PULLMAN – Long before his Twitter account, right arm or brown mustache all gained thousands of followers, Gardner Minshew composed a tweet on the eve of the 2018 NFL draft.
Ten simple words from a quarterback whose career had constantly been derailed and diverted, but whose confidence was never bruised.
“365 days to prove why my name should get called! #NFLDraft2019.”
How prophetic those words were.
Minshew, the well-traveled quarterback who ventured to Washington State, broke a litany of passing records and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting in his final college football season, was selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft, with the 178th overall pick, by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday.
The Brandon, Mississippi, native had three turbulent years as a college football player, and a trio of stops at Troy, Northwest Mississippi Community College and East Carolina, before receiving a fateful phone call from WSU coach Mike Leach last spring. Leach famously offered Minshew an opportunity to “lead the country in passing,” and as the Cougars QB did that, throwing for an FBS-high 397.6 yards per game, he slowly began to emerge as an NFL prospect, impressing scouts and analysts with his accuracy, command and affable personality.
Prior to Leach’s offer, Minshew had prepared to spend one year as a backup QB at Alabama, where he’d learn under the tutelage of Nick Saban, and promptly enter the coaching world when his eligibility ran out.
But now that he’s found a roundabout way into the NFL – a career he’s been eyeballing since at least the second grade, when he turned in an assignment to Rouse Elementary teacher Martia West saying “I want to be a football player,” – Minshew will be thrilled to put his backup plan on hold.
In a conference call with Jacksonville media, the QB was asked if he was dismayed that he fell into the third day of the draft – where most had him projected to go anyway.
Minshew responded: “No, man. When I was a little kid, if you’d told me I was getting picked in the NFL draft, I don’t care if it’s the first pick or the last pick. I’m getting picked. That’s such a blessing.”
The QB watched the draft at home in Brandon with a small group of friends and family members, wearing his signature jorts as he played cornhole and spike ball in the backyard between picks, according to longtime friend Houston Smith.
Jacksonville’s sixth-round pick arrived at approximately 12:30 p.m. Pacific time. Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell phoned Minshew, asking the QB if he was “ready to move back East?” Minshew replied, “Hell, yeah, let’s do it.”
The pick was announced in appropriate Florida fashion – from a pool at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, by former Jaguars player Damon Jones, the organization’s first tight end to be drafted, and a Jacksonville super fan. Swimsuit-clad Jaguar cheerleaders hollered in the background as the pick was made.
“You made a great impression on us at the combine, and you’ve had a helluva year and bring that energy and preparation to us as vying for a backup quarterback spot,” Caldwell said. “Can you do that?”
“I’ve got you, absolutely,” Minshew said. “Yes, sir.”
Minshew said he had a positive experience in his formal interview with the Jaguars, who many consider to be iffy at the QB position. Jacksonville recently signed Nick Foles to a four-year contract that makes him the Jaguars’ presumptive starter. Minshew, in all likeliness, will vie for backup reps with sixth-year player Cody Kessler, third-year player Tanner Lee and second-year player Alex McGough.
He told reporters he’s eager to dive into the team’s playbook.
“I’m so fired up, that’s one of the first things I told them is, ‘When can I get my hands on that?’ ” Minshew said. “That’s one of the biggest things I’m looking forward to, learning, getting ready and trying to leave that rookie minicamp as best as I can, and then going into OTAs and training camp, being on my P’s and Q’s and not being like a rookie.”
Minshew becomes the 11th Cougar quarterback to be selected in the draft and the second in as many years to come off the board in the sixth round, after Luke Falk was picked by the Tennessee Titans in 2018. Falk was since claimed off waivers by the Miami Dolphins, meaning both former WSU QBs in the pros will be playing in Florida.
Minshew was the second Cougar to be selected in the 2019 draft, coming off the board two days after his left tackle, Andre Dillard, was picked in the first round by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Jaguars executive vice president Tom Coughlin called Minshew a “gym rat” who looked like he’d been at WSU “forever” while touting his “competitiveness.”
“He’s very smart, he’s very sharp, he loves the game, he loves the study part of the game,” Coughlin said. “He’ll be a great guy in the classroom with the coaches. He’ll suck all that information up.”
Minshew will have to adapt to taking snaps under center, a contrast to the shotgun snaps he took in Mike Leach’s offense and throughout his career, playing in different variations of the Air Raid.
Coughlin suggested that there would be a learning curve, but Minshew has the mental capacity and work ethic to succeed in a pro style offense.
“Does he have to learn some things? Yeah,” Coughlin said. “Because he’s going to be up under the center, he’s not going to stand back there in the shotgun the whole time. But if you were to tell me you don’t think the guy can throw a play-action pass from the tackle box, I don’t believe that. I think he can do that.”
In his lone season at WSU, Minshew led the nation in passing yards per game (397.6) while completing better than 70 percent of his throws for a Pac-12 single-season record 4,779 yards and 38 touchdown passes. His fifth-place Heisman finish was complemented by winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
Minshew, no stranger to the Sunshine State, completed much of his predraft training in Boca Raton, Florida, with well-known QB coach Ken Mastrole. His WSU coach, Leach, has a vacation home in Key West, Florida.
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone jokingly told Minshew, “Next time (Leach) is in Key West, he’s going to buy all the drinks.”
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