Adrian Martinez has taken up golf this summer. As a way to relieve stress, it’s an interesting choice, to say the least, as golf can be one of the most maddening sports on the planet if you’re not any good at it. And Martinez says he isn’t great, but he still enjoys it. A way to clear his mind and not worry about how to improve his red zone efficiency. (A priority this offseason).
At Big Ten Media Days on Thursday, he said he watches a lot of movies, too. Any way to spend time with coaches and teammates that allows a break from football. “I’m thankful that it doesn’t always have to be about football and they can just be there for me as human beings,” he said. Football is what he does, but not who he is.
He’s still just a kid. When the cameras are on and the recorders are out, he wows. “Calm, cool and collected,” they write. Which is true in a lot of respects. But then you watch him get cornered by shameless autograph-seeking adults twice his age and you see someone who is a little overwhelmed.
You see the guy who’s still trying to find his voice.
Nebraska’s sophomore quarterback is not a finished product, but just as Scott Frost likes to say about the team at large, he’s way ahead of where he was last year. This time last year he didn’t own a suit or the Huskers’ starting job. Now, he owns the front page of magazines and the title “Face of the Program.”
Some of the attention is given considering the position he plays and the talent he possesses, but the stuff that matters was anything but.
“He believes in earning his teammates’ respect and that’s what he’s done,” senior linebacker Mohamed Barry said of the sophomore. “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.”
And even though he’s always had those qualities, “blossomed” is the best way to describe what has happened since Martinez landed in Lincoln.
“Adrian was a leader last year, I think he just needed to take a little more ownership of it and be a little more vocal,” Frost said. “Listen, that’s hard when you’re 18 years old and you’re walking into a room filled with 21-, 22-year-old guys and you’re the newcomer, to bark orders, to give commands, to encourage, to be a leader. He did a really good job for a freshman. He’s not a freshman anymore.”
But Martinez’s approach to his first year is perhaps the best illustration of what makes him such an easy guy to rally around.
“When you’re a quarterback you take on responsibility, you take on a leadership role, but being a freshman, you need to know it wasn’t my team yet,” Martinez said. “It just wasn’t. I needed to continue to earn that each day of practice, each day in the weight room, when it was game day.”
Why was a sophomore representing the team when Nebraska had only ever sent four non-seniors before? “He deserves it,” Frost said. They talk often about living in the Nebraska football fishbowl, about all the attention he gets because of who he is and where he plays, about how to handle everything.
The relationship between coach and quarterback is as strong as Frost has ever had. It helps that he was a Nebraska quarterback—though he lovingly adds “not as well as he plays it”—and can steer Martinez in the right direction if he needs to.
“Quarterback’s special,” Frost said. “We treat [a quarterback] like everyone else, but it’s a unique position. It’s especially unique at Nebraska. I have great people around me and I don’t have to do much coaching with Adrian because [quarterback coach] Mario [Verduzco]’s got it covered—Mario’s exceptional at what he does—but there’s a lot of things that Adrian and I need to be able to communicate.”
Frost says he “wouldn't trade our guy for anybody in the country at that position,” and that Nebraska’s trajectory is tied to Martinez’s and that he expects another jump in play from Year 1 to Year 2.
Barry says you have to put Martinez in the Heisman conversation.
“I believe that Adrian is a Heisman candidate,” he said. “No quarterback in the nation—besides Tua (Tagovailoa) from Alabama—can throw at such a high level if you take away his legs. If you take away his arm, he can run at a high level. He’s so versatile and mature as a leader that you definitely have to have him in that Heisman discussion.”
The football talent, but also the person. That’s what makes Martinez special. Growth for the Huskers in Year 2 under Frost won’t just be because Martinez cuts his turnovers or bumps his completion percentage. The growth of the person leading the team means something too.
“Coaches kind of think we've got to bring a guy that is going to speak well to represent us and say and do the right things, and he's the poster child for that,” Frost said about Martinez’s presence in Chicago.
“He deserves to be in the spotlight. He can handle it, he's ready for it, and he's here.”
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.