Crowding the hotel lobby are fresh million dollar NFL bonus babies, ambling from interview to interview, fulfilling their endless list of media requirements. There's a steady buzz in the atmosphere as agents parade their newly acquired moneymakers; autographseekers look to add to their collections or make a quick buck on eBay; and busy media seek out the perfect place to set up camp. Hey rook, welcome to the other side of the NFL.
This is the limelight these young athletes have always dreamed of, but most seem bored and disengaged, to say the least. Except Mark Sanchez.
When he arrives, the background of nonsensical humming morphs into silent intrigue— at least for a moment—as Mark inadvertently commandeers the attentive stares of even the most accomplished athletes in attendance.
"Personable" reeks like thick city smog when first meeting the man ready to take New York by storm. From his days at Mission Viejo High School to his conquering of Troy, success appears to have come naturally to this Orange County native.
As a senior in high school, Mark was one of the nation's elite prospects, with uncoachable moxie to go along with his quarterback "it" skills. Ultimately, he wasn't being recruited—he was interviewing colleges. "The final four schools were USC, Ohio State, Texas and Notre Dame," says the Big Apple's new savior. As he's about to finish his thought, he interjects, "Actually, my first offer ever was from Stanford, so my dad was excited, as you can imagine." The quick tangent was interesting, because it seemed mostly like a gracious shout out to a school that showed interest in him as a student-athlete.
Unlike most high school seniors, who can't wait to leave their hometowns, Mark was not anxious to abandon the caring people and nurturing places that aided his development. He recalls, "[My family and I] took visits to each and every school and listened to each coaching staff. I felt the most comfortable with and really excited about playing at SC. Being close to home in one of the best offensive systems [is] paying off now as I'm making the jump to the pros." As he reflects on his recruiting experience and the tough decisions, his tone is almost apologetic for having rejected the Buckeyes, Longhorns and Irish, even though his loyalty to his OC roots never gave those schools a real chance. How Mark talks is more important than what he says, as this story reveals the entire personality of the larger-thanlife man who played the most stylistic position in college football's most electric institution.
You see, Mark Sanchez doesn't crave the spotlight. The spotlight craves him. While most high-profile athletes seek glitz and glamour through ego, Sanchez commands respect through his soft words, driven actions and sincere motives. When asked about achieving his lifelong dream of getting drafted out of SC, he humbly responds with appreciation of and gratitude for the support system that shares in his glory: "It's a tremendous honor. It really is a privilege, not just a right. You're in the NFL and you wear the shield now. It means the world to me; it really is a special feeling, and my family's gotten a real kick out of it."
Mark is the rare young athlete in the ESPN, YouTube and iPhone generation who is at once embarrassed by and accepting of acclaim; flabbergasted, yet flattered by the attention; honored, yet humbled by his opportunities; polite, yet honest to inquisitive strangers. In the hotel lobby that night, it was pretty obvious that the charismatic Sanchez owned the admiration of his peers—and not just because of his on-field athletic ability.
Four Quarters With Mark Sanchez
Mark possesses many qualities that have led to his uncommon success on and off the field. We gathered additional perspective about four of those qualities from our time with him.
1. Training Wisely
Sanchez: Lifting weights is obviously important, because you want to be strong and fast and all of that, but it's not one of those things [that] you gotta go and try to bench as much as you can every day. A bench press isn't going to help you throw a 15-yard out or a deep comeback. It's not about that. It's about training right. Working your core always, your foot speed, jumping rope, push-ups and sit-ups—things like that are really important. Those things will pay off more than just doing what a bench press will.
Sanchez: It's all about competing—seeing who's winning. As much as your 40 time means, [college coaches] want a good leader. They want somebody with intangibles and who wants to be out there to motivate other players. There's a lot more that goes into it than just the raw times. Obviously keep fighting and keep competing.
3. Work Ethic
Sanchez: Number one, there should be nothing wrong in the classroom. And that means getting all of your homework in on time, doing well on your tests so that's never a problem or distraction. It's about working hard and developing your work ethic, because it starts there. And if you have that going into college, [coaches] will find that and they'll fine-tune it and it will grow. If you don't have it, you can't just expect to roll out of bed and make it happen in college. It gets too fast; the guys are too strong; they're too smart; and they work too hard.
Sanchez: As far as the [Jets] go, I'm competing to play. It will be a heated competition between Kellen [Clemens] and me, and I'm excited about that; I will do it in a respectful way. I have the utmost respect for him because he's a great player. Whatever's best for team will be best for the team and the coaches will decide.
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