Nebraska QB Martinez returns to So Cal
According to UCLA football coach Jim Mora, the Bruins will need to eliminate all distractions this week in order to win their highly-anticipated home-opener against No. 16 Nebraska. However, the biggest distraction of all may not be the excitement surrounding the Rose Bowl’s first game of the season, but hype surrounding the homecoming of Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Martinez will finally get the opportunity to play in the stadium that he always dreamed of growing up in Corona — except when he leads the Cornhuskers out of the tunnel, he won’t be wearing blue and gold, he’ll be wearing scarlet and cream.
Martinez is not a new name in the world of Southern California football. As a senior at Centennial, he led the Huskies to a perfect 15-0 season and the 2008 state championship. One of the top high school players in the country, the dual-threat quarterback was brought up as a Bruin fan. His father’s friend had played his college ball in Westwood and Martinez fell in love with the program at a young age.
“I always loved UCLA growing up as a kid,” Martinez said. “They never offered to me, I was kind of disappointed by that.”
While he was recruited to UCLA as a free safety, ultimately no scholarship offer was received and Martinez looked elsewhere, landing in Nebraska.
Lincoln, Neb., is a town built on football tradition. While it does serve as the state’s capital, it is a pure football town that lights up during the fall. Memorial Stadium is known as one of the best places to play the game, and rightfully so with traditions like the touchdown balloon release that virtually paints the sky red and the unique experience of the 360-degree video projection screen inside the stadium known around town simply as “The Heisman Room.”
Martinez was unfamiliar with these traditions. But one visit sold him. He would become a ‘Husker after visiting no other schools.
“I really didn’t know who Nebraska was,” Martinez said. “But once I started looking more into them I really fell in love with Nebraska so I’m really glad I came.”
This week, there will undoubtedly be attention on Martinez. However, the spotlight will be firmly on the Bruins as they attempt to stop him. Martinez claims he has no chip on his shoulder, and the Bruins’ snubbing him years ago throws almost no fuel on the fire.
He may or may not have a theoretical chip on his shoulder, but that isn’t what Mora is worried about.
“Once you get out there and start playing it goes by the wayside,” Mora said. “Once you start playing it can be used as external motivation but are they motivated by external things? I don’t know that that’s real competitive desire.
“This guy is a great competitor, regardless of whether he’s playing against the school he wanted to go to or not.”
Mora likened Martinez to Jeff Garcia.
“Jeff Garcia was one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever been around,” Mora said. “I think Taylor is a lot like that. People have questioned his arm, but I think on Saturday he proved that he can stand there and throw it. And I think he can run.”
Mora is more concerned with the aerial attack testing a young Bruin defense. Martinez said earlier this week that he plans to keep throwing the ball 30-40 times a game. But the running game is also an imminent threat, as he ran for 874 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
About 50 of his closest friends and family in attendance in Pasadena, on Saturday night. The Martinez entourage will be one of many, as the ‘Huskers fans typically travel well. A sea of Crimson just creates more diversion that the Bruins must ignore.
“If we’re playing hard and playing well, maybe we can keep them sitting on their hands a little bit,” Mora said. “But we can’t be distracted by any environment and hopefully like I said, we’re mature enough to handle it.”