Image Credit: Terry Pierson /The Press-Enterprise)
NU saw something special in Taylor Martinez
10/02/2010 Taylor Martinez wasn't blinded from an endless number of shiny stars next to his name in recruiting profiles.
Most Nebraska recruiting fanatics didn't lose sleep, either, wondering whether a 17-year-old from California would choose the Huskers over dozens of other schools and fill a recruiting void at quarterback.
For one thing, Nebraska wasn't in search of a quarterback. Coaches already had targeted Cody Green.
As for Martinez, he had no hats to choose from, no top-five lists.
Nebraska was his first scholarship offer, and Martinez accepted quickly.
Today, you've seen Martinez, three games into his Husker career, run for touchdowns of 80, 67 and 46 yards. You've seen a redshirt freshman reinvigorate an entire offense. You're seeing and hearing Martinez in national media circles.
Go ahead and scratch your head.
How did Nebraska land this guy? Someone who's already arguably the Huskers' most electrifying offensive player since their last Heisman Trophy winner, Eric Crouch, in 2001?
Welcome to the inexact science of recruiting, where sometimes, good old-fashioned evaluation, belief and trust can trump even the shiniest of stars.
Carl Pelini had just begun his new job as defensive coordinator at Nebraska when he was recruiting in California. That's where Norco High School coach Todd Gerhart -- father of 2009 Heisman Trophy finalist Toby Gerhart -- told Pelini of a quarterback that was transferring from San Bernardino Cajon High School to Centennial High for his senior season. Gerhart had coached the player as a freshman and sophomore at Norco -- primarily playing him in the secondary -- and was close friends with his family.
"You've got to keep an eye on him," Gerhart told Pelini.
Not long after that, Pelini was watching a recruit's film sent from a recruiting service. He saw a very talented athlete playing on a not very good team.
The kid, of course, was Martinez, and after seeing him in person at Centennial's college showcase day, Pelini offered on the spot. He said Martinez became a "primary focus in our recruiting."
Martinez accepted the offer after visiting Lincoln that summer before his senior year.
"I give Coach Pelini all the credit, because he saw what he saw that day, and obviously he was right," Centennial coach Matt Logan said. "There are so many recruiting stories of rights and wrongs, but that's one where you're a defensive guy plucking a quarterback out of a school where he hadn't even played a season yet. That's just amazing."
Truth be told, though, only one person that day knew with 100 percent certainty that Martinez would become a college quarterback.
Everybody else had Martinez pegged as a safety, a cornerback, a wide receiver. Somebody who could return kicks, too.
"For Taylor, personally, I don't think he ever had a doubt he was going to play anywhere other than quarterback," Pelini said.
Nebraska told Martinez he'd be given an opportunity to play quarterback, even though head coach Bo Pelini initially had Martinez on the recruiting board as a safety. Even on signing day in 2009, Nebraska's news release had Martinez listed as an athlete.
That had become a common theme.
"People looked at him as an athlete," said Brandon Huffman, the West recruiting manager for Scout.com, noting Martinez tested "off the charts" at the recruiting service's combine.
"He didn't have great arm strength, he didn't have a real natural throwing motion, and when you looked at him actually start throwing next to these guys at the combine, you were like, ‘OK, this guy's an athlete.' He had the measureables testingwise."
The state of California was full of more established, prototypical quarterbacks in that recruiting class -- Matt Barkley (USC), Richard Brehaut (UCLA), Tate Forcier (Michigan), Josh Nunes (Stanford), Jeff Tuel (Washington State), Allan Bridgford (Cal), Ryan Katz (Oregon State), Keith Price (Washington), Derek Carr (Fresno State) and Joe Southwick (Boise State).
Martinez, meanwhile, had only played quarterback for one season at Cajon, "and all they did was run the ball," Huffman said. "There wasn't a whole lot known about (Martinez) other than he was a real freaky athlete."
Martinez then led Centennial to a 15-0 record and the state championship by throwing for 3,000 yards.
"But it was a lot of catch-and-run," Huffman said. "It was a lot of dump-offs, and then let the other guys do the rest of the work."
Other schools did come calling -- Washington, Oregon and UCLA were among them, Logan said. Some schools said they'd give Martinez a shot at quarterback. Others still wanted him as a safety or receiver.
Martinez remained solid to Nebraska. The school was the first to offer, and his father, former Iowa State safety Casey Martinez, had deep respect and appreciation for Nebraska, Carl Pelini said.
"I know so many coaches who say, ‘Well, who else offered him?'" Carl Pelini said. "Well, if you have the confidence to evaluate a kid on tape and in person and get to know him, you shouldn't be afraid to be the first one to pull the trigger. You can't be. Because that's a huge bonus for a program, for a kid being recruited to know that you were the first one who noticed him. It helps you at every turn."
The one area of Martinez's game that most concerned recruiters -- throwing the football -- is something that doesn't concern Shawn Watson. In fact, the Nebraska offensive coordinator said Martinez is as good as any passer he's been around.
"He needed time to develop. All kids need time to develop," Watson said. "It's probably a lot the way he was used and the things he was asked to do in high school. He had things he had to learn. You never know until you roll your sleeves up and get busy with a kid, ‘Is he going to be able to learn it?' And he has.
"I think we stole one big-time, I really do. He'll get bigger, he'll get stronger, he'll get more confident as he continues to progress. He'll be a handful, as long as he stays humble, and he will, because that's who he is."
Reach Brian Rosenthal at firstname.lastname@example.org