Sophomores enjoy their rare chance in the spotlight at Big Ten football media days
CHICAGO — Not every football coach brings his biggest stars to Big Ten Conference media days here.
Not every coach brings an underclassman to represent his university in front of hundreds of reporters.
But Nebraska’s Scott Frost didn’t hesitate to call on sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez as one of three Cornhuskers to make the rounds Thursday.
“He's as good a player as we have, and I think as good a player as a lot of people have around the country. So he deserves to be here,” said Frost, in his second year leading his alma mater. “Just letting you guys in on a little secret: Usually, we would bring seniors. We're not going to have any seniors, or very many seniors, on offense this year. Coaches also kind of think we've got to bring a guy that is going to speak well to represent us and say and do the right things, and he's the poster child for that.
"He deserves to be in the spotlight.”
Martinez was one of only four sophomores among the 42 athletes who will speak here Thursday and Friday. All are offensive skill players: running backs Mohamed Ibrahim of Minnesota and Anthony McFarland Jr. of Maryland, and wide receiver Rondale Moore of Purdue are the others.
Martinez and Moore were two of the 10 Big Ten players tabbed for preseason honors. But four others among those 10 aren’t here at all, including Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, a junior. New Ohio State coach Ryan Day didn’t bring either of his junior stars — running back J.K Dobbins and defensive end Chase Young. Day tabbed three seniors instead, which has long been the custom.
Is this a big deal?
Well, it was clear from speaking to the sophomores who were invited here Thursday that it meant a lot to them. All spoke of being humbled by the honor. All talked about how much they had been looking forward to it.
“It means a lot to me to be able to represent the university and also that coach Frost has that kind of faith in me as a person,” Martinez said. “I think I’ve established myself as … someone he can rely on to do right by the university.”
Ibrahim wore a wide smile as he spoke of the “hectic” schedule the athletes had, being ushered from room to room for various media obligations. He loved the “stupid” questions, like which of his teammates was the best dancer. He was even asked to bust out a dance move of his own.
But there was seriousness as well.
“I understand that I am a representative of the offense, the running back room and this team,” Ibrahim said. “So it’s a blessing.”
McFarland was dapper in a white suit with an old-fashioned red tie that his mother helped him pick out.
“I’m a dresser,” he proudly proclaimed.
But the clothes didn’t make the entire statement for McFarland. He was proud to speak on behalf of his team.
“I’m understanding how to be a leader,” McFarland said.
“I feel like as long as I’m not playing football or practicing, I’m not tired. Stuff like this, I enjoy.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert. No one covers the Hawkeyes like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines Register.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.