Here’s Steve Calhoun, ensconced at Strawberry Canyon, watching the California-Nevada game in Berkeley, and his cell phone starts buzzing like Tommy Chong.
Dude, are you watching this Nebraska game?
Dude, he’s 18-for-23.
Dude, he’s thrown for 200 yards, and it’s not even halftime yet.
“I know I felt like a proud papa,” Calhoun says.
You would, too, if the “he” in question were Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and you’d spent a chunk of your summer breaking down the kid’s throwing motion, then building it back up again.
Camera 1 … Camera 2 … Camera 3 … set your GPS …
“Your back shoulder is Camera 1, your middle is Camera 2, and your right shoulder is Camera 3,” says Martinez, who lit up Southern Mississippi Saturday with 354 yards and five passing touchdowns in a 49-20 Cornhuskers win. “And again, (you’re) making sure your Camera 3 is all the way across. He just uses those terms.”
And the GPS?
“And then, GPS (is) your left foot.”
Gotcha. Point the foot opposite the throwing shoulder at your target. Release. Repeat.
“I believe, with this generation, they’re so visual, with computers and television and everything,” says Calhoun, a Los Angeles-based quarterback guru whose clientele includes NFL signal-callers Cam Newton and Jake Locker. “All my coaching points are visual things they can see.”
During one-on-one sessions over the spring and summer, Calhoun saw something else: Martinez’s GPS was killing him.
In 2011, in which the Cornhuskers standout’s completion percentage had dropped from 59.2 percent in 2010 to 56.3, he was throwing awkwardly, sometimes off his back foot, sometimes off his front, all arm and no zip. To compensate for a high right ankle sprain suffered in late October 2010, Martinez had changed his mechanics so that it would be less painful to push off with his right foot.
“So if you go back and look at the film last year, how he threw the ball, you go, ‘Man, it makes sense. It totally makes sense to me,'” Calhoun says. “But I didn’t know he was hurt, that he was just out there battling with his team, he was just out there battling, trying to make plays.”
But battling also reinforced bad habits. Sometimes, Martinez could get away with it. Sometimes, he couldn’t. Occasionally, balls came out of his hand sailing like Frisbees, others like wounded ducks.
“It was very difficult to just drop back,” Martinez recalls. “I think that’s why I ended up switching (feet), I was trying to do the things that were the most comfortable to be throwing without feeling any pain.
“Now I’m trying to get back to where I was when I was throwing (during) my redshirt freshman year … I think, because I’d done it before, I had to break the little habits I’d had for like a year.”
Martinez’s mechanics were dissected piece by piece, the way the local pro does with your golf swing. Calhoun, a former New Mexico State quarterback who played professionally overseas, also instituted new rules: less arm, more torso. Swing the hips. Camera 1 … Camera 2 … Camera 3 … set your GPS …
“Taylor had a really strong arm — he would just muscle the football before we started working,” Calhoun says. “(Now) he’s like, ‘I have to use my core instead of just my arms.’ Your hips are sore and your abs are sore from rotating. He said, ‘I’m getting the same velocity, and I don’t have to use as much (arm) force to generate it.’ And I was like, ‘Now you’ve got it.'”
Calhoun runs a slew of camps — under the “Armed & Dangerous Football” banner — around greater Los Angeles. He was introduced to Martinez’s father, Casey, by former Huskers star Ralph Brown. Martinez, a native of Corona, Calif., met with Calhoun for the first time for just a few days over spring break. Things progressed so quickly that they agreed to do a longer, second session back in Southern California over the summer.
Martinez wound up working out for about week with a group that included Washington’s Keith Price, Nevada’s Cody Fajardo and USC backup Cody Kessler. In July, teacher and pupil tried their new act out on a bigger stage: the Manning Passing Camp, featuring NFL brothers Peyton and Eli.
“The cool thing for me was, we had been working in the spring and summer, so nobody had seen him throw. Outside (the program), nobody had seen him throw,” Calhoun recalls. “So when he was throwing the ball at that Manning camp, it opened some eyes. I saw some heads turning, going, ‘OK, it looks good. It looks better.'”
Calhoun also gives credit to Huskers offensive coordinator Tim Beck for taking his summer lessons and hammering them into his signal-caller’s head all through preseason camp. Camera 1 … Camera 2 … Camera 3 … set your GPS …
“He was saying sometimes I drop my left arm, maybe I don’t get my arms all the way across (my body),” Martinez recalls. “The little details like that.”
Martinez has become obsessed with little details as of late, pouring over game film with Beck and graduate assistant Joe Ganz, a former Huskers quarterback. The result: fewer ducks, more darts.
“I think he’s made great strides,” Huskers coach Bo Pelini says. “He put a lot of work in in the off-season and has had a great attention to detail in his preparation. Believe me, he made his share of mistakes, like anybody does, but he played a really solid football game.”
During the first day of preseason practice, the California native declared that he wanted to complete 70 percent of his passes this season. After a 26-for-34 afternoon against the Golden Eagles — 76.5 percent — he’s off to a flying start. No wonder papa can’t stop smiling.
“It’s not rocket science,” Calhoun says with a chuckle. “I promise you, it’s not rocket science. It’s basic fundamentals. That’s what I teach. People think it’s some kind of a magic trick.”
Or some kind of miracle. Another week like this last one, and Martinez’s GPS might start leading him all the way to New York City.