CHICAGO — Nebraska coach Scott Frost, quarterback Adrian Martinez, linebacker Mohamed Barry and defensive lineman Khalil Davis made it to Big Ten Media Days—albeit barely—and spent Thursday afternoon addressing a lot of topics. Plenty will be written. There will be talk about how the Huskers are better today than they were a year ago, but there’s plenty of work ahead. There will be breakdowns of every update by positions on the team. There will be talk about all that hype.
So, let’s keep that rolling. Here are three takeaways from the Huskers’ appearance at Big Ten Media Days.
>> Martinez is everything you’ve heard about him. He’s mature. He’s poised. He’s a promising leader for the Nebraska football team at only 19-years-old. Search his name on Twitter and you’ll find countless media members––many unaffiliated with Nebraska—talking about how impressive he is.
His teammates have seen his evolution, too. He’s more of a leader today than he was at this time last year, but that’s not by default. Martinez will tell you he had to earn his role as a leader last year. He was a true freshman leading a Nebraska team that needed all kinds of leadership.
But he did exactly that.
"He believes in earning his teammates’ respect and that’s what he’s done,” Barry said. “Now he commands the team. I’ve told him I have his back, a lot of people have told him that we have his back. He’s blossomed into a leader."
That doesn’t mean his teammates don’t continue to push him. Davis likes to give Martinez a hard time in practice. Martinez likes to dish it back. He’s got a little swag about him in practice, according to Davis. We’ve seen it a few times on game day.
Away from the cameras and the lights, Martinez’s personality truly shines. He has an impression of the Davis twins that’s uncanny. Something he said to Barry prompted the senior to step up his Big Ten Media Days fashion, maybe because he didn’t want to be outdone by the sophomore. It’s hard to say, because the details of exactly what was said are fuzzy now. For as much maturity and poise that Martinez has, he’s also a 19-year-old enjoying playing a game with his friends. He said the friendships he has with his teammates beyond the football field is one of the best parts of being at Nebraska.
— Nebraska Football (@HuskerFBNation) July 18, 2019
So, yes, Martinez is everything you’ve read about him. He’s mature. He’s poised. He’s growing into the leader Nebraska needs for this team every single day. And he’s done that by showing up and working hard.
But he’s also done that by being exactly himself, which is a little goofy and a little fun too. You just might not see that as much until the cameras and microphones turn off.
>> Want to talk about Ohio State coming to Lincoln? How about Nebraska’s trip to Colorado? If you’re looking to get some answers about those matchups, you might not like the answer the Huskers will give you.
“First things first, we definitely have to focus on South Alabama,” Martinez said in respone to a question on Colorado. “They’re going to be a tough team and that’s going to be a big one for us. Colorado will be a ton of fun. I’m looking forward to playing that team in Boulder. Should be a lot of Nebraska fans there too and it should be a good time and a good team.”
The original question was about Martinez getting a second chance at Colorado after getting hurt against the Buffs in 2018. But he’s not the only one making sure games don’t get overlook.
Let’s go back to that Ohio State matchup. Barry was asked about it. It’s five games into the season.
“Every game matters,” Barry said. “They’re not going to look at just one game if you lose every game. There not going to look at one game if one game you look dominant and the other games you barely win. It has to be every game that we play we have to be a dominant team. We’re taking it one game at a time–South Alabama, Colorado, Northern Illinois, Illinois, teams like that. Then we know who we got. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to give every team the respect they deserve.”
How many players at Big Ten Media Days can name the first four or five games off their 2019 schedules? Maybe more than is being given credit for here, but Barry’s ability to name those teams with such ease is notable. He’s paying attention. That starts with giving credit to every game on the roster and not choosing to overlook a few in favor of a big one.
The takeaway here? Nebraska is literally taking it “day-by-day.” It may sound cliché and maybe it is. But for a team that the Big Ten media believes could win the Big Ten West when it’s all said and done, the Huskers aren’t focused there just yet. They’re focused on South Alabama.
>> Let’s just say things are better for the Huskers now than they were one year ago today. Frost talked about it at the podium. “There was a lot of things that had to get changed, fixed, adjusted,” he said. Nebraska’s still working on it, too.
But things are getting better. Players are getting bigger and stronger, which Frost saw firsthand on a recent visit to the weight room.
“I think there were six or seven guys that did two reps of over 800 pounds on squat,” Frost later said in his podium breakout sesson. “That’s not something they could’ve come close to a couple of years ago.”
Frost isn’t the only one noting the changes. Players like Barry are too. They’re watching film together now and critiquing what they’re doing. They’re all “cogs in the wheel of success” for Nebraska, as Martinez says.
The players are talking about the playbook over lunch. They’re focusing during 7-on-7 drills, instead of standing on the sideline and chatting while others are on the practice field.
“Now we’re talking about plays, we’re arguing about plays and stuff like that,” Barry said about the defensive side of the ball. “That’s what you want. You want your defense to be bought in and to be like evil scientist that are colliding with ideas and saying, ‘You should do this, you should make this call.’ It’s everyone having that understanding that they can put that input in, right or wrong, in our defense.”
There’s still work to be done. Frost isn’t sugarcoating that. He even joked that the media is often wrong about preseason predictions, but maybe it wasn’t a joke. Maybe the Huskers are overhyped right now. Either way, there’s something different about this Nebraska team today than it was one year ago.
"I see a different team from a confidence standpoint, a swagger standpoint, an energy standpoint,” Frost said.
How that translates on game day has yet to be seen, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.