Huskers QB was on OSU radar two years ago
For a weekend in November 2017, Adrian Martinez visited Ohio State.
He toured the school’s football facilities, stood on the sideline of its venerable stadium and posed for photos with then-coach Urban Meyer.
The Buckeyes rolled Michigan State in front of a capacity crowd, a scene that captured his attention.
“It’s pretty awe-striking in a way,” said Martinez's father, Tony, who accompanied him on the trip.
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At the time, Martinez, a high school senior from Fresno, California, was a decorated quarterback recruit in search of a college football program. He remained committed to Tennessee, but the Volunteers were struggling and would fire their coach, Butch Jones, that same weekend.
As fall waned, Ohio State seemed like a possible fit. Emory Jones, a passer from Georgia who had been committed, was going to sign with another school, and the Buckeyes coaching staff took interest in Martinez.
“Of course Adrian was interested,” his dad said, “because it's Ohio State. That's big-time.”
The recruitment went only so far. Ohio State extended a scholarship offer to Matthew Baldwin instead.
The backstory is among the storylines surrounding Ohio State’s trip to Lincoln and looming matchup with Nebraska.
When the Buckeyes passed on Martinez nearly two years ago, it allowed him to join the Cornhuskers, where he has emerged as an integral figure in second-year coach Scott Frost's rebuild.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day, who at the time was the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said the staff had been “very close” to offering Martinez. An injury held them back.
Martinez missed his senior season at Clovis West High School because of a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
George Petrissans, his high school coach, said Martinez suffered the initial tear when he was tackled during a playoff game in his junior season in late 2016, and it was further aggravated during a basketball game the following winter.
While sidelined as a senior, Martinez had no recent game film for viewing, a roadblock for Ohio State that was never cleared.
Day was torn. He said he “fell in love with him” when he visited Columbus for the game against Michigan State and referred to him a “great kid.”
“At the end of the day, we just weren't sure,” Day said, “but had a feeling he was going to be a special player, and so hats off to him. He is a special player, and he's everything he said he was going to be and we thought he would be.”
Martinez started as a freshman last fall and became one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten, using both the throwing and running abilities that made him the seventh-best dual-threat quarterback in his recruiting class, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings.
This season, Martinez has thrown for 1,053 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions and has run for 234 yards and three touchdowns, as the Cornhuskers are off to a 3-1 start, including a win at Illinois last week in their Big Ten opener.
Only seven quarterbacks in the nation have more total yards than Martinez (1,287).
“When you combine together the ability to run and throw, along with his intelligence and game management, he is by far the best quarterback we've seen,” Day said.
Baldwin left Ohio State after one season, and Martinez wound up at Nebraska due to some turning on the coaching carousel.
In December 2017, Frost was named the coach at his alma mater, hours after he had led Central Florida to an undefeated regular season with a win over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
One of his first calls was to Martinez to offer him a scholarship. The decisiveness made an impression on the quarterback.
“He was juiced up,” Petrissans said, “because it was like, 'Man, that's cool. They’re just winning their championship and he's calling me.’”
The fit has been ideal. Frost was a former quarterback for the Cornhuskers and led them to a split national championship in 1997. He could relate to Martinez playing one of the most scrutinized positions in football.
“He's been in Adrian's shoes in regards to the experience, the highs and lows, all of it,” Tony Martinez said. “And I think they understand each in the football language, but also in a personal language that they can support each other. They believe in each other. That's a major component to success. It's belief.”
Frost’s spread offense felt right, too. When Frost was offensive coordinator at Oregon (2013-15), Petrissans and his assistants watched film and sought to install elements of the scheme at Clovis West.
They noticed a similar offense when they watched Frost calling plays for Central Florida, including during its conference championship victory. It struck Petrissans, who phoned Martinez during the game.
"Hey, man, are you watching this?” Petrissans recalled asking. “Because this offense is perfect for you.”
Martinez was in front of a screen, following along with his father.
Frost had tried to recruit Martinez to Central Florida, but was rebuffed.
“Adrian felt that environment didn't fit him,” Tony Martinez said.
Once Frost ended up at Nebraska, a tradition-rich program, it became an easier sell.
Martinez signed weeks later, and in Saturday’s high-stakes Big Ten bout, he will be facing Ohio State for a second time.