It started at 8 a.m. two Saturdays ago on May 26. Nebraska’s four quarterbacks — freshmen Adrian Martinez and Tristan Gebbia and sophomores Andrew Bunch and Noah Vedral — showed up at quarterback coach Mario Verduzco’s home to take their test. It wasn’t the first time (they took it open-book before the spring) and it won’t be the last time (they’ll take it again in the fall, then do it all over next year), but this one was closed-book and Vedral says your first time is the hardest.
It was broken into four parts and took four hours; each part had a time limit. It required a blue or black pen and was entirely written. After it was done, Verduzco fed his quarterbacks a five-course Italian wedding feast.
“Honestly I think we ate for longer than we took the test,” Vedral says.
It’s designed to test each quarterback’s cognitive ability; there could be questions about coverages or fronts or reads or routes. The quarterbacks have to know it all better than their coaches. The questions can be short or long. Most of the time it’s pretty conceptual. After it’s done, the quarterbacks get the key and grade it themselves. They pass it off to Verduzco and in the coming weeks, they’ll meet with him one-on-one to go over their results and hear their evaluations.
It’s only part of a whole that will determine who the Huskers’ next starting quarterback will be, but it’s an important part.
“It’s the ACT of football,” Vedral said.
The test that Verduzco delivers to his room can be daunting. As Martinez puts it, “It’s part of the grand plan,” but the sheer act can also be a window into understanding what makes Verduzco such a beloved figure to his quarterbacks. Find another coach in college football who does this. Verduzco views the teaching as an obligation and his quarterbacks see something special in that.
Bunch says he looks like a mad scientist. Vedral says you don’t want to know what’s on his bookshelf (even though you should). But those round spectacles — a Verduzco staple that are just trends for others — give off a different vibe.
He looks like he’d be an Ivy League physics professor in another life. He’s still a pretty good teacher in this one.
“I just love the man,” Vedral said of Verduzco during his photoshoot for the 2018 Hail Varsity Husker Football Yearbook last week. “I’ve learned from him every day and there’s so much more I can learn from him and I don’t know there will ever be a day where I don’t learn from him.”
During the spring, Verduzco talked about wanting his quarterbacks to have eyes and feet in the right place, about not wanting emotional responses to stressful situations and about trying to get his quarterbacks out of the deep end of a pool that is the new playbook and into more comfortable waters. Martinez said he keeps things fun and truly cares about his guys, so much so that the coach finds ways to take complicated concepts like biomechanics and make sure what needs to be understood is understood.
His test is a way to make sure you're paying attention. The evaluations get sent home to parents, so if one guy doesn't do so hot, it's like elementary school in the principal's office all over again. Maybe that's off-putting to some that just think playing quarterback is about finding the open guy and not being careless with the football, but with Verduzco it's a display of love; not just of his individual guys but of the position.
Vedral says it’s captivating to listen to Verduzco, that he’s a “crazy Italian but he’s super smart.” Martinez says he doesn’t hide anything in recruiting. “He’s the same guy he was when I first met him,” he says. When it comes to dissecting and observing the quarterback, Verduzco’s playing chess while everyone else plays Connect Four.
“There’s always a deeper level of understanding something but Coach Verdu, I swear, has the deepest level about anything that has to do with the quarterback position,” Vedral says. “Whether it’s the mental processes, how we process information, storing information, recalling information, throwing a football, throwing on the run, everything we could possibly do he’s explored … from multiple angles — physics, philosophy, biology, anatomy, all that stuff.
“He’s covered everything we could possibly need in all those categories and that’s why I trust the man so much and why I think it’s easy for quarterbacks to buy into what he does.”
Martinez said “everyone did solid” on their test and that “we all know our stuff.” They’ll be finding out soon where they stand (if they haven’t already) and then summer workouts will provide another data point and then the fall will provide another after that. When the Huskers say the quarterback competition isn’t close to reaching a conclusion, that’s not just coachspeak, it’s the truth.
In the meantime, the quarterbacks will continue trying to soak up as much as they can from their new teacher before their next test.
For more on Verduzco and his approach to the quarterback position, don't miss out on the 2018 Hail Varsity Yearbook.
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.