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Adrian Martinez is not Taylor Martinez. And Taylor Martinez is not Adrian Martinez.

They are separate people. They are not related. To the best of my Google abilities, they have never met each other.

Yet, they are forever intertwined.

Sure, their shared last name - and the confusion it has caused fans, announcers, ESPN, and others - is a big reason why.

But their shared connection goes deeper than their surname.

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Let's start with the basics.

Taylor Martinez was born September 15, 1990, in Corona, California. He's 6'1" and played around 210 pounds. He came to Nebraska in 2009, redshirted, and won the starting quarterback job in 2010. He was the first freshman to start at quarterback for Nebraska. Taylor had a dazzling freshman season, earning him some buzz as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate. Taylor wore #3 and was nicknamed "T-Magic".

Adrian Martinez was born January 7, 2000, in Fresno, California. He's an inch taller and about 10 pounds heavier than Taylor. Adrian came to Nebraska in 2018 and became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Nebraska. Adrian had a dazzling freshman season, earning him some buzz as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate. Adrian wears #2, which inspired his nickname of "2AM" .

Confused yet? The similarities are just beginning.

When Taylor Martinez was nearing the official end of his college career in 2013, I wrote about his legacy. I used six words to sum up his Nebraska career. Five of those words apply perfectly to the legacy of Adrian Martinez, so makes sense to celebrate Nebraska's two best quarterbacks of the Big Ten era.

Since this is an appreciation post, let's start positive.

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Wow.

Nothing can describe Adrian (or Taylor) better than "wow".

Those three letters say so much. The highlight reel plays*. The blazing speed. Big throws. The creativity and ability to make something out of nothing possessed by few quarterbacks in school history.

*Seriously: check out these highlight videos for Taylor and Adrian. Wow.

You can argue that Nebraska has had better quarterbacks, but few have had the ability to score from anywhere on the field like Taylor and Adrian Martinez. When they were on, Nebraska's offense was a big play machine, churning out yards and points.

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Turnovers.

Unfortunately, that "wow" description can also have a negative connotation. As in "Where was he throwing that to?", "I can't believe he didn't see that safety", or "What the ___ was he trying to do?"

Turnovers might actually be the biggest common thread between Taylor and Adrian. Taylor famously led the nation in fumbles AND fumbles lost during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. With Taylor running the offense, the term "YOLO ball" entered the Husker lexicon.

Adrian didn't have quite as many turnovers as Taylor, but Adrian had a nasty habit of giving the ball up at the worst possible moment. A sampling from the 2021 season: A strip sack at Illinois that was returned for a touchdown. An interception in overtime of the Michigan State game. A fumble at the end of the Michigan game.

Their collective turnover numbers were certainly impacted by a desire to make something happen, poor decision making, and questionable throwing mechanics. Taylor often threw into a crowd. Adrian tended to overthrow open receivers. Both carried the football like it was covered in spikes.

With Taylor and Adrian Martinez, there was a good chance that - one way or another - the offense was going to jog off the field after every snap.

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Records.

If there is an offensive record that a quarterback can hold - single game, season, or career - you will likely find Taylor and/or Adrian Martinez on the list.

A basic search for "Martinez" in the Nebraska Football Records book before the 2021 season returns 144 results. Seventy-five for Taylor. Sixty-nine for Adrian. That number will be different when the records are updated for the 2021 season.

A brief look at the categories where you'll find both (again, not including the 2021 season):

  • Total offense, career (After the Wisconsin game it is now Adrian #1, Taylor #3)
  • Career rushing (Taylor #9, Adrian should end up around #12)
  • Career passing (Adrian #2, Taylor #3)
  • Career scoring (Adrian #14, Taylor #24)
  • Top rushing seasons by freshmen (Taylor #2, Adrian #6)
  • Completion percentage in a game (Taylor #1, Adrian #2)
  • Passing touchdowns in a season (Taylor #3, Adrian #10)
  • Passing yards in a season (Taylor #5, Adrian #8)
  • Games with more than 300 yards of total offense (Adrian 13 times, Taylor 8 times)

If we look solely at statistics, both Adrian and Taylor Martinez are on the short list for "greatest quarterback in school history".

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Injured.

As we ponder the many, many single game, season, and career records that Taylor and/or Adrian Martinez hold, consider this:

What would their stats look like if they had been healthy throughout their entire career? How many of their games did they play hurt? One fourth? Half? More?

Taylor Martinez was injured in the Missouri game midway through his freshman season, missing two games. I don't think he was ever fully healthy after that. He only played four games in his senior season. I have heard that at the end of his NU career, his injured foot was an absolute horror show.

Adrian Martinez missed his senior season of high school with a torn labrum. He suffered his first injury in the Colorado game of his freshman season, missing one game. Injuries kept him out of two games in 2019. During the 2021 season, he played through a high ankle sprain, a broken jaw, and one half with a shoulder injury that cost him the final game of his junior season.

Neither Taylor nor Adrian was physically able to play in their Senior Day game. In my opinion, neither get enough credit for their toughness and desire to battle through pain and injuries.

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Polarizing

Say the name "Taylor Martinez" to Husker fan. What kind of reaction do you get? Do they smile at the memories? Reminisce about the division titles in 2010 and 2011? Or do they roll their eyes as they bring up the 2010 Texas A&M game.

Today, ask a Husker fan if Adrian Martinez should return to Lincoln for his senior season. Some will say yes. Others will be a more emphatic no. But there won't be a lot of middle ground.

The old cliché is the backup quarterback is most popular guy on the team. That certainly proved true as Taylor and Adrian Martinez struggled with turnovers and injuries throughout their careers. They (along with Tommy Armstrong, Jr.) are the first NU quarterbacks to start for multiple seasons in the social media age, where it is very easy to voice one's displeasure with a poor game or costly turnover. Unfortunately, it was also true that none of the guys who backed them up (a list containing Brion Carnes, Luke McCaffrey, Matt Masker, Cody Green, and Ron Kellogg II) were notably better.

Let's close this section with an excerpt from that 2013 piece I wrote about Taylor Martinez.

"Here is what I find most telling: In the almost 40 years that I have cheered for this team, I cannot remember another time where friends, family, fans, and random other day-to-day contacts were truly excited over a Nebraska player suffering an injury. I don’t think there was a lot of joy that Taylor Martinez (person) was injured. but I have heard and felt unmistakable joy that Taylor Martinez (quarterback) may never take another snap. Name another Husker player who got the same treatment?"

I think I can answer that question now.

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This is where the similarities between the quarterbacks Martinez end. While we're talking about their similarities, we need to address a couple key differences:

Taylor Martinez had more talent around him than Adrian Martinez.

I view this as an indisputable fact. Here are some of the NFL draft picks Taylor Martinez had on his offenses: Roy Helu, Niles Paul, Keith Williams, Marcel Jones, Rex Burkhead, Spencer Long, Quincy Enunwa, Ameer Abdullah, and Kenny Bell.

So far, Adrian Martinez has two offensive teammates get drafted (Brenden Jaimes and Matt Farniok), with tight end Austin Allen likely to be taken next year.

Taylor Martinez's teams were much more successful.

Another indisputable fact. Nebraska went 38-16 during Taylor Martinez's playing career, with division titles in the Big XII North and Big Ten Legends, and four bowl games.

Nebraska is currently 15-28 during Adrian Martinez's time at Nebraska, with zero bowl games and no winning seasons.

Adrian Martinez is viewed as the better leader.

Remember those six words I used to describe Taylor Martinez's legacy back in 2013? We've seen five of them so far. The sixth is "mercurial", a word I have only seen applied to one Husker: Taylor Martinez.

Adrian Martinez is the only three-time captain in program history. No matter what one thinks of his performance in big moments, his leadership is indisputable.

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There is a chance that this career appreciation piece is a year too early. Due to the 2020 pandemic season, Martinez is still a junior. He could rehab his injured shoulder and return to Nebraska for his senior season in 2022. Coach Scott Frost has said he would like to see Martinez return.

Will Adrian Martinez return? Before he injured his shoulder, I had no clue. Now, I have even less of an idea if Adrian Martinez will return to Nebraska. There are convincing arguments on all sides.

As I see it, Adrian Martinez has four options for 2022 - listed in no particular order:

  1. Return to Nebraska as a senior. He could try to finish his quest to get Nebraska and Coach Frost to a bowl game (or more) and put every career offensive record out of reach. His financial opportunities with NIL are likely best here.
  2. Transfer. Martinez has the talent and ability to be on any college roster, and could start for dozens of schools. Maybe he wants to play closer to home? Maybe he wants to go to a CFP contender? Maybe he just wants a fresh start?
  3. Retire from football. Who knows how serious his injury is, and what it would take to recover. Maybe Martinez is tired of the pain, negativity, and stress and just wants to get on with the rest of his life. By all accounts, Martinez is a bright young man and natural leader. With his degree (Management) already in hand, it is easy to see him having a successful career in whatever he chooses.
  4. Try a pro career. I see this as the least likely option - especially if you interpret "pro career" as "play QB in the NFL". But maybe Martinez could find success - or a paycheck - at another position or in a different league.

I know what I would like to see him do: whatever makes him happy. I'd gladly welcome him back (especially without a better option on the roster), and I'd understand if he chose to transfer or retire. He's defined earned the right to chart his course without negativity or second guessing.

Here is what I do know: As Adrian Martinez comes out of the tunnel on Friday. I will stand and applaud a man who gave everything he had to Nebraska. I know it won’t be as easy for some of you, but I hope that you can join me in showing him the respect he has earned.

If it helps, you can cheer the fact that it will be the last time you see him in a Nebraska jersey.