The only Nebraska quarterback ever to start in a Super Bowl will be on Cox Cable Friday night as the color commentator for the televised High School Game of the Week in Southern California. Vince Ferragamo is eager to see Santa Margarita Catholic High School compete as the nation's No. 1-ranked prep football team. Then, less than 24 hours later, he's equally excited to watch Taylor Martinez return to his hometown area and lead Nebraska, his alma mater, against UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
Ferragamo hasn't played any part in Martinez's development at quarterback, but he's enjoyed watching it. Evaluating the best talent and the best teams in LA is part of Ferragamo's weekend job that stretches beyond the daily grind of managing his own real estate company in Anaheim Hills. He's paid particular attention to Martinez, the 2009 winner of the LA Times' Glenn Davis Award as the top prep player in California. The media hasn't put Martinez in the same category as Matt Barkley, the previous year's winner of the Davis Award, but Ferragamo believes that Martinez's performance in last Saturday's season-opener puts Nebraska's offense in a totally different gear.
"I've seen Taylor from afar," Ferragamo said as he prepares to see former Husker teammates before, during and after the nationally televised game at the Rose Bowl. "Just watching his mechanics as a quarterback, I know that running the ball has been his forte. But it's amazing how much a quarterback can progress in just one year. I mean, you can really notice the change."
Coaching, Self-Sacrifice Build Newfound Confidence
"If you just sit back and rely on the only skills you think you have, you're not going to improve," Ferragamo said. "A lot of times, your offensive coach who's working with you can help you make the biggest difference. A lot of other times, it's the commitment you make in the off-season. I think in Taylor's case, it's probably both. He looks like he's well coached, and you can tell he's made a personal commitment to get a lot better."
Ferragamo knows and understands the pressure of playing quarterback at Nebraska. In the mid-1970s, he started two years at Cal before deciding to transfer to Nebraska and take on the ultimate challenge. "We all know that Nebraska is finicky and fussy about winning," Ferragamo said. "When you're not winning, people are looking for reasons, but Taylor has really progressed over this past year."
A first-team All-American quarterback himself, Ferragamo cannot pinpoint with certainty what turned the tide for Martinez, but he's willing to share his highly educated guess. "I watched the game last week against Southern Miss, and Nebraska's offense isn't even close to what it was a year ago," Ferragamo said. "This offense is much more versatile. I saw Nebraska run option. I saw them run power football, and with the threat of the run, it makes the quarterback's job much easier.
"In addition to that, they used some no huddle, some quick stuff and some spread stuff. They were really versatile," Ferragamo said. "Whoever's calling the plays has to be credited because the development and the coordination of that offense have a lot to do with the success Taylor's having."
New Offense, New Attitude Pave the Way
Nebraska's new and improved offense allows Martinez to read, diagnose and make quick decisions. It keeps an arsenal of weapons, including his own quickness, at his disposal, not to mention boosts his confidence as a thrower.
Gone is the quirky mechanics Martinez displayed a year ago ... the technique that was heavily influenced by an ankle injury on one foot and a painful toe issue on the other. Last Saturday, his footwork looked more like the seasoned quarterback he's becoming. His body language screamed confidence, and he had a field day finding one open receiver after another.
It was one small step for Martinez in a season of potential land mines, but one giant leap for Nebraska fans everywhere. You could hear the collective roar inside the stadium with each and every completion and only imagine what fans were saying at home in the privacy of their living rooms. How many of you openly confessed that you just might be wrong about Taylor Martinez, especially when his coaches and his teammates have been building him up since he started his extreme makeover - physically, mentally and psychologically - last January?
Mechanically, Martinez is still not your prototypical quarterback. But his arm can now be labeled as lethal, just like his feet. That means when defenses decide to gamble one way or another, they do so at their own risk.
Ferragamo keeps coming back to the newly Taylor-made offensive scheme. "I saw a big turnaround in Taylor's game, and I like what they're doing in terms of getting guys open and then getting them the ball," he said. "What they're doing with that offense is helping Taylor a lot. He's looking so much better. You don't have to throw deep, if you throw some good corner routes."
Biggest Leap of Improvement Later Than Normal
Passing is a little bit like running. If you're fast, you're fast. You're born with it. If you have a good arm, you have a good arm. Who "learns" how to throw perfect spirals or pinpoint passes or deep balls or touch passes?
"It's what you have in you and how you throw," Ferragamo said. "You wouldn't put Taylor up against others who just drop back and throw every play, at least not right now. That's not him. What he's done, though, has been remarkable."
For Ferragamo, the most surprising part about Martinez's dramatic improvement is experiencing it between his third and fourth year at Nebraska instead of between his last year of high school and first year of college or between his first and second years of collegiate football. "That's where the biggest change usually is," Ferragamo said. "Obviously, Taylor has worked really, really hard in the off-season."
And he is much, much healthier.
"If Nebraska keeps its offense in motion like they did last week, they'll give UCLA some real problems," Ferragamo said. "I think Taylor will have a great year this year. He's going to have some tough games, and that'll be the true test."
Big-Game Performance the Ultimate Measurement
Some things in college football never change. "How you perform in the big games against the really good defenses is what quarterbacks always get measured by," Ferragamo said. "I think this weekend's challenge will motivate Taylor. He's coming back to his old stomping ground. He's playing against a team he grew up watching, a team that didn't offer him a scholarship. He'll be ready."
Ferragamo likes Nebraska having a multitude of contributing Californians on its roster. "With games being on TV almost all the time, I think kids will gravitate to certain schools," he said. "That dates back to my day, even before my day when Tom Osborne recruited a lot of California junior college guys to help win those first two national championships (1970 and '71). The truth is, Nebraska has always pulled a lot of guys out of this state."
The reason is obvious. "Nebraska has been a perennial Top Ten team and players here will go to Nebraska," Ferragamo said. "Alabama's tried to come in here, but not big. Not like Nebraska. I've been around here a long time, and I've never known kids who will go to Ohio State or Michigan. But they'll go to Nebraska or maybe a few other places. Nebraska definitely gets a big pull, especially when they're ranked up high. We have some dynamite players here willing to commit to Nebraska or consider Nebraska.
"We have some great players out here with some great attitudes, and they'll go anywhere, no matter what the competition is like," Ferragamo said, adding that Martinez isn't an Andrew Luck kind of quarterback, but he's a highly spirited competitor despite his size. "You know he reminds me of a guy like Drew Brees. He's that kind of size. He'll have to continue to dramatically improve his throwing, but he'll keep working at it. The ball's getting there now, but they have to get there when the heat's coming right at him. You can't short-arm stuff. Drew can because he has a phenomenal release. If Taylor can mechanically continue to work on his throwing motion, he has a shot at the NFL."
Ultimate Goals: Big Ten Title, National Championship
Ferragamo catches himself, knowing full well that the NFL isn't the issue here, not when Martinez has two full college seasons staring him in the mirror every day. "Nebraska wants a quarterback who can win a national championship," Ferragamo said. "That's what's important. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady. They're all great pro quarterbacks, and they've all won Super Bowls as professionals."
They did not, however, win a national championship, and that should be Martinez's singular focus this weekend, next month and throughout the rest of the season. "He's improved a lot, and he has to keep improving, with the help of his coaches," Ferragamo said. "It's obvious they've done some great off-season film work. I like the new wrinkles they've put into the offense that take advantage of Taylor's quarterback skills. It makes him a lot more versatile, and it makes Nebraska a lot harder to beat.
"During the Southern Miss game, they made a comment on TV about Bo bringing in some military guys during the off-season, and you can see it just watching Nebraska," Ferragamo said. "They're more confident. They're more disciplined. They have that military attitude ... respect, treat people right, work hard and just be a blue-collar guy.
"Just watching the way Nebraska's going about their business, I think the military has had an effect on the team," Ferragamo said. "There's been a big psychological change, and it's going to help them. They're feeling good about themselves, and if they keep doing what they're doing, they're going to feel better about themselves every week. This is a big step on the road in the Rose Bowl, and you can only take one step at a time."
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