Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Martinez Showing Future Can Be Special

By Brian Rosenthal

Seems as though any conversation about Adrian Martinez isn’t complete without reference to his age.

For the record, the Nebraska true freshman quarterback is 18.

We heard that number no fewer than 5 times at Nebraska's weekly news conference, including a couple of mentions from coach Scott Frost.

Teammates are following suit.

“Adrian is an amazing player,” Nebraska offensive tackle Matt Farniok said. “He’s an 18-year-old kid that came in and took the reins of really a good Big Ten offense.”

Perhaps players and coaches need to remind themselves of how old Martinez is for the mere fact most 18-year-olds shouldn’t look this good, this soon.

Or maybe they’re doing a double take after watching and listening to Martinez answer reporters’ questions. And who could blame them? The true freshman displays a certain poise and maturity in front of cameras that belie his years.

All 18 of them.

“On the sideline, for an 18-year-old, he’s amazing,” Farniok said. “He’s a calm guy; he’s never down on himself, he’s always wanting to push it forward. He’s going to be a fantastic player, and even better than what he is now.”

And that, most everyone agrees, is already pretty danged good.

Sure, the season’s midway point comes with Nebraska lacking the number of victories everybody anticipated, but when Frost preaches patience and says the future is bright, fans have something tangible to make them believe.

An 18-year-old quarterback.

Nebraska (0-5, 0-2 Big Ten) plays Saturday at Northwestern (2-3, 2-1), and the opposing coach sees the future with Martinez, too.

“I think Adrian Martinez is going to be, and already is, an outstanding football player,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “But he’s a magician right now. He makes a lot of things happen.”

Fitzgerald, of course, is scouting Martinez, and his most recent film is Saturday’s game at Wisconsin, when Martinez threw for 384 yards and two touchdowns and compiled 441 yards of total offense in Nebraska’s 41-24 loss.

Undoubtedly, Fitzgerald took note of when Martinez eluded pressure, backpedaled, somehow kept his wits and delivered a bullet in the back of the end zone to tight end Jack Stoll for a 12-yard touchdown.

Maybe that’s what Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco means when he says Martinez can make any throw asked of him in the playbook.

“There isn’t anything right now he can’t perform for us,” Verduzco said.

Yes, Martinez lost a costly fumble, and yes, he threw some passes Martinez wished he could have back, including a couple that Wisconsin players could’ve easily intercepted.

“But he’s 18 years old,” Frost said. “Man, is he going to be a special player.”

The numbers speak for themselves.

Through four starts – he missed Nebraska’s second game of the season because of injury – Martinez has two games with more than 400 yards of total offense. That already ranks second in Nebraska history.

His average of 292.3 total yards of offense ranks second nationally among FBS freshmen, and his 441 yards against Wisconsin not only set a school freshman record – which Martinez set in his debut against Colorado with 414 yards – but it also ranked fourth overall in Nebraska history.

In conference games only, Martinez is the only Big Ten Conference quarterback with multiple 300-yard passing games.

“Given all that I’ve been through, I never doubted that I’d get to this point,” Martinez said. “Obviously with the (shoulder) surgery (in high school) it was a little bit of a tough path to this point, but once I got here I knew the hard work would pay off.

“With the coaches we have here and the guys we have around me, I knew what I was capable of. I still don’t think I’ve reached my capabilities, and I don’t think I’m anywhere near as good as I think I can be in the future.”

That’s where we should offer another reminder of his age, because most 18-year-olds wouldn’t be as critical of themselves as is Martinez.

Yet there was Martinez on Sunday, after a road trip, on the team’s designated off day, watching film of his record-setting performance – and not to make himself feel good. Quite the opposite, actually. He put his game under the microscope, as he does every Sunday, and this time felt disgusted because he left 10 completions, by his estimation, on the field.

“I think I was a little hard on myself, but I think that’s the way it needs to be,” said Martinez, who completed 24 of 42 passes. “I definitely need some improvement in that area and knowing when to find the check-down, knowing when to throw hot when a blitz is coming.

“There’s definitely room to improve there. I just think that comes with awareness and experience as I progress.”

Martinez was 22-of-35 passing for 209 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions through two games. That included a game against Michigan in which Martinez was coming off a knee injury and shared practice snaps the previous week with backup quarterback Andrew Bunch, with coaches uncertain who may start.

In two starts since then, when he’s taken the brunt of practice reps, Martinez is 48-of-84 passing for 707 yards and four touchdowns, with one interception.

 “I feel very confident in my throwing ability,” Martinez said. “It really goes to my confidence in our receivers and our offensive line and the guys I have around me. I know they can make plays, and I know if I distribute the ball the way I should, we’ll be successful offensively. I think we have all the tools to be a really good offense.”

Farniok said Martinez is improving as a leader too, that he’s become more vocal after feeling more comfortable around his teammates, and with the offense.

“I think he’s also believing in himself more,” Farniok said. “He’s doing amazing things. He’s getting more comfortable, he’s becoming more confident. He’s just turning into an all-around great leader, great person, and great player.”

No argument from Frost, who practically needs sunglasses when discussing Martinez and his bright future.

“I told you guys I’m always careful about making comparisons, but he’s doing some things like quite a few of the special guys I’ve been around,” said Frost, who’s coached Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota at Oregon.

“There’s no way I would have been ready to do what he’s doing right now as an 18 year-old. It says a lot about who he is as a person.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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