Nebraska announced its 2020 team captains Saturday afternoon. This season will feature five players instead of the usual four Scott Frost has named each of his first two years.
Quarterback Adrian Martinez, offensive lineman Matt Farniok, wideout Kade Warner, linebacker Collin Miller, and cornerback Dicaprio Bootle will serve as the team’s loudest leaders this season.
Captains are voted on by the players themselves.
Farniok, Miller, and Bootle are seniors. Martinez and Warner are both juniors. On the offensive side of the ball, this marks the second straight year both Martinez and Farniok have been named team captains.
Naming five guys isn’t anything new for Nebraska. In four of the five years before Frost’s arrival in Lincoln, Nebraska named at least five guys.
In terms of their gameday responsibilities, though, captainship this year will be slightly different. Games will feature only one representative from each team and two officials at midfield for the pregame coin toss.
Starting on defense, being voted a team captain seemed to be almost expected for Bootle. The senior from Miami, Florida, has been the Nebraska defensive back of the year each of the last two seasons, and named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten and Third Team All-Big Ten. He’s started 24 straight games and played in every game dating back to 2017. Bootle hasn’t been discussed much by coaches since camp started, but that’s probably a compliment. The corner is a stalwart on the defense; Nebraska knows exactly what it’s going to get from Bootle on game day, and that’s a player opposing offenses don’t want to throw at.
Miller is the bigger surprise of the two. Just like Bootle, the inside linebacker has played in every game dating back to 2017. Last year, he settled in as a full-time starter for the first time. He tied for third on the team with a career-high 67 tackles, totaled a career-high seven tackles for loss—including his first career sack—four pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. He was named Nebraska's Linebacker of the Year.
Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander said he thought Miller was due for a big year in his final season of eligibility.
On offense, Warner is the big story.
The Arizona native has gone from walk-on to scholarship player to captain this fall camp.
“Kade Warner’s leadership has been unmatched in the receiving corps,” said Austin Allen, a junior tight end and roommate of Warner’s. “That’s helped these new receivers that are new to the program get a lot better.”
Nebraska has relied on the wideout this offseason to help get a new and inexperienced group of wide receivers up to speed, and Warner has been more than happy to help.
“I think with a leader you also have to be a teacher,” he said.
Warner has 25 career catches for 196 yards as a Husker. He’s battled injuries off and on, but has played in 16 games over the last two seasons. Nebraska is looking to replace two of its three starters at wideout for this year, and it would stand to reason that Warner is firmly in the mix for one of those spots.
Farniok experienced a change this offseason. A starter at right tackle each of the last two seasons, the South Dakota native officially kicked inside to right guard during the spring period, opening the door for redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart to take over at right tackle.
Originally, the plan was to move Farniok over to left guard—next to fellow senior Brendon Jaimes at left tackle—but with an extended summer giving the coaching staff time to rethink things, the Huskers concluded Farniok’s experience and leadership might better serve Benhart over on the right side of the line. (And, if Benhart proves unready, Farniok can move back to tackle easier.)
Ultimately, Nebraska thinks Farniok’s skillset is better suited for the interior of the line. But, now a two-time captain, it’s clear NU believes he’s valuable just about anywhere you put him.
And that brings us to Martinez.
Included in the announcement seems to be an answer to the question that started raging earlier this week: who will be Nebraska’s starting quarterback?
Martinez being named as a team captain for the second straight year would seemingly all but assure he’s going to be the guy taking the field for the first time when the Huskers begin play on Oct. 24 against Ohio State on the road.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Martinez will be the only quarterback who plays—redshirt freshman Luke McCaffrey has been battling with Martinez during camp—but it does seemingly put to bed any lingering question as to whether McCaffrey might unseat him.
It would seem strange to name a quarterback a captain if he hasn’t won the starting job.
Whether Nebraska uses a two-quarterback system, though, might still be up for debate. Both Frost and quarterback coach Mario Verduzco prefer picking one guy and letting him control the offense as they feel rhythm and feel for the flow of the game is important for a quarterback. But, this week when asked about it, Frost didn’t necessarily close and lock the door on the conversation. If that’s what’s best for the team, they’ll look into it.
“I wouldn’t say it’s clear yet,” Frost said this Tuesday when asked if either quarterback had separated himself in practice from the other. “Adrian is certainly playing well. Luke is certainly playing well. We feel like we have two guys at the top of that heap that are playing well enough to help us win games. Every position is a competition and we're going to have to make those decisions pretty quickly, but I've been really impressed with both of them.”
It’s a competition that has been described as both friendly and contentious this offseason. McCaffrey has pushed Martinez, with the latter adding that the youngster’s improvement has brought out a fire in the elder statesman of the room.
Now, though, it appears this will be Martinez’s team once again. The Fresno native is hoping for a bounce-back junior campaign.
After setting the Big Ten on fire in 2018, en route to a Freshman All-American selection, Martinez came down to earth in 2019. While problems persisted around him within the offense, Martinez struggled with decision-making, accuracy, and staying healthy.
His completion percentage dipped below 60% after posting a 65% clip as a freshman, and his touchdown production dropped off (17 as a freshman, only 10 in 2019) while his turnovers continued at the same rate. Coaches have said a dip from Martinez during camp last year in terms of his drive may have played a role in his sophomore slump.
“I would just say I’m trying to work harder physically to get myself in the shape I know I need to be in,” he said when asked how his prep for this year might be different from years past.
“In addition to that, I’m trying to take each day and make the most out of it. Try and live in the present, try and make the most out of that practice and not look forward to two, three weeks from now, and if that means diving into practice tape more, I’m working on my game as much as I can.”
His teammates noticed.