Photo Credit: Eric Francis

On Nebraska’s QB Situation and Focusing on the Present

August 24, 2020

Nebraska shared something small on social media Monday.

Allow me to hyper-analyze it.

Football players block out the noise, put up their blinders and stay connected to what’s in front of them, what they can control. All those cliched sayings about staying in the moment, football lives off that stuff. At Nebraska, it’s modified to “Never too high, never too low.” Regardless of the saying, the through-line is always the same: focus.

Important for everyone. Particularly important for quarterbacks.

The environment in which we currently find ourselves as a sports world isn’t very conducive to focus.

Imagine for a moment junior quarterback Adrian Martinez’s situation.

Prepare for a football season. Prepare in a way that attempts to counteract some of the damage done by a canceled spring ball session months ago. Prepare in a way that lets you fast-track relationship-building and chemistry development with a nearly new wideout group you haven’t thrown to before. Prepare for what is in essence a make-or-break campaign. Prepare for expectations, because even if the local pundits understand the complex situation Scott Frost walked into, all it takes is one national writer to use the phrase “hot seat” in the same sentence as the head coach’s name for things to get interesting. (Which, consequently, has already been done.)

Now, all of that has to be done in a time where any given morning you could open your phone and see three different stories about whether or not football will actually be played. There’s just as much uncertainty now as there was a month ago.

Many know what they want to happen. Few know what will happen.

Does the mind wander? If you pour blood, sweat, and tears into training when you know the opportunity is there at the end of the tunnel, is the same motivation there when you know at any moment your season could be taken away?

This isn’t a situation unique to Nebraska; every football team in America is dealing with this.

Quarterbacks have to steer the ship. At Nebraska, a veteran quarterback will be looked to by a relatively young roster to provide that kind of guidance. His mindset will go a long way toward setting the table for others.

“He seems like he’s in a good place right now,” Frost said in March. “I’ve lived this. When a team struggles, the team’s struggles are the quarterback’s struggles, and the quarterback’s struggles are the team’s struggles. He cares as much as anybody on our team and wants to win as much as anybody on our team. He takes that hard just like I would or just like you would. I can say he seems like he’s in a really good frame of mind right now.”

Of course, that was four months ago. A lot has happened since then. But, for what it’s worth, Martinez’s position coach, Mario Verduzco echoed Frost’s comments on the quarterback’s mental state.

One thing that seems clear is that Nebraska could have used a more focused Martinez a season ago during prep for 2019. Frost intimated to The Omaha World-Herald Martinez may have been “lax” in his prep last offseason. After earning the job ahead of his freshman season, he spent his sophomore summer as the hunted rather than the hunter. It showed. Attention to detail slipped. It’s important to note the offensive failures of 2019 don’t all rest at Martinez’s feet, but the quarterback does have to bear some responsibility.

Call it a learning experience.

From a football standpoint, having Luke McCaffrey another year older and an early-arriving Logan Smothers had Nebraska feeling like it had the goods to push Martinez in the offseason. Competition drives “better,” and those three quarterbacks were going to get all the competition they could handle.

Now, in this severely altered timeline, can those quarterbacks keep that same focus if there’s a giant cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads? Perhaps all the unknowns have a galvanizing effect. Sort of a we’re-all-we’ve-got kind of deal.

“When you have no idea what the future holds—we don’t know what our season’s going to look like, when it’s going to start—you’re forced to focus on the present, be in the moment,” Martinez said in early July when he joined the “No Struggle, No Story” podcast. “It really made me a better person and a better player because I was just focused on what I was doing that day to become better.”

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