I appreciated Noah Vedral taking the question. There in Indianapolis to represent his new home at Rutgers and here he was getting asked about an old teammate from a different school. He didn’t have to offer as much as he did, but it’s clear the relationships are still strong with guys despite suiting up in different shades of red on Saturdays.
Vedral, the starting quarterback now for the Scarlet Knights after transferring away from Nebraska following the 2019 season, sounds like a captain, not just in name but in tone and demeanor.
He deflects praise to teammates and to coaches. Maybe there’s a little Mario Verduzco still in there saying “cog in the wheel of success or failure” in the back of his head. Then again that’s the kind of player he’s shown himself to be throughout his entire career.
But Vedral’s first season at Rutgers presented new challenges, asked him to be a new kind of player.
There was the struggle of having to meet his teammates through football only, of endearing himself to a team it took longer than usual to get to know deeper than surface level names, positions, and numbers. But Vedral was recruited by Rutgers coach Greg Schiano out of the portal to be a leader of his rebuild.
“I think I grew a lot,” Vedral said. “I’ve been a starting quarterback in high school and I started a couple games (in college), but to be a starting quarterback for an entire season, it’s a different leadership role. You take on leadership beyond the field. That was something I didn’t have a ton of experience with. I mean, I’ve led before and I consider myself a leader, but to take on an official structured and visible leadership role from inside and outside the team, it was something I had to learn.”
This stuff isn’t easy, nor should it be.
The starting quarterback, be it at Rutgers or Nebraska or Ohio State or Southeastern Louisiana, carries with it some added responsibilities. The “signal caller,” we sometimes refer to them as. Be the conductor, not just of the offense but of the team.
“I thought Coach Schiano and (offensive coordinator Sean) Gleeson helped me a lot, being like ‘Hey, talk to this guy, talk to that guy,’” Vedral said. “And then all of a sudden you get that rhythm and you now know how to see things in your team and in your teammates to be there for them beyond just, ‘Hey, this is what you’ve got,’ or ‘Hey this is your motion, this is how fast you need to go, this is how wide you need to be.’ Stuff beyond that in leadership is something I had to learn.”
Not everyone is cut out for it.
If the 2020 football season proved anything in Lincoln, it’s that so too is Adrian Martinez.
Critique the decision-making or the ball security all you want, but one thing no one can critique about the fourth-year quarterback is his determination.
“For me, I think it’s prove it to myself and prove it to my teammates that I can be every bit the player I aspired to be when I first got here,” Martinez said of his goal this season. “It’s playing at a higher level, playing more efficient, no turnovers.”
They’ve left a lot on the table, he says. There’s a need to be “gritty in the details.” That’s true on the field. There also needs to be more accountability demanded of each other off the field.
This particular team has seemingly done a good job of that so far. The seniors on defense have set the tone. Martinez could probably be categorized as a tone-setter on the offense.
He’s has talked about leadership before. How he had to learn how to tailor messages to the specific audience, that some guys react differently when confronted with the same message in a different envelope.
His center doesn’t need to be yelled at when a snap flies wayward. He knows what happened. Martinez needs to communicate constructively. That’s a learning process for anyone.
Nebraska’s been at sail amid a storm for three seasons and Martinez has had to keep the boat on course. No doubt he’s made errors, the record is what it is, but three seasons with Martinez at the helm has earned him the respect of anyone who brings up his game.
It should have come as no surprise then to hear that even amid a third consecutive losing season, amid his first career benching, amid calls for the other guy and online sludge, Martinez was still reaching out to the guy who tried to take his job, still paying attention to the East coast ball Vedral was playing and sending congrats when they were due.
“Those relationships I’ve been very grateful for,” Vedral said. “Those guys have been good to me from the start of the process to the end of the process and even through last season. It’s kind of a blessing in disguise when you get to play at multiple schools, you have a lot of people you cross paths with and relationships that you can build that could last a long time.
“In college football, you go through a lot. Workouts are hard. Every morning (at) 5:30, all morning long, late nights during camp, you just spend so much time with these guys they become literally like pseudo-family. That’s your home away from home. It’s really special to me. I cherish those relationships a lot.”
Vedral watched Martinez, too, as much as he could given their occupations. (Sorry, extracurriculars.) “Anytime I see something positive I always try to say congratulations, check on him,” Vedral said. “I still consider him a good friend and I wish him nothing but the best.”
I asked Vedral of what he thought about the way Martinez carried himself in 2020. Surprised at all?
“He’s a great man,” Vedral replied.
So, no. Martinez endeared himself to everyone all over again. He lost his starting position on the field but remained a captain in the locker room. That takes some incredible maturity.
“I got to be there for a couple years with him and watch him grow up and fill those shoes and I thought he handled it with class,” Vedral said. “Almost like in a bigger brother way I was proud of him. I said, ‘Hey, hold your head high through the ups and downs. You have to be your own biggest advocate. You have to believe in yourself or no one else will.’ Through hard times and good times I thought he’s done a good job.”
As Martinez enters a new season, that’s at least worth celebrating a little.
“He’s a talented kid,” Vedral said, “and I can’t wait to see what he does this year.”
That makes two of us.
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.