During football season, Thursday night is date night at the Verduzco household.
The schedule from late July through the end of Nebraska’s season — and really the recruiting cycle’s finish in early February — is unforgiving, so Husker quarterbacks coach Mario and wife Cate work in the finer things when they can.
“(The team has) no-sweat Thursday (practice) and, boom, we’re typically done,” Verduzco said. “Thursday’s usually our night to reconnect and enjoy each other and maybe have a little pasta, a glass of red wine or something like that.
“For Italians, it’s usually Sunday. But I can’t do it Sunday, so we do it Thursday.”
From the outside, it would be easy to think that Verduzco, a four-decade veteran in college football, has a pretty plush gig this fall. He’s got a prized sophomore and potential Heisman Trophy candidate at the helm in Adrian Martinez, one backup entering his third year in Scott Frost’s offense in Noah Vedral and another who’s drawn rave reviews from just about everyone who’s watched him so far in freshman Luke McCaffrey.
Verduzco, though, will be in the office by 3:40 a.m. Friday.
Wait, really? You’re leaving the house at 3:30 a.m.?
“Well, we were 4-8 last year,” Verduzco explains. “Four and (freakin') eight.”
From that early hour, Verduzco has plenty of time before his players roll into the building. The Huskers' "fast Friday" practice is walk-through style and goes quickly. The quarterbacks meet and go over any last-minute questions, but the week’s heavy lifting is typically complete by Wednesday night.
Eventually on a Friday before a home game, the players head to the team hotel.
“So then if I have a chance to maybe get ahead in terms of watching tape, I’ll get that done,” he said.
Saturday is the really interesting one for Verduzco. All of the hours and weeks and months of preparation, years of study during a life spent “figuring out a way how to prevent stupid interceptions and near misses,” and yet all he can do is sit at his perch in the NU assistant coaches box high above the field and watch.
“I’m an emotional, crazy (person), now,” Verduzco said earlier this year when describing his in-game demeanor. “But when you’re coaching a 'cube,' man, the last thing you want to do is get them all freaked out. There are things that will just drive me nuts, but when you get on the phone — I mean, I’ll (yell) every once in a while, but not very often — and then there’s that decorum that even just needs to happen in the booth.”
Martinez this week agreed that Verduzco is calm during the pair’s in-game communications.
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“I’m always on the headset between series,” Martinez said. “We’re going over whether it might be the last plays, whether it might be the upcoming series, whatever’s happening in the game. It’s probably a little bit different than it is in practice.”
That, needless to say, is by design.
“I’m really, really cognizant of that and really relaxed,” Verduzco said. “You’ve done everything you can possibly do. It doesn’t mean you don’t coach during the game — there’s always something you might need to point out about XYZ — but don’t get too high or too low about things.”
That’s easier said than done for Verduzco himself, and he’s got recent experience in the department. Verudzco had a talented freshman quarterback in 2016 at Central Florida with McKenzie Milton. That can make for a roller coaster from week to week.
Even in 2017, when Milton blossomed into a Heisman Trophy contender and the Knights went 13-0, Verduzco found he felt anything but relaxed during games.
“It took me until the (American Athletic Conference) championship game with 'KZ,'" Verduzco said, referring to Milton by his nickname. “It’s a little nerve-wracking because you’re not sure, totally.”
Martinez is a big part of the reason NU coaches and fans are more relaxed and more comfortable overall heading into Year 2 under Frost. He’s widely considered among the top quarterbacks in the country and perhaps the best in the Big Ten. His own level-headed approach and maturity have earned as many rave reviews as his already lengthy highlight reel, and last week he became just the second sophomore captain in NU history.
"I feel way less stressed going into this year than last year," Frost said Monday. "We still had a lot of unknowns last year. We still had a lot of guys who were still learning and a lot of guys who were question marks in our minds on how they were going to play."
The question mark at quarterback has dissipated for most. Replaced by the unknown is, largely, anticipation and excitement among fans, teammates and coaches to see just how much better Martinez can get.
Verduzco is almost there. But not quite.
“I feel more comfortable, but I’m still going to be on pins and needles before the game,” Verduzco said. ”I feel really good about how I think he’s going to react from snap to snap, but I’ll still be a little bit jittery about that.
“He won’t be, obviously. Nothing fazes him, but I’ll still be interested to see how he reacts to each different situation.”