It’s your typical 85-degree day in Los Angeles with clear skies and sunshine; a day where you feel you can accomplish anything. A day where the chore of getting up early and tackling the task at hand is lessened by the beautiful sight of the sun touching the water so gently that it glistens like a diamond.
It’s 7:25 in the morning, and USC quarterback Mark Sanchez is wide awake. Not because he’s ready to go to the beach and hang out with friends, but because he has a laundry list of interview requests to fulfill.
From photo shoots to television appearances, Sanchez is familiar with this role. Early mornings, tight schedules and media demands are customary for an athlete, especially for an athlete like Sanchez who’s embraced the limelight like a Hollywood star. Growing up in Orange County as a top high school recruit, the spotlight never dimmed, and the attention just increased over the years.
Even when Sanchez wasn’t the starter at USC, he received plenty of attention on the streets with people mistaking him for Entourage star Adrian Grenier. His teammates at practice would call him “Vinny Chase” or “Aquaman,” just two more reasons to believe Sanchez was going to be a star.
With an infectious smile and a game that rivals any quarterback to ever star at USC, Sanchez walks the red carpet of football infamy these days. Touted as a top-ten pick and potentially the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Sanchez, even though he’s used to the attention, realizes that what he’s experiencing at this point in his life is something special, and he wants to remember it forever.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” Sanchez said. “It’s something I’ve tried to chronicle for myself with a little camera that I got. I’ve been doing some diary entries just so I can have it for when I get older, so that my kids will believe me that at one point I was a pro prospect. Coming out of a large media market like Los Angeles is really going to translate well to the next level. I’ve shown I can handle pressure at SC and did well in some meaningful games. I believe I have a lot of experience, even though I have just 16 starts.”
The one flaw that Sanchez has is his lack of experience. Entering the 2008 season, Sanchez had just three starts under his belt and not much to show on his resume. He backed up former USC quarterback John David Booty for two seasons; two seasons that were filled with legal allegations and injuries for Sanchez. He made more news off the field than on, and his future at one point was up in the air at USC.
But after he was disciplined for his actions, Sanchez rebounded and became the player USC envisioned.
In his first full season as a starter, Sanchez displayed great poise and leadership qualities that translate well to the next level. He led USC to a 12 – 1 record and threw for 3,207 yards, 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His junior campaign was highlighted by a memorable performance against Penn State in the Rose Bowl, where he completed 80-percent of his passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns.
Sanchez understands the concern over his lack of experience, but he was determined to show the NFL Universe at the Scouting Combine that he’s ready, and that his preparation and knowledge of the game is far more advanced than many believe.
“I think when I declared, it came as a shock to people,” Sanchez said. “But once I started to go through the interviews and show how mature, ready and eager I am to tackle this next challenge, I think it started to show that I was ready. I think teams had a chance to know me, not just the guy they’ve seen on film. I think they’re starting to fall in love with who I am as a person. I think they understand that I’m grounded and excited about the challenge. To play this game, it’s a privilege and not a right. I think that attitude reflects on the field. I’m passionate, and I celebrate on the field. I’m the first guy running around the field high-fiving people. It’s been good to introduce myself to these teams. I think they’re starting to understand what I’m all about.”
Sanchez dazzled the media at the Combine with his innate charm and fluid approach in front of a crowd. He also impressed NFL scouts and personnel with his willingness to participate in all facets of the Combine when he really didn’t have to, especially since his top competition and close friend, Matthew Stafford, decided not to throw.
But Sanchez is a competitor who enjoys the pressure when it’s amplified, which is why he embraced everything that the Scouting Combine had to offer.
“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity as you can imagine,” Sanchez said. “You are with all of the best in college football; all of the guys you see on TV throughout the season are there. You get a chance to meet them and experience different stuff. You meet all of the teams and go through in-depth interviews; the interviews are a side story in themselves. Some of the interviews are about football, and others are about your social life, family life, and school; stuff like that. I felt like it was a great chance for the teams to meet me, understand what I’m all about, see my passion for the game and how excited I am to take this next step in my career.”
“I think the on the field workout was the best thing, and unfortunately that didn’t take place until the last day. You kind of sit around and wait and go through all of the interviews and medical examinations, and then you finally have a chance to play. I felt good about my decision to throw. I wanted to throw all a long and I think it paid off for me. I received a lot of positive feedback from the entire four-day stay I had at the Combine.”
At 6-foot-2, 227 pounds, Sanchez is an intelligent, physically gifted signal caller who dissects a defense with his awareness. He gets good depth on his drops, sets up quickly in the pocket and has a smooth delivery in which he releases a soft, catchable ball. He completes intermediate routes with precision and displays great touch on vertical throws. He plays with a swagger and possesses the “it” factor it takes to succeed.
The next obstacle for Sanchez is his Pro Day on April 1st, where all 32 NFL teams are expected to attend. Sanchez will participate in throwing drills and stand on his numbers from the Combine. Judging from the performance that Stafford had at his Pro Day, the competition between the two top signal callers will only heat up as we approach draft day.
Wherever Sanchez ends up, he’s ready for the next chapter in his life, just as long as he’s playing football.“I’m ready to adapt to any situation, whether I’m starting or watching,” Sanchez said. “If I’m selected in the top five, I’ll be realizing my dreams to the fullest. It’s making it to draft day and making it a success. But draft day is by no means an end point. It’s not about getting there, it’s about staying there, winning a lot of games and hopefully winning championships along the way.”
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com.