Heisman Can Wait
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Heisman Can Wait, Martinez Focused on Being Better Leader for Nebraska

March 05, 2019

When senior corner Lamar Jackson revealed Tuesday morning that phones were no longer allowed in Travis Fisher’s meeting room, much was made of it. No distractions, Jackson said. Fisher, the Huskers’ second-year defensive backs coach, wants his guys’ attention for those 30 minutes, but he laughed at the fact Jackson let the media know about the mandate, saying what happens in his room stays in his room. 

A changing of the guard, some will write, with the crux of that shift being pinned on Fisher’s decision. “There’s accountability now.” But don’t get too carried away, head coach Scott Frost cautioned. This isn’t some “police state.” 

“I don’t ever want to run a top-down program where I’m micro-managing and running everything and fixing every little problem,” the head coach said Tuesday as every key figure for Nebraska met with the media to begin spring practices. “The more problems that can get fixed before they even get to the coaching staff, the better team we’ll have. That responsibility falls on a lot of those guys.”

One of those guys, and possibly the one who bears the brunt of the responsibility, is second-year quarterback Adrian Martinez. Given his situation, it’s not a question of whether Martinez can step into more of a leadership role. Frost says he has to.

“He’s going to be [a leader] whether he wants to or not because of the position he plays and how well he played last year,” Frost said. “He can’t back into that. He’s got to take it on, accept it and embrace it. He’s naturally going to be one of our leaders, but I want to see it go beyond that. I want to see him be the guy that’s setting the tone for the entire offense and the entire team.

Both coach and quarterback acknowledged that’s a little hard to do as an 18-year-old true freshman. But some of the leaders from last year — the captains, Mick Stoltenberg and Jerald Foster and Luke Gifford and Stanley Morgan Jr., guys who had been at Nebraska for years and commanded respect from their peers — are gone and there’s a void that needs filling. 

“There’s some things that I think I can do as a leader now that I couldn’t do at the beginning of last year,” Martinez said. 

He’s going out of his way to encourage in the weight room (and keep guys doing what they’re supposed to, as needed, though it seems there’s not as much of that nowadays). He’s going out of his way to be around his teammates on campus and in the classroom. “I’m just trying to do my best to let the guys know I’m there for them and trying to do things the right way,” he said. 

Martinez talks like he’s been at this level forever.

Asked what the offense looks like now with a bunch of new guys, he essentially said it’s Day 1, chill. (Exact quote: “It’s only been one practice.”) Asked if he could approach this spring differently knowing he’s the No. 1 guy at quarterback, he stressed he doesn’t ever come to work complacent and there’s always a competition. Asked about mistakes, he made no proclamations of an error-free sophomore campaign, but said “I’ll try not to make the same mistake twice.”

Asked if there was one play out of the entire season he’d like to have back, Martinez said the injury he suffered in the Colorado game was him trying to do too much and making the incorrect read and costing his team. 

Again, this kid isn’t even 20 yet. 

“Adrian is the type of kid that is always going to do things the right way. You don’t need to worry about his work ethic, his attention to detail,” Frost said. “He’s got the type of personality that people gravitate toward. So I think that even when he gets on people, people are going to accept it and embrace any sort of coaching he can give. I want him to worry about accomplishing the mission and taking care of his teammates. 

“Usually as a leader if you start out with bringing one person with you, then two, pretty soon you’re going to be leading a bigger group, and I’ve seen that from Adrian but we need to fast track that.”

It’s possible Martinez is a captain. At Nebraska, that title has historically been reserved for seniors, and though an actual decision will come later on down the line, the quarterback seems poised to earn one of those designations. But, he says, the early success and attention isn’t going to change the way he talks to his teammates. 

“I believe leadership is performance and performance is leadership,” he said.

And his performance in his first year would make anyone fall in line. Martinez’s bio in the spring media guide takes up a full page and half of another, more than any other player. After just one season. Martinez set records for 400-yard games (three), offensive yards per in a season (295.1) and 300-yard games in a season (seven). He was a freshman All-American and an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten selection. All while his Huskers won four games. 

The expectations for Martinez in his second season are through the roof. Everyone knows that. It took less than five minutes before the quarterback was asked about the Heisman odds Vegas gave him, which happen to be the third-best of any player in college football. 

“It’s humbling,” he said. “It’s an award that you grow up knowing about, being a big fan of college football. But, at the end of the day, that’s not my primary focus. My primary focus is getting better each day and helping this team win more games. That’s what matters.”

Spoken like a veteran, like a leader. Which surprises no one inside the walls of Memorial Stadium.

“That’s who he is,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said. “We could tell when we met him he was poised and he was a very humble kid. Hungry. Wanted to be great. But, wasn’t going to let all the success get to him. … Our motto is, ‘Day by Day,’ so it’s not about three months from now, four months from now, a year from now. It’s about today. Can I get better? How can we get better today? That’s the type of kid he is. 

“He’s not focused on the Heisman, he’s focused on Day 2 of spring practice tomorrow and being the best that he can be. … He looks at what’s in front of him and he attacks that.”

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