Hail Varsity Mailbag
Photo Credit: Quentin Lueninghoener

Mailbag: Favorite Huskers, Martinez’s Future, and John Cook’s Juggling Act

May 13, 2021

It’s mailbag time again, and the Hail Varsity staff is back to answer your questions. Let’s dive in.

What is your favorite memory for any Husker or Husker team this year? (@dmhusker1) 

Erin Sorensen: In-person memory would probably be any of the volleyball team’s home matches. It was an honor to cover the 2020-21 volleyball team in person and I do not take that for granted. There are so many little moments from the season—like Lauren Stivrins and Callie Schwarzenbach tapping pointer fingers during warmups—that may not seem significant in the big scheme of things, but they were a reminder of how personal this season was. Things you may have normally missed in the chaos of a game day were more present because all there was to focus on were the players. Outside of that, watching the women’s golf team find out where they were heading for NCAA Regionals was awesome. That was a lot of fun to witness in person. 

Jacob Padilla: It’s probably not a popular pick because of how the game — and season — ended, but Teddy Allen’s 41-point, eight-rebound, six-assist explosion against Penn State was the single best performance I’ve seen by a Nebraska athlete this year, and one of the best I’ve ever covered. A smaller moment was walk-on setter Anni Evans, a Waverly graduate, making her Nebraska debut against Maryland and serving up an ace on her first rally. Her teammates were absolutely thrilled for her during and after the match, which shows the kind of impression she made on the team as a freshman. 

Derek Peterson: For me, it’s Adrian Martinez’s sort of “redemption” arc throughout the 2020 season. I was super critical of the quarterback play in Nebraska’s 21-13 loss to Northwestern and wrote after the game about the decision that Scott Frost had laid before himself with the way he handled the quarterback rotation in the game. In benching Martinez not just for a series or two but for the rest of the game after his third quarter interception, at that moment it looked like Frost would have to decide if it was just time to completely move to Luke McCaffrey. At the time, I thought that going with McCaffrey could potentially spell the end of Martinez’s run as the guy. Granted, McCaffrey had his issues and once he got into a full-time starter role, those were exposed, but in about a three-week span, Martinez went from the target of a lot of frustration and criticism to universally beloved. He led from the background, grew as a person and a football player, and when he got the job back he looked better. There’s still improvement that’s needed, to be sure, but I think people are much more optimistic about Martinez now than they were a year ago this time despite another losing season on his resume. To see him preserver through an unbelievably tough season and find a bit of peace and confidence this offseason, I’m really happy for him. We’re supposed to remain unbiased with teams, but you’ll find any number of sportswriters who wind up rooting for individuals all the time, and I’m certainly rooting for Martinez. 

Who has been your favorite Husker athlete to cover through the years? (@Starkastic8) 

ES: This is hard to choose, because I’ve been fortunate to cover so many incredible individuals. If I had to choose one (and I’m selecting someone who has already graduated), I’ll say Tre Neal. He wasn’t at Nebraska long, but from the moment I met him at the Peach Bowl while he was still at Central Florida to his arrival at Nebraska to his feature for our December 2018 issue, he’s been a lot of fun to cover. He’s also incredibly gracious. He’s got a big and bright future ahead and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him. But I’d be remiss not to mention every other athlete I’ve gotten to cover. Everyone from Kate Smith to Dicaprio Bootle to Brandon Kinnie to Lauren Stivrins to Adrian Martinez to Kelly Hunter have been nothing but outstanding to work with and get to know. 

Mike Babcock: Over 40-plus years of covering the Huskers, I wouldn’t want to pick one or two or . . . so, so many. It’s a big part of the reason I’ve continued to do this, people not events. And not just student-athletes, also coaches, support personnel, administrators, fans, media, the people associated directly or indirectly with Husker athletics. 

Greg Smith: This is so tough. I get to know a lot of the football players through their recruitment and then see them grow through college. Turner Corcoran was the first player that came to mind though so I’ll go with him. It’s fun to see fans getting to see his personality now and linemen are just so fun. Honorable mention to Dicaprio Bootle and Mo Barry as guys who recently graduated.  

JP: Like everyone else here has said, it’s incredibly difficult to narrow this down. The first guy that came to mind was Luke Gifford. I’m partial to in-state kids that have become Huskers because I covered and built a relationship with many of them before they got to Lincoln, and Luke is as real as it comes. I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with him, which is why the magazine feature I wrote on the Gifford brothers a few years back is one of my favorite things I’ve done.  

DP: In no particular order: Luke Gifford, Mo Barry, Dicaprio Bootle, Lamar Jackson, Darrion Daniels, Adrian Martinez, Stanley Morgan Jr., Kate Cain, and Mi’Cole Cayton.  

How good can our defense be this year? Top 25? (@InDaWilderness) 

MB: Top 25 might be a bit optimistic, but I expect the defense to be solid with so many key players returning. 

GS: I agree with Mike that top 25 feels ambitious. I’ll say this: I think the defense will be good enough to keep them in a lot of games when the offense struggles. There are no glaring holes on that side of the ball. They won’t be top 25 if they don’t get help. 

JP: Top 25 seems a but aggressive unless somebody develops into a dominant pass-rusher out of the blue, but with the experience returning and continued growth within the system, top 35 in scoring defense might be an attainable goal. Last year, that would equal out to giving up less than 24 points per game. Nebraska was at 29.4 (64th) this past season.  

What do you think the chances are that Adrian Martinez comes back for the 2022 season? (@dmhusker1) 

ES: I would give it a 20% chance right now that he returns for the 2022 season. I just don’t see a scenario where it would make a lot of sense, I guess. If he has an incredible 2021 season, you have to declare for the draft. If he has an awful 2021 season, he could be in a scenario where he is competing for his job as a fifth-year senior and that would be rough. I had originally said this was really dependent on the season ahead—and it still is to a degree—but I don’t really know if it makes much sense for him to return no matter the outcome. 

MB: Slim. Erin spells it out. Part of the question might be (and I’m not savvy enough to answer what to others might be clear) is his future the NFL, and beyond that as a quarterback? He’ll be well-prepared for a prosperous future either way, high character, excellent student, personable, a leader, everything. He’s prepared to move on.  

GS: I would give it a 10% chance. I just don’t get what the reason would be. If he has the season he and the coaching staff think he can, he declares for the draft in a weak quarterback year. If he struggles, it’s just time to move on. 

JP: What if he’s just solid but not a star? If he doesn’t play well enough to put himself firmly on the NFL Draft radar but he does well enough to help Nebraska get to a bowl game and show real progress, what would the next step for him be? He could decide to just ride it out and enjoy one more year of being Nebraska’s starting quarterback. I don’t know that it’s likely, but I also don’t think it’s as simple as he either balls out and enters the draft as a high pick or he struggles and transfers out. The middle ground might very well be the most likely outcome, which probably makes that decision more difficult for him.   

How will John Cook juggle all the talent with playing time if Sun and Stivrins both come back to play next season? (@dmhusker1) 

JP: The way he always does: fierce competition in practice and letting the best players play. The extra year of eligibility certainly makes things more complicated, especially with how talented this incoming class is. Nicklin Hames could decide to come back for a fifth year now, which means Kennedi Orr could have to wait until her third season (not including this spring where she practiced and watched but couldn’t play) for her turn or else beat Hames out. Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst both look like instant impact pin-hitters, but if Sun returns there’s suddenly less room for them to play right away. Cook doesn’t use redshirts very often, but we could see him go that route with the likes of Orr, Whitney Lauenstein and Rylee Gray to save their eligibility if Sun and/or Stivrins decide to return.  

Do you think Huskers baseball can make Super Regional C.W.S this season? (@CarnesRegg) 

MB: Super Regional? Maybe. IF (capitalized) the Huskers can play host to a regional, they might have a chance to move on. Can they take the step after that? Doubt it. Either way, we’ve got to see what happens down the stretch to get a good read. After Northwestern comes two more games with Indiana, in Bloomington (with two against Ohio State there as well), and three with Michigan at Hawks Field. How the Huskers finish will help answer your question. Hence the capitalized IF. Much remains to be determined. They need a strong finish or the answer is “no.” 

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