You ask if Adrian Martinez is ready, and George Petrissans offers up this story: During the dog days of the Fresno summer, as the temps were kicking into triple digits, the football coaches at Clovis West liked to break up the monotony of preseason training with an intrasquad 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
Of course, the coaches wanted in, so they fielded a team, too. And as the grown-ups started to march through the bracket, they soon realized what was waiting for them on the other side.
Or rather, who.
“We knew it was always going to get to Adrian, where Adrian was playing against the coaches,” Petrissans, the coach at Fresno’s Clovis West, said of Martinez, the Nebraska quarterback who’ll start classes Monday as an early enrollee. “And it was just really fun to watch him compete.
“And he knew we didn’t want to lose. That was a big thing: The coaches aren’t going to lose to the players.”
We probably should mention at this point that, in addition to being holy hell on wheels between the hash marks, the 6-foot-2 Martinez is a dynamite ball-handler, having helped run the show on Clovis West’s varsity hoops squad since he was a freshman.
The grown-ups? Toast.
“Well, we got to that battle,” Petrissans said. He paused, then laughed. “And we lost.”
So let’s start there: The whole men-vs.-boys thing isn’t going to faze Adrian Martinez in the slightest. For that matter, neither will the weather, no matter how hard Jack Frost keeps nipping at a Californian’s nose.
“It hits you right away,” Martinez, the 4-star quarterback prospect, told Land of 10. “I haven’t found myself saying, ‘Wow, it’s cold.’ But you can definitely feel it — the wind will hit you. Getting off the plane and stepping outside to see the snow on the ground; I hadn’t seen snow in a couple years, snow like that.
“It’s an adjustment. I can’t complain. I love it here. It’s a little bit cold, but it’s not going anywhere. So I’m going to have to adjust.”
Every day’s a lesson: Climate. Class. Campus life. Teammates. Size. Speed. Expectations. Mike Riley and Tanner Lee are out; Scott Frost and the Big Red Revival are in. With a new staff, a new scheme and a new semester, the small comfort for a gifted teenager is that everybody’s a freshman again.
“I think that was kind of my thought process, a little bit,” Martinez said of the Huskers’ quarterback derby, which was thrown wide open last month when Lee, the 2017 starter, elected to forgo his senior season for the NFL draft.
“We’re in a situation where we’re starting from scratch, where I’ll have an opportunity to try and prove myself and make a case for the starting position. And I’m going to do everything in my power to try and prove that to the coaches and players along the way.”
‘This is a situation he will flourish in’
Know this: Martinez hasn’t been promised anything but a shot. As a pro-style passer, Lee was always going to be a square peg in Frost’s zone-read attack. But Patrick O’Brien ran for 21 touchdowns in his last two seasons as a prep at San Juan Hills (Calif.) High School; Tristan Gebbia ran for 15 scores in his final two high school campaigns in Calabasas, Calif.
“As far as Adrian’s concerned, he’s a competitor, he’s a great kid and I think this is a situation he will flourish in, whether he starts or not,” offered Tony Martinez, Adrian’s father. “He will be a great team player and a great leader on that team, whether he starts or not.
“We met Tristan Gebbia — nice kid. Oh my gosh, he was great. And he basically said the same thing: They’re all going to compete and they’re all going to try for the job, and Frost is going to pick the guy that’s going to best fit his offense.”
The system favors a dual-threat quarterback who thinks like a point guard; a signal-caller sharp enough to line up the chess pieces on the board and nimble enough to improvise when Plan A goes kablooey. Sophomore McKenzie Milton threw for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns with UCF this past fall while rushing for 613 more yards and 8 scores on the ground.
“That’s definitely a plus,” Martinez said. “I looked at it and it was favorable for me to come in and get to compete right away. I wouldn’t say that was the end-all, be-all in my decision, but it was definitely a factor, to some extent.”
When Martinez sees Milton, he sees himself. When Petrissans sees Martinez, who threw for 25 touchdowns and ran for 14 more as a junior in the fall of 2016, he sees a perfect fit.
“There are so many aspects for what a coach likes to do offensively where Adrian fits,” the coach noted. “One, with the tempo [Frost] likes to run, Adrian’s used to doing that — we ran that style of offense the last three years.
“Two, with the run game, there’s a lot of read [option] aspects within Coach Frost’s offense, and Adrian is adept to doing that well. And three, just regarding the pass game, it looks like there are a lot of different passing [opportunities] where Adrian can utilize his arm strength and his intelligence to be able to get the pass to the people to make plays.”
Such as Penn State signee and Under Armour All-America Game teammate Ricky Slade, for example:
— Demetric D. Warren (@DemetricDWarren) January 1, 2018
4🌟 QB Adrian Martinez (Nebraska) to 5🌟 RB Ricky Slade (Penn State) for a TOUCHDOWN!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/2b3JNqrzZ8
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) January 5, 2018
In his first game action in more than a year and roughly 11 months removed from Feb. 2017 shoulder surgery, Martinez looked smooth at the UA contest on Thursday. The future Huskers quarterback completed 3 of 8 throws for 28 yards — 14 of them coming on a screen pass to Slade for a score — while rushing for 20 yards on 3 carries for Team Spotlight.
“You never really, truly appreciate something until it’s taken away,” Martinez said. “And I did take football for granted. I’d taken practices and games for granted. It was just taken away from me so quickly, it gave me a perspective and appreciation for the game and how it’s played, and how fortunate I am to be playing the level that I am.”
‘When you talk to him, he’s a 40-year-old’
Know this, too: Adrian Martinez always has a backup plan. Nebraska is a forever place, but football is not a forever game; his torn labrum last year drove the hardest lessons home.
“Obviously, he wants to play in the NFL, if he’s good enough,” Tony said. “But he’s asked, at each place he’s been, ‘What opportunities are there for me here outside of football?’ I’ve heard him say that more than once, and to his credit, he doesn’t get caught up in all the flash and the pomp.
“Frost said, ‘Adrian, you’re not going to have problems finding work or a job. There are going to be plenty of opportunities for you.’ Just because of [Frost’s] background and who he is, and what he represents, that means a lot to me, and I think that’ll be a good fit.”
‘The maturity and the leadership qualities that I’ve seen with him have always made me believe he could compete right now.’
— Clovis West football coach George Petrissans on Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez
Martinez, who plans to major in business administration, spent this past fall as a volunteer coach at Clovis West, rehabbing the shoulder, sampling life on the other side.
“He’s not a normal 18-year-old kid,” Petrissans said. “I’ve been telling people, ‘It’s like, when you talk to him, he’s a 40-year-old.’ He’s beyond his years.
“Very reserved as well. He’s not someone who’s going to get extremely high with the highs or extremely low with the lows. He’s a very steady player and welcomes challenges, welcomes pressure situations. And I think his physical capabilities will shine through, and his leadership abilities will come through as well, and his maturity to be able to run that type of offense — it’s just going to be a great mix.
“Adrian’s a special player. He’s a special person. And I wouldn’t say that for just everybody. The maturity and the leadership qualities that I’ve seen with him have always made me believe he could compete right now. And as long as he can adjust to the speed of the game, which is always going to be the hardest part for someone transitioning from high school to college, he has the mental capacity to do this.”