Photo by Nebraska Communications

Spring Game Notes: Quarterbacks Stick Together

By Brian Rosenthal

You know you’re playing in a spring exhibition when you forget your team allegiances.

Adrian Martinez, the starting quarterback for the Red team in Nebraska’s annual Red-White Spring Game on Saturday, celebrated with triumph on the sideline when back-up quarterback Matt Masker completed a 55-yard touchdown pass to Wyatt Liewer.

One problem, though.

Masker played for the White team.

“I kind of realized it midway through,” Martinez said sheepishly. “I was running down the sideline and I was like, ‘Oh man, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this.’ I tried to play it both ways. It was tough."

Martinez offered an explanation that made sense when all five guys in green jerseys posed for a group photo after the Red team’s 24-13 victory on a sunny, breezy afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

“We root for each other in all cases,” Martinez said. “I’m definitely thankful to be a part of such a special group.”

Quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco had family members in attendance and introduced them to the quarterbacks after the game.

“And they fit right in,” Martinez said. “We just feel like a family. It’s a special bond that we all share.”

Martinez, who went 5-of-9 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown in playing five series, has a stranglehold, obviously, on the starting position entering fall camp. However, backups are pushing him in a manner we didn’t see this time a year ago.

Noah Vedral, the UCF transfer and Wahoo native, went 13-of-19 passing for 144 yards for the Red team. Incoming freshman Luke McCaffrey dazzled with his speed. Masker contributed with his long strike.

“I think we have better depth, I think we have better talent, and we’re going to have a little more experience,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “We were as young as you could be last year at that spot by the time the season hit. Adrian is clearly a top player in the entire country. Noah did some really good things today, and that’s what we’ve been seeing all spring.”

Frost said Vedral would be the No. 2 quarterback if the season began today. Of course, it doesn’t, and competition will remain wide open throughout summer workouts and when practices resume in August.

 

‘Just a Spring Game’

Graduate transfer defensive lineman Darrion Daniels, who previously played at Oklahoma State, made his Memorial Stadium debut on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 85,946 fans.

The atmosphere not only meet Daniels’ expectations, it exceeded them, he said.

“It was probably the most fans I’ve seen in a stadium my whole time in college,” a smiling Daniels said, “And it’s just a spring game. I can only imagine what it’d be like for a real game.”

Fred Hoiberg also seemed amazed when he mentioned the crowd on a live interview with BTN. The new Nebraska men’s basketball coach was introduced in the first quarter to a loud, standing ovation. He even crossed his arms for the “Throw the Bones” Blackshirts gesture.

By comparison, Spring Games at Alabama and Ohio State on Saturday drew some 61,000 fans.

 

One State, One Heartbeat

Perhaps current Major League Baseball player and former Nebraska baseball star Cody Asche said it best when he Tweeted he was ready to run through a wall after seeing Saturday’s Tunnel Walk video.

The special video served as a tribute to the first responders (above), volunteers and others who helped victims of the March floods the ravaged parts of Nebraska, especially in the northeast part of the state.

Frost, Martinez, Ben Stille and Mohamed Barry spoke in the video, which carried a theme of state unity and helping each other through times of crisis. Stille, from Ashland, which was affected by flood waters, carried the American flag to lead the team out of the locker room and into the famed Tunnel Walk as "Sirius" blared through the sound system.

Frost wore a red T-Shirt with the “One State, One Heartbeat” logo that has been on sale to raise money for the Red Cross. Also, after the game, following a prayer at midfield, the team broke its final huddle by yelling those same words.

Nebraska has raised more than $162,000 for the Red Cross, including donations accepted at the Spring Game and last month’s home NIT basketball game, along with sales of the aforementioned T-Shirts.

 

Remembering Our Fallen

I wrote Friday about the “Remembering Our Fallen” traveling picture memorial that remembers our country’s men and women who have lost their lives fighting in the global war on terror since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The beautiful, touching tribute was on display on the Ed Weir Track at the Husker Nation Pavilion before and after the Spring Game.

In addition to Bill and Evonne Williams, who founded the memorial, and Noala Fritz, who travels with the exhibit, another person who needs mention is Dave Luton from the Marine Corps League, who is in charge of set-up, overnight security and tear-down. The Marine Corps Cornhusker Detachment assisted in setting up the display, and stood guard at the Pavilion on Friday night.

Each of the 32 towers has a 30-gallon water base to hold it secure, helpful on windy days like Saturday, with a rubber pad under the water bases. A 34-foot trailer carries the display, which is headed next to Wrigley Field in Chicago. It will return to Nebraska for the College World Series in Omaha, in June.

 

Pro Big Red

Behind the memorial on Saturday snaked a line of people halfway around the track. They waited to meet former Husker running back and now Super Bowl champion Rex Burkhead, who signed autographs at the Pavilion before the Spring Game.

Burkhead, who plays for the New England Patriots, was among a handful of former Huskers and current NFL players who attended Saturday’s game and were recognized on the HuskerVision screen during the game.

Others were Prince Amukamara (Chicago Bears), Brent Qvale (New York Jets), Nate Gerry (Philadelphia Eagles), Joshua Kalu (Tennessee Titans), Chris Jones (Arizona Cardinals), Cethan Carter (Cincinnati Bengals) and Ameer Abdullah (Minnesota Vikings), who served as a color analyst for Saturday’s BTN telecast.

While those players enjoyed a homecoming, Frost also saw players from his era, including some he hadn’t seen in two decades, he said.

“Michael Booker just grabbed me on the way off the field, and obviously he was a big part of a lot of really good teams around here,” Frost said. “I haven’t seen him in years.”

Frost referenced the Nebraska brotherhood of players, and how it’s special to see former players return to Lincoln – both for him, and for fans who remember them.

“There really is no place like Nebraska as far as that goes,” Frost said. “If you’re a great player here, people are going to remember you the rest of your life, and those guys are still pulling for those guys playing today. It’s awesome to kind of continue that fraternity and have the guys come back and teach this group what it’s supposed to look like.”

 

Farewell, Butch

Also recognized during Saturday’s game was Butch Hug, Nebraska Associate Athletic Director for Events, who’s retiring after having joined the Nebraska staff in 1982.

From parking to traffic control to ushers, Hug oversees more than 800 event personnel to keep all of Nebraska’s athletic events afloat. If Nebraska held it, Butch oversaw it. Sometimes, three or four events at once, including NCAA postseason events, such as baseball regionals and gymnastics NCAA Finals.

Nebraska said farewell to Hug with a short fireworks display, “his favorite,” as public address announcer Nate Rohr explained to fans.

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

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