marsette was asked what he needed to work on heading into his final season at Iowa.
The wide receiver went through a detailed checklist — getting better separation at the line of scrimmage, better work with his hands.
All standard wide receiver fundamentals — “If anybody said they don’t need to work on anything, they’re lying, unless they’re Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, somebody like that,” Smith-Marsette said.
But there’s a reason for that checklist.
“That will definitely take me from Ihmir to Ihmir,” Smith-Marsette said, punctuating his name and then laughing.
In a talented room of wide receivers, Smith-Marsette wants to stand out. He had 44 catches for a team-high 722 yards, but all of the top four receivers stood out last season.
Brandon Smith had 37 catches for 439 yards, but that was in nine games after he suffered an ankle injury. Nico Ragaini had a team-high 46 catches, a reliable target for quarterback Nate Stanley. Tyrone Tracy Jr., had 36 catches for 589 yards, becoming more of a big-play option when Smith was hurt.
All of those receivers are back this season, and it’s a competitive room.
Smith-Marsette talked at the end of last season about "unfinished business." Instead of entering his name in the NFL Draft, Smith-Marsette came back into a room crowded with talent, a room he appreciates.
“Nobody is a guaranteed first-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick,” Smith-Marsette said. “Nobody is guaranteed anything. You still have to work like you’re coming in, like you still need a spot. That’s the attitude we all have. We’re all fighting for a spot. Complacency, I know that’s a big thing when people get their name out there. But we’ve still got a lot to prove. There’s nothing that anyone should be complacent for. It should be easy to continue to stay hungry, and want to fight to do better and be better.”
Smith-Marsette carries the most momentum. He’s coming off a performance in the Holiday Bowl win over USC when he had a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown, and a kick return for a touchdown, and he almost had a passing touchdown. He was the offensive player of the game, and when that’s how you walk out the door to end the season, there are a lot of expectations when you come back.
“People have been treating me the same,” said Smith-Marsette, who led the Big Ten and ranked second nationally in kickoff return average. “It’s just been the same thing every day since we came back to football — nobody has been treating me like some big superstar or anything. I’ve just been the same person, working hard.
“It’s been really easy, really cool.”
There is a maturity to Smith-Marsette’s game now.
“I’ve always worked hard in practice,” he said. “But just coming into the building, being more consistent, it showed up on the field. That’s all what makes me a consistent leader on the field. I’ve always been the person that kept the team (at a) high volume, always tried to bring electricity in the locker room. That’s always been me.”
There was another checklist Smith-Marsette went through when he was talking about Iowa’s offensive options. Not just the four receivers, but the tight ends, the running backs, the returning linemen, new quarterback Spencer Petras.
“We’ve got everything we need,” he said. “I’ve thought about how high-powered we can be. I have thought about how dangerous, how explosive it could get when things get rolling. Especially when someone gets hot.
“It could get really wild.”
Smith-Marsette wants to be at the top of that checklist.
“You work,” he said, “like you still have to make a name for yourself.”