Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Huskers' California crew heading home
By Adam Rittenberg
Nebraska's official homecoming game takes place Sept. 29 against Wisconsin, but for Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez and a group of his teammates, it really arrives Saturday.
Martinez has had Saturday's game at UCLA marked on his calendar since his senior year at Centennial High School in Corona, Calif. As soon as Martinez and his close friend and high school teammate, Ricky Marvray, finalized their college choices -- Martinez picked Nebraska, Marvray picked UCLA -- they looked at the schedule and saw Sept. 8, 2012: Nebraska at UCLA, Rose Bowl.
Taylor Martinez is one of several Huskers looking forward to Nebraska's Week 2 game at UCLA.
"We've been looking forward to it ever since high school," Martinez told ESPN.com.
The wait ends Saturday afternoon in Pasadena, Calif., as Martinez and several other California natives return to home soil. Nebraska's roster includes eight Californians, including four -- Martinez, defensive end Cameron Meredith, wide receiver Quincy Enunwa and safety Daimion Stafford -- in starting roles.
As of Monday night, Meredith's cheering section had swelled to 216 people -- "That’s friends, family, teachers, coaches, everything," he explained. Although Nebraska made consecutive trips to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl in both 2009 and 2010, Meredith's entourage had more time to plan for Saturday's game.
"We're going to have a huge Nebraska section, just for us," said Meredith, a Huntington Beach, Calif., native. "You've got me, Taylor, Quincy, Eric [Martin], Josh Mitchell, there are going to be a lot of people for us alone. That will be pretty cool."
Because of its location in a sparsely populated state, Nebraska always has had to recruit nationally. Bo Pelini has put an emphasis on scouring California for talent since his return to Lincoln as the Huskers' head coach.
Pelini's first full recruiting class (2009) included six Californians, including Martinez and Martin. Nebraska has added seven California natives in the past three classes -- both high school players and junior college arrivals like Stafford. The Huskers' most talked-about recruit for the 2013 class, quarterback Johnny Stanton, hails from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
"California's been a fairly productive area for us," Pelini said. "We've built some strong relationships there, had some really good success. ... We view this game as something that, the kids from California, their folks are going to have a chance to see them play. This provides that opportunity. And to showcase our program and what we do out there in the California area.
"We're looking forward to it."
Pelini is considering sending some of his assistants to local high school games Friday night to assist with 2013 recruiting. Meredith, one of three Californians to sign with Nebraska in 2008, two months after Pelini's hiring, isn't surprised by the Huskers' strategy.
"Texas, California and Florida, those are the high school football states," he said. "Nebraska has gone after some of those California prospects, especially since Bo’s been here. It's good for us because some really good athletes come out of there."
Both Martinez and Meredith drew interest from UCLA coming out of high school, and both have been on the Bruins sideline for games at the Rose Bowl. Martinez, who was recruited as a safety, admits he grew up a big Bruins fan and was initially disappointed when he didn't receive a scholarship offer from the team. Meredith attended junior day at UCLA and considered several Pac-12 schools in the recruiting process.
They both ended up in Nebraska -- about 1,500 miles and a world away from California.
"It's totally different from the West Coast," Martinez said. "Once you come out there, it's a culture shock. They do everything different. It's just a slower pace of life."
Meredith had grown accustomed to the varied landscape in California.
"You've got the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Laguna Beach to Big Sur to Death Valley," he said. "You've got so many different climates, it's amazing. I could surf and go up to the mountains and go snowboarding that same day."
There's not much surfing or snowboarding in pancake-flat Nebraska, but both Martinez and Meredith have warmed up to their new home -- even the weather.
"I love California, but I also love Nebraska," Martinez said. "I lived in California my whole life, and coming to Nebraska, actually living in snow and cold weather, that's kind of neat."
Added Meredith: "After meeting some friends here, going to their hometowns, hanging out in Lincoln for a little while, going up to Omaha, I’ve really adjusted to it. I'd consider living here."
This week's trip takes on added significance for the Huskers because they hope it's not their only one to Pasadena. After an impressive opening win against Southern Miss, in which Martinez set a career high for pass yards (354) and tied one for pass touchdowns (5), Nebraska is setting its sights on its first league title since 1999.
As a member of the Big Ten, Nebraska would, in all likelihood return to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
"Our goal is to win the Big Ten, and if you win the Big Ten, you wind up in the Rose Bowl," Meredith said. "It’s a famous stadium. Just imagine all the famous teams that played there in the past, and all the championship games that went on.
"There will be some motivation for us to get back there."