Martinez looks to bring down childhood team

2013-09-14T03:45:00Z 2013-09-24T17:14:23Z Martinez looks to bring down childhood teamBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Back in another decade, long before standing front-and-center on pressure-packed football Saturdays like this one, Taylor Martinez knew a football player named Andy Meyers.

Meyers played offensive guard for UCLA, and played the position well, a three-year starter who earned first-team all-conference honors.

Meyers, in fact, was on the 1998 Bruins team that fell one win — a blown 17-point second-half lead against Miami in the last regular-season game — from playing for a national championship.

He also used to train in the offseason with Taylor's dad, Casey.

“Taylor would just sit there and watch me train him,” Casey remembers.

That's where rooting for the blue and gold started for the California kid.

You can be sure that young Taylor — 8 years old during that '98 season — watched those UCLA teams just as closely as he did those training sessions.

There were those around him, including his grandpa, who threw their support to the USC program and all of its championship banners.

But there were no blurred lines for Taylor. “I followed UCLA.”

Followed the Bruins and wanted to play for them.

He might very well have if the timing had been different. The hometown team was more interested in Taylor as either a receiver or defensive back at the time.

“But I think that they (UCLA coaches) felt his heart was set on playing quarterback,” Casey said.

Whatever the case, an offer from the hometown team never came.

Interestingly, a year after Taylor graduated from Corona (Calif.) Centennial High School, UCLA started running more of the pistol offense, which was more suited to the quarterback’s strengths.

Had that scheme change happened earlier, who knows how this story may have gone.

But things happen as they do, and so Taylor found himself on a trip back home last September, very much wanting to claim victory against the team he rooted for as a kid.

The Husker senior quarterback made no bones this week about how much that 36-30 loss to the Bruins stung.

“I don't think I've ever felt so bad about a loss before," he said.

And now?

"I think the whole team feels like we owe them one since they beat us last year."

That game was a tale of two halves for Martinez. In the first half, he directed the Husker offense up and down the field, 24 points and 333 yards, including a 92-yard romp across the Rose Bowl turf for a touchdown.

But the second half was nothing like the first. Martinez was sacked in the end zone for a game-turning safety. He forced a throw for an interception in NU territory after that. The Huskers had six series that were three-and-outs or worse in the game's final two quarters.

“This year, it’s about just being able to finish,” Taylor said. “Hopefully, our defense plays like they did in the second half (last year) and our offense plays like it did in the first half.”

All eyes will be on the quarterback to see the poise he can demonstrate in the type of big game that could set the tone for the season.

Granted, that challenge goes both ways.

Poise is also something UCLA coach Jim Mora said his defense will have to display at all times if it hopes to put the clamps on the Husker quarterback.

“You have to be assignment-perfect, but what happens is you get frustrated and all of a sudden, you do something you wouldn't typically do, and he exploits it," Mora said.

"Plus, he's a tenacious competitor. That's something I respect so much about him, is his competitive drive. He never gave up. He was never down. He never conceded a down. And that makes it really difficult to defend a guy."

Mora said his defense has to understand that there's a really strong chance that at some point Martinez is going to break a play or two.

“You just have to be able to regroup and stay poised.”

Win the battle of poise and you probably win the day.

As for the idea that this game carries extra meaning for Taylor, his dad said there might be some of that, but also pointed out it's hard to move his son's competitive needle much higher than it's set every week.

“We could be playing any school in a park and he’d treat it the same, because he doesn’t like to lose, regardless,” Casey said. “He doesn’t like to lose to anybody, but I’m sure he feels a little bit extra if it’s a team that he grew up watching.”

The Martinez family will be in Lincoln to see it.

With five kids still at home, including one in his senior year of high school at Laguna Beach High School, it’s impossible for Casey to make it to every NU game.

But he still plans on seeing four or five in person this year, and UCLA is definitely one of them. He expected about a dozen family members to be in attendance this week.

And while it appears true freshman Drake Martinez is headed for a redshirt season after an ankle injury sidelined him for a dozen practices this fall, Casey still will get goose bumps seeing two kids come out of the Nebraska tunnel.

First, Taylor emerging as a captain. Then, Drake with the team.

“It’s kind of like a father’s dream to not only have one son on scholarship but two,” Casey said.

The boys are close despite their different personalities.

Drake is the more outgoing one, Casey said, which he thinks fits his position at safety well.

“He’s not under a microscope like a quarterback. Taylor’s a little more guarded, because he kind of has to be. He’s a quarterback of a major program in Nebraska. You have to be careful of what you say and who you talk to and that sort of thing. Drake’s probably a little more open. Drake’s pretty charming. Drake’s very physical. Taylor is very physical. But Drake wants to hit people and hurt them every time he tackles them.”

While Drake may be more of a talker by nature, Casey notices Taylor is “a lot more relaxed than he used to be” when it comes to the media scrutiny of being Husker quarterback.

This Monday, for instance, Taylor answered questions after practice for at least 15 minutes, firing off a few jokes along the way, including one recalling his days as a scout-team wide receiver.

“I think I gave them a lot of fits when Ron Kellogg III was at QB, so I think that's why the defense was so good that year,” Taylor cracked.

That side of Taylor is nothing new to Casey.

It’s just something fans and media didn’t see early in his career because of how focused he was at trying to win a job, the elder Martinez thinks.

“All he wants to do is compete and earn the starting position, and sometimes the media doesn’t realize that,” Casey said. “And maybe if he wasn’t so focused, and maybe if he would have jumped in front of every camera and microphone, maybe he might not have been the starter. Because he wouldn’t have been as focused as he was.

"Now that he secured that starting position, after that freshman year, I think he’s starting to connect with the fans and the media, and I think that people have seen that.”

And now, Taylor would like to grab the kind of September win that could be a launching pad to a special senior season.

“Hopefully, our fans can bring it, and they're loud, and they're as excited as we are,” Taylor said.

The Martinez family, which still maintains connections to the Bruins, will be part of the noise trying to help bring them down.

“We still are fans,” Casey said of UCLA.

A laugh followed. “Until we play them.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. Follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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