Bunch Of Confidence
Truth be told, Andrew Bunch has no clue where he’d be today if he hadn’t decided to leave junior college a year early and take a chance on walking on at Nebraska.
Bunch didn’t really have a plan for football out of high school, either, what with so many FBS teams overlooking the quarterback from Thompson Station, Tennessee.
Flying by the seat his pants, mind you, isn’t how Bunch prefers to operate.
“I would have loved to know where I was going early on,” Bunch said. “That would have been more settling.”
But without the luxury of schools offering Bunch a scholarship, he did the only thing he knew might work.
He kept working.
“Wherever I was going to go,” Bunch said, “I figure I’d work hard.”
You know what they say about hard work.
It’s already paid off for Bunch, who made his first career appearance in Nebraska’s season-opening game against Colorado. But think if the sophomore walk-on with Husker roots were to take the first snap from center Saturday, when Nebraska (0-1) hosts Troy (1-1) at Memorial Stadium.
Nobody’s for certain who will start at quarterback as Nebraska seeks its first victory for coach Scott Frost. True freshman Adrian Martinez left in the fourth quarter of the Colorado game with a knee injury that looked inauspicious, at least, and allowed Bunch to see his first career action.
Fortunately, the Martinez injury was far less severe than anticipated, but coaches, doctors and trainers are being cautious.
“It’s strictly physical,” Frost said. “We’ve got to make sure he can run all the things we want to run, that he’s healthy enough to be able to avoid and protect himself. The biggest thing is we have to make sure he’s healthy enough that there’s no added risk to further injury.”
Frost said Martinez will suit and warm up, and a decision on who starts may go until the final minutes before kickoff.
If Bunch gets the call, he’s more than ready.
“I don’t want to change too much, the way I approach the game,” Bunch said. “I approach it as if I’m the starter every week. I haven’t done a lot to change how I approach it. I just do the same thing I always have.”
Much like his career route, Bunch’s first career appearance isn’t exactly how he would've scripted it, what with a teammate injured and his team in the final minutes of a tight game. The Huskers led Colorado 28-27 when Martinez left.
“It wasn’t the most ideal moment, but I had fun," Bunch said. "I thought I did my best. I did my part. There’s definitely things I could’ve improved on, some throws I maybe should’ve completed, but for the most part I was excited to get in.”
Bunch finished 4-of-9 passing for 44 yards and nearly guided the Huskers to a game-sealing first down deep in CU territory, but a dropped pass on third-and-long thwarted that scenario.
“He’s looked really good when he came in,” Frost said. “That was a tough situation he came into, and he operated well. He got us down, threw a pass that probably should’ve won the game, and then got us down in striking distance to win the game again a second time.”
If Bunch indeed starts, he’ll run the offense the same as if Martinez were under center. Yes, that means coaches are confident Bunch can make plays with his feet, whether on called running plays or scrambling.
The way quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco describes it, Bunch isn’t just an average runner who will make do, either.
“Oh, man, Andrew can fly, now,” Verduzco said. “Andrew can run. He can get after it. He’s a fast cat. He can go. I’m impressed with that part of his profile. ... Andrew can scoot.”
Scoot. Run. Fly.
Whichever way he does it, Bunch wants to move the chains with the same efficiency that Martinez did in his debut.
“I try to do everything the best I can. I don’t have any problem with the tempo,” Bunch said. “I’ve always thought that was probably the most-fun part of the offense. There are different areas I think are more exciting, but I love the tempo.”
In watching Bunch in practice this week, Frost is reminded of why Bunch was in the thick of a three-man quarterback race in early August, before coaches narrowed the race to Martinez and Tristan Gebbia, who’s since transferred.
“Everything we want to do with our offense, he does pretty well,” Frost said of Bunch. “The key for him, I think, is getting reps. When he was getting equal reps with the other two guys in camp, he was right in the mix with those guys. It’s a shame we weren’t able to get him more reps through the end of camp and everything.”
Offensive coordinator Troy Walters also has complete faith in Bunch, his knowledge of the offense and ability to make plays.
“He knows what to do. He knows this offense. He knows what’s expected of him,” Walters said. “He’s a sharp guy. He can beat you with his legs, and he’s got a good enough arm as well. We’re excited. He’s one of those guys, he’s going to prepare his butt off. If his number is called, he’s going to be ready to go.”
And should Bunch suffer injury and Martinez is unable to play, another walk-on will get his number called. True freshman Matt Masker of Kearney has seen increased snaps in practice this week.
“We’ll tailor the game plan around him, around his strengths, what he knows, what he can do,” Walters said.
Bunch, meanwhile, starred as a dual-threat quarterback at Independence High School in Tennessee, where he was a three-year starter and threw for more than 7,700 career yards and 79 touchdowns, with 1,140 career rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
In one season at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, Bunch threw for 1,331 yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games. He’d been in some contact with Nebraska -- where his father, David, was a walk-on -- and transferred in January of 2017. He sat out last season a redshirt.
“When I was at Scottsdale, I kind of decided I had paid my dues in junior college,” Bunch said, “and if I had to walk on, I was going to walk on at Nebraska.”
Not only did Bunch’s father play in the 1980s with fellow Omaha South High School graduate Dave Rimington, the best center in school history, his great-grandfather also helped build Memorial Stadium in 1923.
Now, nearly 100 years later, Bunch could join the likes of Matt Turman and Ron Kellogg III in Nebraska’s starting walk-on quarterback lore.
Maybe this is where Bunch was supposed to be, all along.
“It all worked out in the end, somehow,” Bunch said.
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.