Head coach Scott Frost took a straw poll of his coaching staff in the middle of last week. He had already spoken with quarterback coach Mario Verduzco and offensive coordinator Troy Walters. He told them they weren’t making the decision then, just wanted to know where everyone was at.
“It was consensus among the coaches that he gave us the best chance,” Frost said Monday during his first game-week press conference as the Husker head coach.
“He” was called into Verduzco’s office Saturday night before the Huskers held their annual practice for the university students. “He” rode his scooter to the stadium feeling slightly uneasy about what coach and player would discuss but confident in the work he’d put in since January.
“He” was announced Sunday morning. Adrian Martinez had won the Huskers’ starting quarterback position, the first ever true freshman to do so at Nebraska for a season-opener.
“I was really excited to tell my dad,” Martinez said. “He’s a big part of why I work so hard and why I wanted to be the starting quarterback and why I want to succeed. Calling him and being able to tell him that my hard work has paid off to this point was a great feeling.”
But his dad told him the work doesn’t stop. The struggle isn’t over. Martinez said he wasn’t ecstatic for very long.
“I feel like I should have been happier than I was,” he said. “Five minutes later I was already thinking about Akron. I want to win. When we win, that’s when I’ll be on Cloud Nine for that. I think the mission hasn’t been accomplished yet.”
Martinez said the plan in coming to Nebraska was for him to be the starter. He wasn’t trying to evaluate himself or set measuring points during the offseason, he just knew that if he took care of his business, things would sort themselves out. He felt like he was getting better with each day and learning the playbook.
Frost said both quarterbacks — Martinez and redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia — were throwing it well in camp. Martinez’s athletic ability proved to be the key.
“I think Adrian’s athletic ability is probably the factor that, if there was a tie, broke the tie,” Frost said. “I think at the end of the day we’re more dangerous if we have a quarterback, if the throwing is close, that’s a threat to run it. I think our offense is better.”
Neither quarterback competing for the job has thrown a collegiate pass. Frost said that’s not ideal to have but they’ll work through it. Mistakes will happen but the head coach wants his quarterback to be confident that he’s got the leash to work through things.
“I want whoever’s playing to understand that there’s going to be mistakes, they’re not going to be perfect, we’re going to work through those,” he said. “Whichever guy won it was going to be around here for a long time.”
Frost was hoping that would be the case with the guy who lost the competition as well, but that might not be so. But, Nebraska also wasn’t going to base its QB1 decision on future timetables. The 2019 season had no bearing on the 2018 decision, Frost said.
“Getting experience early really helps you down the road but we’re not thinking ahead at all,” he said. “We want to win games this year.”
To those that say Nebraska can’t, Frost says, “I don’t care what they think.” To those that say Martinez isn’t ready for all the responsibilities that come with being the starting quarterback at Nebraska, Frost says think again.
“We’ve known Adrian was mature for his age for a long time, since we recruited him,” Frost said. “Getting here in spring was essential for him. That allowed him to get used to college life, get used to campus here, get used to a little bit of the spotlight, get familiar with things around here. It certainly helped him land where he is.
“He’s going to need that maturity. There’s going to be a lot on his shoulders. I’ve lived that life and I’m sure there will be some mistakes and some lessons that will have to be learned but he’s earned the chance to go out and prove it.”
In most situations, it’s hard for a first-year player to come in and earn the respect of his veteran teammates right off the bat. It can be especially hard to do so when you come in with the fanfare that Martinez came in with. Wasn’t the case for Martinez.
“I think they were just waiting to see who we’d go with,” Martinez said. “We have a band of brothers and whether it was me or Tristan I think the guys would have been able to rally behind us and support us. I felt that support.
“I think guys respect a player who puts it all out there on the field, a guy who’s going to be full-go all the time, whether that’s in the weight room, film room or on the practice field. I try to demand the most out of my teammates and they do the same from me. I think when you do that, and they see that they respect you no matter your age.”
The biggest remaining question mark surrounding the newly-minted starter is his arm.
Martinez missed his entire senior season of high school football on a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He suffered the injury during football season his junior year but told a story Monday about playing through it for the entire basketball season.
It’s the final game of the season in the final minute and Martinez gets a steal, he goes up for a layup and a defender takes a swipe at his arm. The trainer tells Martinez that he’s dislocated his shoulder and likely made the labrum injury worse. Martinez says he feels fine and plays through it. On the next play, his shoulder pops in and out of place again.
“Probably wasn’t the brightest decision,” he starts. “It’s just hard for me to quit. The game was on the line and I wanted to go in. Kind of a hard decision to live with but it’s worked out. I feel better than I ever have. Right now, at this point, I’m really slinging the ball and I think everything happens for a reason.”
Martinez said there were low moments, points in time where he couldn’t lift his hand above shoulder-level.
“There was a point where I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it back to 100 percent,” he said. “There was a low. But that didn’t last very long. In my mind I always believed I was destined to play quarterback and excel. I knew I had been working hard and things were going to turn back around.”
They did. That first goal he set for himself at Nebraska — earn the starting spot — he’s accomplished. Now come the games. Martinez jokes he isn’t thinking about running out of the tunnel for the first time because he wants to sleep this week, but he’s not really worried about the pressure.
Asked who Martinez reminds Frost of in that regard, Frost quipped that he “certainly doesn’t remind me of me.” He compared Martinez to UCF starter McKenzie Milton (a comparison former UCF safety Tre Neal also made an hour earlier).
“I thought McKenzie was ready to play as a freshman, he just didn’t have the spring ball and got hurt a little in fall camp so he was a little behind,” Frost said. “But when we got him out there, boy you could tell right away he was a playmaker.”
Martinez did have spring ball to learn. Most accounts say he does have that playmaker gene. Time to see it in action.
Frost says: “I can’t wait to watch him play.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.