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Illinois at Nebraska, 11/10/18

Nebraska's Adrian Martinez throws a pass against Illinois Nov. 10 at Memorial Stadium.

For this first week of class at Nebraska, the football team’s winter conditioning program is technically optional.

Technically. But not if you’re interested in what budding team leaders like sophomore Adrian Martinez thinks.

“Guys on the team made sure to let everyone know that we’re getting to work right away,” the quarterback said Friday on the "Husker Sports Nightly" radio program. “We know what we want to accomplish and it’s going to take some hard work and dedication throughout this semester, through the fall, throughout the season. It starts now. (Head strength coach Zach Duval) is going to push us to the max and we’re excited for it.”

Martinez, of course, started 11 of 12 games as a freshman and established himself as one of the best young signal-callers in the Big Ten and the country. He set multiple freshman and school records in completing 64.6 percent of his passes and accounting for more than 3,200 yards and 25 total touchdowns.

As his freshman year progressed — particularly after he won the starting job in August and challenger Tristan Gebbia transferred — Martinez’s leadership role grew steadily.

“I know he’s going to get better, but what we really need from him is to step up and be the leader on offense,” Frost said last month. “He kind of started doing that toward the end of year this past year, but everybody’s going to look to him next year.”

Martinez says he’s up for it.

“No doubt. I’m excited about this new challenge. … My play can only get better,” he said. “I think I can only improve as a player and a person and I think the guys on the team respect my mentality. I’m really trying to establish myself as a leader and as someone that they can look to as consistent on and off the field. I’m going to learn from the past leaders, where they made mistakes and where they succeeded and do my very best to make this team as great as it can be.”

The next step in that process is the formal winter conditioning program, which will run from now until just before spring ball begins in early March.

“Guys have to give it their all in the weight room,” Martinez said. “You have to get what you can get done day by day. We have to get better. You have to push yourself, push each other, grow as a team. Some of these new guys coming in, we have to pick them up with us and get them on the same level, same standard and we’re doing that currently. Just making sure that we’re coming to work every day and having the mentality that what happened last year cannot happen again.”

Martinez said he worked out but didn’t throw while he was home in Fresno, California, over the holiday break between semesters because quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco wanted him to get some mental and physical rest.

“It was nice to be back and see my family and some of my buddies, but it was a little too long of a break for me,” the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder said. “I was excited and anxious to get back and we’re looking forward to next year.”

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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