Young quarterbacks trying to learn, earn leadership on the fly
Troy Walters on Wednesday morning fielded a question about offensive players who have displayed leadership through five Nebraska preseason camp practices and answered it predictably.
The Husker offensive coordinator listed off three seniors: offensive linemen Tanner Farmer and Jerald Foster and wide receiver Stanley Morgan.
Farmer spoke at length last week about his work at becoming a leader, while Foster and Morgan are also multi-year contributors and represented NU at Big Ten football media days last month in Chicago.
If the Huskers selected captains today, all three would be strong contenders.
At the same time, any football player or coach will tell you that, in an ideal setting, a team’s quarterback carries significant leadership responsibility. It is almost required considering the importance of the position, especially in an offense like the one Scott Frost brought with him when he returned to his alma mater.
In that department, the Huskers have only inexperienced players in redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia, freshman Adrian Martinez, and sophomore walk-on Andrew Bunch. They are tasked with not only trying to win the starting job but also trying to find their own leadership styles among mostly older players.
So far, so good, according to quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco.
“Our team respects their work ethic in the weight room, what they’ve done on the field in terms of 7-on-7 and all that kind of work,” the college football veteran said Wednesday. “From that standpoint, those guys are across-the-board even-keel.”
Gebbia and Bunch each at least have previous time in the locker room, having been at NU last year, too.
“I think being with (former head coach Mike) Riley and having to step into a huddle and literally command it really helped me a lot,” Gebbia said. “Being loud, voice inflection and all those things.”
And also familiarizing with the players in the locker room. That’s something that Martinez has spent a lot of time on since arriving here in January. Morgan said Martinez took a big step forward over the summer when The Program, led by former Marine special forces commander Erik Kapitulik, was on campus.
“He was a great leader,” Morgan offered last month. “He did some great things in that camp.”
Martinez remembered it specifically, a drill on the final day of The Program in which he was asked to lead half the team.
“Being a freshman, you have to find your way into that leadership role,” Martinez said. “You can’t tell these seniors what to do necessarily, but you need to find a way as a quarterback. That kind of enabled me that platform. I think being able to get that platform and prove to guys that I can be a leader and that they know I respect them and they can respect me as well, I think that was a big thing for me and for my team as well.
“It’s kind of led me to find more of a leadership role leading into fall camp and beyond that point.”
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder faced something of a similar situation as the starting quarterback when he was just a sophomore at Clovis West High in his native Fresno, California, and admitted he didn’t handle it well.
“I thought I could just come in and have the respect of the guys and kind of be more demanding and that’s not the case,” Martinez said. “You have to earn your way to that right, you don’t just get to boss people around — do this or that — and leaders don’t boss people around either.
“Having that experience in high school and talking to Coach Verduzco and having some great people around me led me to getting a different perspective and a different way to approach it this time around.”
As if every other facet of the quarterback race isn’t close enough, consider this insight from Gebbia, who was standing about 20 feet from Martinez on the second floor in Hawks Championship Center on Wednesday.
“The Program came in and they did a great job showing us how to be good leaders,” he said. “Then on top of that I’ve got great role models at home — my dad, my mom, and then Coach Frost and Coach ‘Verdu’ do a great job of leading also. So those guys do a great job, and they show us how to do it.”
The similarity of those comments is striking, as is in the challenge facing the young Husker signal-callers. Win the job, but also learn how to lead. Even if you don’t win the job, continue to earn respect in the locker room.
That’s quite a task.
“Obviously with the quarterback position comes a certain degree of leadership,” Gebbia said, “And as me and Adrian get older and progress through the program, we’ll earn our stripes and get there that way.”