In draft lead-up, Tru­bisky cov­er­ing all bases

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Lorenzo Reyes @Loren­zoGReyes

IRVINE, CALIF. Tucked away in an unas­sum­ing cor­po­rate park, one of the quar­ter­backs NFL teams are buzzing about most is set to get grilled.

He knocks on the door of a small con­fer­ence room. The man who greets him, quar­ter­backs coach Ryan Lind­ley, knows him quite well. They’ve trained to­gether for two months.

The player in­tro­duces him­self, any­way.

“Mitchell Tru­bisky,” he says in be­tween a hand­shake. “Nice to meet you.”

Rep 1 Sports, the agency that rep­re­sents the for­mer Univer­sity of North Carolina quar­ter­back, in­vited USA TO­DAY Sports to get an all-ac­cess glimpse late last week of how Tru­bisky wrapped up his prepa­ra­tion for the NFL scout­ing com­bine, which be­gins this week in In­di­anapo­lis. Re­vealed was a tax­ing grind of on-field work­outs, weight train­ing ses­sions, me­dia train­ing, psy­cho­log­i­cal tests and film study.

But most sig­nif­i­cant is what’s about to hap­pen in this room. It mim­ics the 15-minute, speed­dat­ing-like ses­sions he’ll face this week at the com­bine, where teams will crowd a ho­tel room with coaches, ex­ec­u­tives and scouts for the most un­com­fort--

able job in­ter­view in the NFL.

Tru­bisky is given a lam­i­nated sheet with six plays he has never seen. He is asked to di­gest and mem­o­rize two, though he’s not given the lux­ury of study­ing them in si­lence. The fir­ing squad shoots its ques­tions. How many touch­downs did you throw this year? “Uh, 30.” In­ter­cep­tions? “Six.” Tru­bisky has run through nu­mer­ous prac­tice in­ter­views like this one. Be­fore they had all been with one or two oth­ers present.

Now 13 oth­ers cram into the room. Two of his agents, Ryan Toll­ner and Chase Cal­la­han, join Lind­ley in pep­per­ing him with ques­tions. The oth­ers are a for­mer client and Tru­bisky’s peers — prospects with whom he has been train­ing since Jan­uary.

It adds to the awk­ward­ness. But that’s ex­actly the idea. What about in your ca­reer? “I’m not sure, off the top of my head.” It’s only 13 games you’ve started.

Tru­bisky doesn’t bite. These in­ter­views are de­signed to throw prospects off, make them un­com­fort­able, chal­lenge their foot­ball knowl­edge, ad­dress their weak­nesses and fail­ures, re­veal red flags. Tru­bisky’s eyes re­main glued to the play sheet in front of him. Who did we fight in World War II?

Tru­bisky can’t help it. He looks up with a con­fused smile.

“World War II? The Ger­mans. The Nazis.” So you’re a his­tory buff, huh? Pretty good. A few chuck­les cut the si­lence. So the Ger­mans bombed Pearl Har­bor? No an­swer. Tru­bisky doesn’t even look up from the plays he knows he’ll have to re­call later. Cal­la­han scrib­bles notes on a yel­low le­gal pad. Who bombed Pearl Har­bor? “The Ja­panese.” I thought we fought the Ger­mans.

By this point, it’s worth not­ing, only 1 minute and 27 sec­onds have passed. Lind­ley takes away the play sheet. “That’s enough,” he says. His­tory wouldn’t be the last at-

tempt at mis­di­rec­tion, or even the most un­com­fort­able ques­tion to an­swer. Later in the in­ter­view, Toll­ner dropped this on him: Mitch, you’re out with your Oline, do you pre­fer beer or liquor?

“Uh, I’ll have a few beers ev­ery once in a while with my O-line. That’s just some­thing we like to do when we al­ways get to­gether. I think it’s good for team chem­istry be­ing around your boys and hav­ing a good time. But I know my lim­its, and I know how to be smart. I was all sea­son long, and foot­ball is al­ways the No. 1 pri­or­ity.”

The un­ex­pect­ed­ness of that ques­tion might briefly throw Tru­bisky off his rhythm. That’s the point.

That’s sim­ple, com­pared with what lurks. It’s the one ques­tion Tru­bisky knows he’ll get asked the most this week and the one that will de­fine how he per­forms at the com­bine.

TOUGH QUES­TIONS AHEAD

Why were you only a one-year starter?

“I ini­tially won the backup role as a red­shirt fresh­man,” he tells the con­fer­ence room. “The fifthyear se­nior got hurt, and they de­cided to keep my red­shirt. And then the fol­low­ing two years, we com­peted for the job. I felt deep down that I was the best quar­ter­back, and I just wasn’t cho­sen for the start­ing job. I didn’t like the role I was given, but I em­braced it. I found ways to get bet­ter and I found ways to help my team.” That an­swer plays well. To be clear, it’s per­fectly scripted. They all are. Tru­bisky’s agents have put him through dozens of ses­sions like this, grad­ing his an­swers and of­fer­ing bet­ter ones when he trips up. Aside from the med­i­cal test­ing at the com­bine, the team in­ter­view ses­sions are most valu­able.

Tru­bisky walks out of the room and is pleased. A few pro­longed, awk­ward pauses, but these in­ter­views set the prospects up for fail­ure. How they re­spond is what mat­ters.

One day later, Tru­bisky is off. It’s Satur­day, and the of­fice is nearly empty, a shell of what it was the two days be­fore.

The same ques­tion comes up. He’s asked one more time to re­flect on how he did it, how he went from a near-trans­fer, to a one-year starter, to — now — a po­ten­tial fran­chise quar­ter­back.

“It just con­firmed to me that any­thing is pos­si­ble, even in your dark­est hour,” Tru­bisky says. “If you would’ve told me that as a red­shirt fresh­man, when I wasn’t play­ing, that I was go­ing to be a first-round draft pick after one year of start­ing, I would say you’re crazy. But now I’m sit­ting here — I’m con­fi­dent that’s about to hap­pen.

“It gives me con­fi­dence. It in­creases my drive and pas­sion for this game — why can’t I win a Su­per Bowl in three years? I was just at my low­est point, and just three years later, I’m see­ing the ben­e­fits from it. So why don’t I work that much harder, care that much more, put in the hours for the peo­ple around me — why can’t I reach my next dream?”

He went to North Carolina after he was named Mr. Foot­ball in Ohio. He went 30-8 at Men­tor High School, just out­side of Cleve­land, and is in the state’s Top 10 in ca­reer pass­ing yards with 9,126.

But he couldn’t beat out in­cum­bent Mar­quise Wil­liams at North Carolina for two years.

“It sucked,” Tru­bisky said. “It re­ally sucked.”

He con­sid­ered trans­fer­ring, and, if not for his room­mates, he MIGHT have. Over late-night talks in their dorm, they per­suaded him to stay. They told him to keep grind­ing, that his time would come.

And when it even­tu­ally did, he led the Tar Heels to an 8-5 record, threw his way to sin­gle-sea­son pro­gram records for pass­ing yards (3,748), touch­downs (30) and to­tal of­fense (4,056), and then de­clared for the draft as a red­shirt ju­nior.

GET­TING GOOD AD­VICE The most in­valu­able ben­e­fit for Tru­bisky and other prospects here might be the ex­pe­ri­ence com­ing through the door.

The agency rep­re­sents quar­ter­backs Ben Roeth­lis­berger of the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, Jared Goff of the Los An­ge­les Rams, Car­son Wentz of the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, Mar­cus Mar­i­ota of the Ten­nessee Ti­tans and Blake Bor­tles of the Jack­sonville Jaguars.

Roeth­lis­berger and Goff have been here, and Wentz took Tru­bisky out to a steak din­ner two nights be­fore his mock in­ter­view.

Wentz de­tailed his path from Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship Sub­di­vi­sion North Dakota State and re­called ques­tions he faced at the com­bine. He pro­vided a blue­print for how to get through In­di­anapo­lis un­scathed.

After Tru­bisky with­stood the mock in­ter­view Fri­day, Toll­ner popped out of the room and filled Wentz in on how Tru­bisky tested.

“So Car­son said there was this one coach, an of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, who re­ally got after him in one of his in­ter­views,” Toll­ner said upon re­turn­ing. “This guy said Car­son didn’t play any­one at NDSU, and it was all done to be­lit­tle him.

“Some of these peo­ple are go­ing to do that. They’re go­ing to try to flus­ter you and piss you off. Car­son wanted to punch him in the face.”

NO DE­TAILS OVER­LOOKED In­ter­view prep, how­ever, is just one part of the gig.

Tru­bisky has taken prac­tice Won­der­lic ex­ams, a 12-minute, 50-ques­tion test an­swered on bub­ble sheets to de­ter­mine cog­ni­tive abil­ity. He scored 37 out of 50, a pretty good re­sult.

He watched film of the news con­fer­ences Wentz and Goff con­ducted while they were prospects in Indy to see what it was like to face the me­dia.

He has a binder with the names and faces of all the coaches and ex­ec­u­tives from each team. At his apart­ment later, he flipped through and tried to mem­o­rize as many as he could.

He re­viewed the film of ev­ery snap from his fi­nal sea­son at North Carolina.

Be­fore he was set to con­duct a one-on-one mock in­ter­view ses­sion Thurs­day, Tru­bisky walked into the con­fer­ence room sev­eral min­utes early to watch film of Mar­cus Mar­i­ota’s com­bine work­out one more time.

“At this point, I know there’s noth­ing that I’ll get tested on that I haven’t al­ready seen here,” Tru­bisky said.

Early Fri­day morn­ing, the prospects flocked 12 miles east to Santa Mar­garita Catholic High School for a 2-hour, 39-minute on-field ses­sion. There, Tru­bisky honed his speed train­ing and foot­work with Nike direc­tor of per­for­mance Ryan Fla­herty. With the com­bine days away, it’s all about de­tails: hand place­ment, pos­ture, breath­ing.

Tru­bisky said he would run through ev­ery test at the com­bine, ex­cept the bench press.

There are cer­tain num­bers he wants to hit, too: mainly, around 4.7 sec­onds in the 40-yard dash.

And then there was ac­tual foot­ball. Tru­bisky fired pass after pass, about 45 in all, mak­ing crisp throws to re­ceivers who ran routes he will be tested Satur­day in In­di­anapo­lis at the com­bine.

Later that af­ter­noon, after a stop at a juice bar and a re­cov­ery phys­i­cal ther­apy ses­sion, Tru­bisky ripped through feet-el­e­vated pushups, pullups, tri­ceps work with re­sis­tance bands and core strength­en­ing in a 1-hour, 22-minute weight train­ing ses­sion. Fla­herty called it a “main­te­nance lift” de­signed to ta­per off the two months of train­ing to keep their bod­ies ac­tive but not overdo it.

“I feel re­ally good,” Tru­bisky said. “I’m not ner­vous. I just want it to get here. I’m ready to kill it.”

SANDY HOOPER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Mitch Tru­bisky could be the first quar­ter­back drafted.

SANDY HOOPER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

“There’s noth­ing that I’ll get tested on that I haven’t al­ready seen,” Mitch Tru­bisky said of his prepa­ra­tion for the com­bine.

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