He’s played six career games, he’s second in the Big Ten in total offense, he just won his first freshman of the week honor from the league, and few Huskers fight harder than Adrian Martinez against getting a big head over their accomplishments.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback cracks few jokes, makes no boasts and keeps an even voice in press conferences as he deflects every bit of attention headed his way.
“I think I get a little too much credit,” Martinez said Monday after amassing 401 total yards and completing 25 of 29 passes in a 53-28 win over Minnesota.
That’s Martinez maintaining a level head, and his quarterbacks coach, Mario Verduzco, helps the 18-year-old do that. But there’s a larger picture than the present 1-6 record. Nebraska is trying to sell recruits on the future, and Martinez is a big part of the pitch.
Coach Scott Frost makes it no secret.
“If I was a receiver or a running back or a tight end coming into a program and I knew someone had a freshman quarterback playing as well as Adrian is, I’d want to be at that school,” Frost said Monday. “So I think that’s a big selling point for us on offense — even on defense — to be able to play with a guy like that. You want to see where a program’s going. That’s a huge piece when you’ve got the right guy under center. A lot of guys who we’ve had in to visit recognize that.”
Frost and his offensive coordinator, Troy Walters, have said in ways subtle and blunt that they desire more playmakers. NU is producing 471.7 yards per game largely on the shoulder pads of Martinez and four skill players — receivers Stanley Morgan and JD Spielman and running backs Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington. Morgan and Ozigbo graduate after this season.
The four offensive skill players NU has committed for the 2019 class — running backs Rahmir Johnson, Ronald Thompkins and Dedrick Mills and receiver Jamie Nance — are a start, but not the finish. Four-star athlete Darien Chase visited for Saturday’s game against Minnesota. Highly touted St. Louis receiver Marcus Washington visited in September. And perhaps the biggest target of all — athlete Wandale Robinson — also visited last month and may return on an unofficial visit Saturday for the Bethune-Cookman game before he announces his final decision Nov. 1.
On some level, the quarterback is the center of the program. Maybe he gets too much credit — or too much blame. But, for better and worse, skill players want to know who’s running the offense.
“Adrian’s on board — as good of a kid as I’ve been around — and he’s going to help do everything he possibly can do to make sure we get where we know we’re going,” Frost said.
Asked directly what his role is, Martinez shrugs it off. He said many of his teammates host recruits — he didn’t mention if he does — and he meets the prospects as they come in.
“I don’t feel obligated to sell anything,” Martinez said.
He then gives a short pitch anyway, with a bit of reverse psychology attached to it.
“If they don’t want to come here, I think that’s on them,” Martinez said. “This is a special place. If you can’t see that we’re building something special, you’ll just have to be on the other end of it.”