Four-year starting quarterback Adrian Martinez will not return for a fifth campaign with Nebraska in a decision that marks the end of an era and the beginning of a process that will produce a new No. 1 Husker QB in 2022.
The longtime centerpiece of NU’s offense announced Thursday on social media that he is entering the transfer portal and will play his final college season elsewhere.
"The University of Nebraska will always be a place I can call home," Martinez wrote in his announcement posted to Twitter. "It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the N for four years. ... I will always be a Nebraska Cornhusker at heart and a proud alum."
Martinez’s departure concludes a complicated legacy in Lincoln. The Californian quarterbacked four straight losing seasons but handled himself well on the field and in frequent media interviews. He’s been prolific statistically, holding double-digit Nebraska records, including career total offense (10,792). But he went just 15-23 as a starter, never led a true game-winning drive and was chronically prone to fumbles and interceptions.
“He’s done a ton of really good things at the University of Nebraska,” coach Scott Frost said in November. “Sometimes it’s been great, sometimes it hasn’t. But I admire and respect him, and he and I’ve been battling through a lot together. I just appreciate who he is.”
The decision means Nebraska must settle on a new No. 1 QB before the 2022 opener in August. That could be third-year sophomore Logan Smothers, who made his first career start against Iowa and completed 16 of 22 passes for 199 yards and ran 24 times for 64 more. NU also has freshman Heinrich Haarberg, walk-on Matt Masker and incoming recruit Richard Torres.
The Huskers figure to be active in the transfer portal to add another player, as well. Dozens of quarterbacks are there and publicly uncommitted, including Spencer Rattler (Oklahoma), Dillon Gabriel (Central Florida), Myles Brennan (LSU), Keilon Brown (Memphis) and Peter Costelli (Utah).
Martinez was the first recruiting call Frost’s Nebraska staff made in December 2017, and the former four-star prospect became Frost’s first QB pledge shortly thereafter. A breakout freshman campaign in 2018 earned him Heisman Trophy odds and the Huskers a Top 25 ranking before the following season. But two more losing autumns dulled his shine and set up a year in which he kept NU fans interested but disappointed as the team lost eight games by single digits in his starts.
Consequences of operating within Frost’s QB run-heavy offense took a toll. He fumbled as much as anyone in the country — 35 times with 18 lost. His three lost this season were killers in defeats against Illinois, Michigan State and Michigan. Injuries also kept Martinez out of games in three of four seasons, including this year when he dealt with a high ankle sprain and broken jaw before a shoulder injury ended his season ahead of the finale against Iowa.
That shoulder injury, which required surgery after the season, likely means he faces four to six months of recovery time, meaning he won’t be full-go for spring workouts at his new school. Martinez still has a redshirt season available and could use it to prepare to be a starter somewhere in 2023.
The QB could have ended his season after the broken jaw against Michigan State but elected to push through the discomfort.
“It was a tough choice and one I wanted to make for my teammates and wanted to do for our team, simple as that,” Martinez said at the time. “To continue to fight and lead the guys, it was really as simple as that for me.”
Martinez, the only three-time captain in school history, has drawn unanimous praise from teammates and coaches for his physical and mental toughness handling injuries and public scrutiny. He responded to a two-game benching in 2020 by reclaiming the starting job.
“He’s a true leader,” outside linebacker Garrett Nelson said in November. “The amount of stuff he has to deal with day to day ... he’s done a phenomenal job. He’s a great guy, he’s a great person. I don’t think anybody else could be doing what he’s doing right now. That speaks a lot to him as a person.”
Added receiver Levi Falck: “Everyone on the team is just amazed and looks up to him. We’re really proud of what he’s accomplished this year.”
Frost often told reporters that he'd like Martinez back for a fifth season — “I hope it’s not his last (Senior Day), but if it is, he needs to be honored,” Frost said before the Iowa game. Martinez took part in ceremonies that day, sharing a hug with his head coach while wearing a letter jacket and a bulky brace on his right shoulder.
Martinez graduated in May with a degree in business administration. He leaves as one of four Big Ten players and 24 FBS players ever with 8,000 career passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards.