In his mind, Adrian Martinez felt he had earned Nebraska’s starting quarterback job. He’d been working hard, improving daily. He remained confident.
Then quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco called Martinez late Saturday afternoon. He wanted the freshman to come to his office. So Martinez hopped on his scooter and drove to Memorial Stadium.
And when he walked into the coach’s office, he found it oddly quiet.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is a good sign,’ ” Martinez said.
Then Verduzco broke the silence with the words Martinez has been waiting to hear: He would start at quarterback Saturday when Nebraska begins the Scott Frost era against Akron at Memorial Stadium.
Yes, Martinez, from Fresno, California, is well aware he will become the first true freshman in program history to start a season opener at quarterback, and become only the third true freshman to start any game at quarterback, joining Tommie Frazier and Cody Green.
He said it won’t faze him.
“It’s an honor to be the starting quarterback at this University,” Martinez told reporters at Monday’s weekly news conference at Memorial Stadium. “I don’t really feel that type of pressure in a sense that I haven’t played since my junior year.”
Martinez missed his senior year of high school football because of a shoulder injury. Time was when Martinez could barely lift his arm above his shoulder. He admits he wasn’t certain if he would ever return to 100 percent.
But he has. Keeping faith, Martinez said, helped him through the process. So did a strong support group that includes his father and stepmother.
“I was really excited to tell my dad,” Martinez said. “He’s a big part of why I work so hard, why I’ve always wanted to be a starting quarterback.”
Not only 5 minutes later after telling his dad, Martinez turned his attention to Akron.
“I want to win,” he said. “When we win, that’s when I’ll be on cloud nine.”
Frost said the coaching staff came to a consensus middle to late last week that Martinez would be the starter over redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia.
“I think it was close,” Frost said. “I think a bunch of guys in that room improved and did a good job. Quarterback is no different than any other position. We pick the guy we feel gives us the best chance to win.”
Of course, now Frost has question marks with the backup quarterback position. While Gebbia initially took the news well that Martinez won the job, Frost said, he didn’t participate in Monday’s practice.
On Tuesday, Frost confirmed that Gebbia, from Calabasas, California, has asked for and been granted his scholarship release.
“When people are transferring most of the time right now, it’s because they’re not going to play somewhere and they go somewhere else,” Frost said on Tuesday’s Big Ten Coaches Teleconference. “It’s hard to blame them, but it’s also hard to manage as a coach, not knowing even a week before a game who’s going to be on your team and who isn’t. We certainly would have managed the situation different had we known somebody was going to leave us right before the first game.”
Nebraska is now with only one scholarship quarterback, with walk-on Andrew Bunch now in the top backup role. Frost said Bunch, a sophomore transfer from Scottsdale Community College, performed well in preseason camp and was close in competition with Martinez and Gebbia before coaches announced a two-player race.
Martinez won that race, Frost said, because he possesses athletic ability that gave him the edge over Gebbia, recruited from the previous staff to run a pro-style offense. Frost and his staff secured a commitment from the dual-threat Martinez soon after being hired, and Martinez participated in spring practices to get a head start on learning the offense and acclimating himself to the collegiate transition.
“I was confident in my ability. If you don’t believe in yourself, I don’t think anyone will,” Martinez said. “I worked hard and I learned this offense the best I can, and now I’m ready to get after it.
“I knew in my mind if I took care of business, if I was getting better each day, I thought I was the starter. I thought I was getting better and better each day. I thought it was getting easier for me.”
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