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Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez's talent is such that it makes a football fan's mind wander to interesting places.

You can't help it. His ceiling is that high.

You have to check yourself, though, right? After all, he's only six games into his collegiate career.

Nevertheless, he's already left a sizable impression on the only Nebraska quarterback to win a Heisman Trophy.

"I actually was just thinking about this stuff the other day," said Eric Crouch, who won the award in 2001. 

Crouch ponders Johnny Manziel in 2012 becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman.

"It makes you kind of think, why? How does that happen," Crouch said. "How do these young guys do it?"

He has interesting thoughts in that regard that by extension apply to Martinez, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound dual-threat rookie from Fresno, California.

Yes, Crouch said, Martinez is loaded with raw talent, size and speed. Martinez's frame should help him withstand punishment in the rugged Big Ten. But it's more than all that, said Crouch, an assistant coach at Midland University in Fremont.

"I think these kids nowadays know more about the game," Crouch said. "When I got to college, I relied mostly on pure athleticism. I was reading the three-technique, the five-technique and just pitching off to the outside guy. I wasn't looking at coverage. I didn't know the 'Okie' defense, a 3-4 defense, a 4-3, an under, an over. I didn't have a clue about any of that.

"I think now, with these kids, they get through middle school and they're learning this stuff. There are camps out there where they show up and they're the top-rated seventh- or eighth-grader in the nation. You'd laugh if you said something like that 30 or 40 years ago. There's a reason why these freshmen now are doing so well."

Nebraska quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco said Martinez arrived on campus well-schooled by Clovis West High School coach George Petrissans. Martinez also benefited from the world of seven-on-seven tournaments and such, Verduzco said.

"But still, it's so different in college," the coach said. "Going from high school to college ball is like going from earth to the moon and then going from college football to the NFL is like going from the moon to the outer skirts of the universe."

Make no mistake, Martinez still is growing into the position, still learning its complexities. He's a very willing learner, Verduzco said.

"He's got everything you want in a quarterback," Crouch said. "You look at what he's doing, and it's just amazing that's he's a true freshman."

Martinez, who's appeared in six of Nebraska's seven games, is averaging 240.5 passing yards and 69.2 rushing yards. His 309.7 yards of total offense per game rank second in the Big Ten (behind only Ohio State sophomore Dwayne Haskins).

Since 1990, only five freshman quarterbacks in the FBS have averaged 200 passing yards and 50 rushing yards per game, including four in the last eight years: J.T. Barrett of Ohio State in 2014; Manziel of Texas A&M and Marcus Mariota of Oregon in 2012; and Brett Smith of Wyoming in 2011. Adam Weber of Minnesota also accomplished the feat in 2007. Only Smith was a true freshman. 

As Martinez posts impressive numbers, Taylor Martinez looks on with keen interest from his home in New York City. The former Nebraska quarterback, as a redshirt freshman in 2010, burst onto the college scene but was slowed by injury in the final five games of that season. Even so, he made 12 starts and averaged 125.5 passing yards and 74.2 rushing yards. 

He thinks Adrian Martinez "is perfect for coach (Scott) Frost's offense. Once the other pieces start to fall in place, as we've seen this past week (against Minnesota), we are going to be a force. I wore my Nebraska hat with pride even when we were 0-6 for support."

Taylor Martinez now works as an app developer and designer for Patch.com. He said he misses the "sea of red" in Memorial Stadium but likes that there's another Martinez leading the program, even if he's not related to him.

"Of my seven siblings, the three most athletic ones are my little brothers that are twins age 10 and my 12-year-old brother," Martinez said. "So who knows, there may be a few more Martinez's down the road wearing the 'N.'"

Crouch, who made five starts as a redshirt freshman in 1998, basically marvels at the Martinez who's currently leading the way. Crouch's poise was one of his many attributes, so it means something extra to me when he says he likes that part of Martinez's acumen. 

"When I look at true leaders, I like people who are unflappable," Crouch said. "A prime example is a Tom Brady or a Drew Brees. It's guys who can throw an interception and come back and throw for a touchdown on the next drive. They don't let things bother them. They're thick-skinned. They have warrior mentalities. They want to win badly. They're extreme competitors.

"I see that in Adrian. There's a reason why they recruited him at Nebraska. There really is. At first, I didn't know. Yeah, you saw a big kid with a good arm. But then you start hearing him talk in his interviews, and it's impressive. I look forward to meeting him to just get a sense for where a kid that's 18-years-old is at mentally, especially in this program."

Martinez is further along mentally than Crouch was as a true freshman. We'll just leave it at that for now. From there, you can let your mind wander. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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