Young Husker quarterbacks already learning to live in the spotlight
If the next four weeks proceed the way Scott Frost hopes, the Nebraska football program will begin game preparations for Akron with a set starting quarterback.
Most Husker fans know the drill by now: Redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia and freshman Adrian Martinez are competing for the job, as is sophomore walk-on Andrew Bunch.
Because most fans know the drill, and because there are a whole lot of fans, the young signal-callers have had a crash-course in learning how to operate as public figures.
“The most important lesson they have to learn is they can’t go anywhere in Lincoln or the state of Nebraska without everybody knowing what they’re doing,” Husker coach Frost said at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “That just comes with the territory of being a Nebraska quarterback. Really a Nebraska football player, but especially quarterback. There’s always eyes watching, there’s always a camera phone on them. It makes you grow up fast, it makes you make all the right decisions.
“But those are the decisions you need to make if you want to be great and you want to be a leader anyways. So it’s just going to happen quicker for those kids than it will for some others.”
Gebbia, of course, has a year under his belt. Martinez arrived on campus here in January.
Not only did Martinez start competing for a starting job when the rest of his Clovis West High classmates were just beginning the second semester of their senior year, but he jumped into college course work. He started to get to know teammates. He started to navigate the exciting, but also potentially awkward, course of trying to win the job over a guy who’s already thought of as a leader in the locker room.
The head coach is impressed with how Martinez has handled it all so far.
“The thing that’s really impressed me about Adrian is he’s able to look really comfortable as a kid that still should have been at his senior prom,” Frost said. “He still should have been in high school, but he came in and every day you’d see him get more comfortable with something and something else and then another thing. For him to have that kind of command over what he was doing at that young of an age, that gives me a lot of hope with where he’s going.”
Leadership isn’t something you can just pick up, though. Senior wide receiver Stanley Morgan said Martinez, in particular, benefited from having former Marine special forces commander Erik Kapitulik and The Program on campus last month.
“Tristan’s been that way ever since he was a freshman -- in the film room after the janitors are gone,” Morgan said. “Adrian, from The Program we just had, he showed he was a great leader. He did some great things in that camp.”
Martinez has also set about fortifying for the rigors of college football. Listed at 205 pounds when he arrived on campus, the 6-foot-2 quarterback now checks in at 220. Remember, he hasn’t played in a live game — except for a January all-star game and a no-contact-on-quarterbacks spring game in April — since the fall of 2016, his junior year of high school, because of February 2017 shoulder surgery.
So the next four weeks — like the 12 after that and the years to come — will have plenty of twists and turns for Gebbia and Martinez. Not everyone who plays quarterback gets put in this kind of position so early in a career. Frost, though, has confidence in his young guys’ ability to handle what comes. He’s seen it already from both.
“Praise and blame are the same,” Frost said. “There’s a lot that falls on the Nebraska head coach and there’s a lot that falls on the Nebraska quarterback. That’s common to football. The head coach and the quarterback are going to get most of the praise when it’s good and most of the blame when it’s bad. Whether it’s right or whether it’s wrong.
“You’ve got to be a grown-up to handle that as a kid, but sometimes it’s good because you learn how to persevere and that toughness will serve you well.”