Of all the highlights Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez produced during his freshman season, Mohamed Barry’s list of favorites has a distinctly linebacker feel to it.
“The play I probably liked the most was either the Iowa play where it was a power and he ran like a running back, juking people in close quarters and stiff-arming and trucking, or the Minnesota play where he ran down the sideline and then really juked out a good linebacker and made a big play,” Barry, the Huskers’ senior inside linebacker, told the Journal Star recently.
There are plenty of big-time throws — a laser of an 18-yard out to beyond the far hash mark or a back-foot, 52-yard heave to Stanley Morgan up the sideline against Ohio State — and many open-field highlights on Martinez's freshman-year reel, but give Barry the ones where the young quarterback showed early in his career that he’s not afraid to bring some punishment.
Case in point: The next moment Barry brings up is one many Nebraska fans remember, when Martinez barreled into the end zone against Iowa, delivered a shot to an Iowa defensive back and then stared him down for a good long beat before celebrating with his teammates.
“Everyone loved the play in Iowa where he trucked the dude in the end zone,” Barry said, his eyes lighting up as he clenched his hands together. “That’s what you want from your quarterback. That fires me up because I love seeing that fire.”
With the 2019 season now two weeks away, Martinez and Barry are perhaps the two safest bets on the roster to earn captain status when the team votes in the coming days.
Outwardly, they have differing styles. Barry wears his emotions on his sleeve, whereas Martinez always appears calm, cool and collected. Then again, Martinez did say earlier this summer that he likes to mix it up with his defensive teammates during practice. In fact, a reporter can’t even make it through a question about the quarterback’s straight-faced demeanor before Barry jumps in.
“Don’t get it twisted. He’s a competitor. He’s a wicked competitor,” Barry said. “He has that demeanor, yes, but he’s a wicked competitor. He’s like a Tom Brady. Tom Brady is not all la-tee-da. Sometimes he is, but he’s always competitive and when it’s time to compete, he’s going to compete hard. That’s the biggest thing. That’s what I like about Adrian.”
Defensive backs such as Dicaprio Bootle and Deontai Williams try to rattle Martinez on a daily basis. Bootle said they like to try to fool Martinez before the snap or get into his head by yelling things — like Martinez’s nickname, “2AM,” at him while he’s getting the offense ready and surveying the defense.
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Does it work?
“Man, I ain’t going to lie, Adrian is unfazed,” Bootle said earlier this month. “We try to do it, but he already knows in his head that he has a plan, he sticks to it. If it’s not there, the good thing about Adrian is he has his feet. Sometimes we try to bait him into throwing something, and he’s so smart that he’ll see it and we just have to laugh it off.”
This is how a player earns unanimous trust and respect in a locker room before his sophomore year starts. The on-the-field results have to be there — Martinez and quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco are fond of saying, “Leadership is performance and performance is leadership” — but then the rest has to fit, too.
“When he was ballin’ during the season, he didn’t let that high turn him into a guy that, you know, ‘Hey I can’t talk to you,’ or, ‘Oh, I’m the man’ and I’m wearing shades when I’m walking in. Stuff like that,” Barry said. “He just acts the same and that’s what you want from a quarterback.”
Nebraska’s developed an interesting leadership group as the culture has developed under Frost and company. A pair of sophomore walk-ons — defensive lineman Damian Jackson and wide receiver Kade Warner — have taken leadership roles on a teamwide and positionwide basis, respectively. Senior corner Lamar Jackson has gone from a player the staff didn’t particularly trust (and benched last fall) to a leader. A newcomer in the defensive line room, Darrion Daniels, assumed a big role almost immediately upon arriving on campus this winter.
Barry and Martinez, though, are perhaps the first two names that come to mind. And the senior makes it very clear even he considers the sophomore to be, bar none, the team’s North Star.
“That’s not up for question,” he said. “Everyone respects him and we’re going to go where he takes us. There’s no question about that no more and it’s not really a big thing. Everyone knows it and everyone’s comfortable with it.
“He took that role, he earned that role and he’s comfortable in that role.”
Contact the writer at email@example.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.