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To get inside what makes Taylor Martinez tick, forget about all the awards he won as a redshirt freshman last season and wind the clock back to 2008 when he led Corona's Centennial High School to a California state championship, a 15-0 season and the final No. 2 national prep ranking in USA Today.
Martinez won five California MVP awards, including the big one - the Glen Davis Player-of-the-Year from the Los Angeles Times.
The need to go back in time is based on one unbelievably simple fact. The up-tempo, quick-striking offense that Nebraska has been building all spring reminds T-Magic of everything he did in that Centennial offense ... survey the defense, spot a weakness, make a quick decision and launch a missile while the opposing defense looked to the sideline wondering what coverage it should be in.
Martinez was comfortable in that offense. He was confident, and he was consistent because he knew without a shadow of doubt that he could beat the other team to the punch early and often.
"In California, I don't think any of the teams we played had seen a no-huddle offense," he said. "I think we caught teams off guard, and I think that's how I learned how to become a better quarterback at the University of Nebraska. I had the chance to get to the ball faster, and they couldn't tell where we were going with it. Their defense was looking at the sidelines while we hiked the ball."
T-Magic said Centennial got to the ball faster and made a play quicker than any powerhouse California team he'd ever seen. Obviously, that's what Nebraska wants to do next fall when it unveils its new system that offensive coordinator Tim Beck is installing this spring - a system, we believe, that is Taylor-made for T-Magic's skill sets.
Martinez: Offense Leaning Towards His Prep Days
Nebraska will keep the wraps on its new offense in Saturday's Red-White Spring Game. A glorified scrimmage is no time to show the world what you have in your hand. The important thing is whatever is rolling around in T-Magic's mind. "Right now," he said, "our offense looks like it's leaning towards something similar to what I ran in high school. We're trying to get to the ball fast, make quick reads and catch the defense off guard."
The idea is "to go where the defense isn't," Martinez said. "It's pretty much based on the quarterback making the correct read and getting to the right area and making sure that we're in the right play, so we know where the ball's going, what side we're attacking and what side we're not."
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne says Martinez has the quickest burst of acceleration in his first three steps than any quarterback he's seen, and that gives the Huskers a uniquely gifted weapon.
With healthy talent like that, football can become a much simpler game. "If they're not there, we'll run that way," Martinez said. "If they are, we won't. We'll go the other way."
"Think simple" might just be the philosophy behind Nebraska's new offense.
I mean, didn't Albert Einstein say most of the fundamentals of science are essentially simple and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone?
In a nutshell, that's what Beck is trying to do with his new offense, but we'll have to wait till fall to find out if simplicity is indeed a sign of truth and a picture of beauty.
Staggering Numbers from Three Straight Road Games
Meanwhile, I have added up some staggering numbers that T-Magic produced in three consecutive road games last season, all on national television, against Washington, Kansas State and Oklahoma State - 497 yards rushing, 601 yards passing, 7 rushing touchdowns and 7 touchdown passes. He averaged 366 yards of total offense per game, five touchdowns per game and was at the controls of a team that averaged nearly 52 points in those same three games.
Through Oct. 23, Martinez was a legitimate and often mentioned Heisman Trophy candidate. He was a weekly staple on Sports Center, a recognized face wherever he went. That all changed when he injured his ankle against Missouri, and the rest of the season became a lifelong lesson in adversity and perseverance.
Fans forgot his gutty performance at Oklahoma State, where he fired five touchdown passes and threw for 323 yards to go with 119 yards rushing. "One of the most phenomenal performances I've seen from a Nebraska quarterback," Osborne said, "especially with so many guys flying right next to the ear holes in his helmet."
"I don't know if everyone understands what kind of impact that ankle injury had on Taylor's performance the rest of the season," Osborne said. "To me, it was like Peyton Manning breaking his throwing arm."
Take Martinez's legs out of the equation and Nebraska went from explosive force to limping leader quicker than T-Magic can read the defense without a huddle.
Saturday, Nebraska will be very basic on both sides of the ball, and Martinez, the most talked about player on the team, will do whatever he's told.
The good news is he's comfortable and confident again. He's encouraging his teammates, even smiling when he walks into the Training Table for lunch. Somehow, between the downer in San Diego and the jump-start under Beck, Martinez has taken himself out of last season's pressure cooker and appears ready to neutralize the land mines that await in Madison, Ann Arbor and State College.
His teammates say T-Magic is a new man in the huddle, a more vocal leader and a much more positive person. We are glad to report that Martinez even managed to squeeze in some extra Q&A time with The N-Sider. Enjoy!
Martinez Talks Injuries, A&M and Playing in the Big Ten
Q: Even though the Spring Game version of your new offense will be dripping in vanilla, what will it look like next fall when all systems are go?
A: This offense is going to be a lot different than last year. I can actually call what play I want to run and where I want run. Last year, I couldn't really do that. This year I have control of where the ball is going. I think we should have a lot more big plays and get a lot more touchdowns than we had last year.
Q: When Tim Beck says players need to deprogram the past to learn your new system, what does that mean for you?
A: This is the third or fourth offense I've learned in the past four or five years. Last year's offense was totally different than what this year's offense is. When I came in two years ago, I was told that learning the offense would be like learning a brand new language. I knew I had to cancel last year so I could learn something new this spring, but it was kind of difficult at first. Once you catch on, it becomes much easier and you get the hang of it. All of a sudden, you see what we're simplifying and understand why sometimes it gets complicated before it ever gets simple.
Q: It's been almost six months since you injured your ankle in the Missouri game. How aggravating was that?
A: It was aggravating. When it happened, I knew it was a pretty bad, and it was going to be hard for the rest of the season to keep going like it was.
Q: Injury seemed to be the only thing that could slow down your incredible burst of speed. Percentage-wise, how far did your effectiveness drop off?
A: By the Kansas game I was probably 80 percent or so. At Texas A&M, I reinjured the ankle and then hurt my toe. Everything pretty much went downhill from there. I really couldn't even practice much. It was hard to run the ball, hard to pass the ball and hard to set up and drop back. It kind of destroyed my confidence a little bit, and there was pain in both my right ankle and my left toe. When I dropped back, I couldn't run. I didn't really know what to do.
Q: During your emotionally lowest time, did you even remotely consider leaving the Nebraska football program?
A: No, I never considered leaving, and I want to clarify that. What happened was I hurt my left toe first and then, on the very next play, I reinjured my right ankle. Right after that, I knew I couldn't go. I couldn't even walk. I went to the locker room, and I sat there waiting to get taped up or checked out. I saw my phone to the side in the locker room. I was fairly far away from it when it suddenly just lit up and started blinking. I went over and saw it was my dad who was calling me, so I called him back and I told him I couldn't even walk. I could barely move at all. I didn't think I was going back in the game. I thought I was totally done. I mean, I could not walk at all. When I came back on the field, everybody thought I called my dad on the sideline, which wasn't true. When I came out I could tell that Coach (Bo Pelini) wasn't happy. There had been some miscommunication and misinterpretation. He thought I had been talking on the phone on the sideline. That wasn't true. Everything's been fine for a long time. It's behind us.
Q: Like your head coach, you don't follow the media and don't let the public determine your version of reality. If there's one major misperception about you, what do you think it is and would you like to set the record straight?
A: A lot of people were convinced I was leaving the University of Nebraska. That was not true. I was never leaving. My dad (Casey Martinez, who played football at Iowa State) is a great dad, and he's my best friend. He's trained me since I was little to be a free safety, not a quarterback. He just loves me playing football, and he would never want me to leave the University of Nebraska. He has always wanted me to stay here.
Q: Speaking of great athlete-quarterback combinations, Jamal Turner arrived a semester early this spring and wanted to see if he could push the envelope at quarterback. He's moved to wide receiver and raised some eyebrows. Has he raised yours?
A: Jamal Turner is a very talented athlete. I saw some of his highlight tapes from high school. I knew he was real athletic and could score any down. I don't know how that would have translated into college but what I've seen of him at both quarterback and receiver, I think he would score on any play. I can definitely see trying to get the ball in his hands whenever possible.
Q: The Big Ten is the nation's oldest conference and has the biggest stadiums. Do you have any thoughts about changing leagues?
A: I'm very excited to play in those bigger stadiums. I like to play in big, loud stadiums. I think the game is a lot more fun when you do. You can barely hear yourself talk, but to me, that just makes it more exciting. I think all the players on this team see that as a chance for each player to get hyped up.
Q: In the fewest words possible, how would you describe the potential personality of this offense?
A: Explosive - an offense that will make things happen. This offense will be the type that has the ability to just keep moving the chains.
Q: You line up every day in practice across from the Blackshirts. How good will they be this fall?
A: I think we'll have one of the most dominant defenses we've had in a while. I think they'll be awesome. It's great to go against them in practice because when we line up against them, we might be going against the best defense we'll play all year. I like competing against the Blackshirts. Lining up against them every single day during the week makes it easier for us on Saturdays. They're tough, really tough."
Q: Who's the toughest Blackshirt of all?
A: I would say Lavonte David. He's just an athlete and he competes hard every play every day. That's why he keeps getting better and better.
Q: You brought it up. Bo is always talking about competing hard every day. What does that mean and why is it so important?
A: Competing hard goes beyond the football field and into other areas. We compete in the weight room, the meeting room, the class room and everywhere else, even outside of school. We're competing everywhere we go and in whatever we do. Every day you have to think and know that you're the right person for the job you have. When everybody has that attitude, you can't help but get better.
Q: I'm not asking for individual names, but do you see any strong groups emerging from spring practice?
A: The offensive line. They're doing really well. Every single day, they get better and better. They're getting off the ball and just attacking the defense.
Q: Any quick observation on Tim Beck?
A: He's an excellent coach who focuses on the process and wants us to run the offense to perfection.
Q: After spring practice ends, what's your timetable for countdown to kickoff next fall?
A: Summer conditioning is important and before fall camp, I'll go home and train. I use a treadmill to improve my speed, strength and acceleration. It really helped me before I came to Nebraska. I've been training with my dad since I was 7-years-old. I will also throw the football with my brothers and friends and receivers at Centennial.
What a nice way to end the N-Sider with Martinez training at his old high school that provided Taylor-made training for his new offense.
So let's say goodbye to spring, hello to summer and can't wait for fall.
This year, T-Magic needs a strong ankle, a hassle-free toe, a great arm and the same acceleration that catapulted him into the national spotlight as a redshirt freshman.
We're okay with a duplication of the first half of last season. It's the last half we want to change, so the lights can burn brighter and longer and stay focused on Nebraska all the way to the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis in December.
Wouldn't that be fun?