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MITCHELL TRUBISKY IS beginning his pre-combine workout on the football field at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Orange County, California, and his attention is divided. The footwork drills are important, sure, but he’s more concerned about Ricky and Jake, who are about 50 yards away, behind the end zone, just out of earshot. The road to the NFL draft is fraught with peril for a top-rated quarterback — the general weirdness of the combine, the linguistic complexity of NFL playcalls, the mysteries of team workouts. But nothing compares with the sight of your buddies from home talking to a reporter.
Trubisky warned me beforehand. “They’re degenerates,” he said, in the kindest way possible. “They’re great, they’re the life of the party, but they have no filter.”
They arrived from Ohio two nights earlier for a spring break visit with their now-famous friend. Ricky Dexter attends Bowling Green State, Jake Curtis Ohio U. They were planning on going to South Padre Island, Texas, before being invited here, where they can catch passes from future NFL quarterbacks and swim in the ocean off Laguna. They grew up with Trubisky in Mentor, Ohio, and they’ve been friends as long as they can remember. They know almost everything about the 22-year-old, projected by most to be the first quarterback taken in the NFL draft. They played on opposite teams in youth football and on the same team for a time in high school. They hung out at the Trubisky house, read the plaque above the fireplace — do what is right/not what is easy — ate Jeanne Trubisky’s cabbage rolls and played every kind of ball with Trubisky and his three siblings in the wide, fenceless yard that backs to the woods.
In other words, at the precise moment when Mitchell Trubisky (or Mitch, up to you, doesn’t matter, but it’s Mitchell when you’re with those who’ve known him this long) is most aware of how he is perceived in the outside world, when image control is most closely aligned with self-preservation, Ricky and Jake enter the scene. They are among his best friends; they infect him with marrow-deep dread.
And so he keeps an eye on them. Before the workout, on one of the first truly warm days of Trubisky’s two-and-a-half-month stay in Southern California, he pulled Ricky and Jake aside and spoke in a manner that could be described as pleading. He bore down on them with those brown eyes, irises nearly as dark as pupils, while Ricky and Jake nodded. No problem. It’s their buddy’s future at stake. They get it. They’re adults. They’ll behave.
Adopting their best adult tones, they rummage through the moments they remember from their friend’s career. Mostly, Trubisky spent a lot of time “wrecking people” on his way to becoming Mr. Football in Ohio as a senior, which made it even more perplexing when he didn’t start a game until his fourth year at North Carolina.
“That made me mad,” Jake says. Says Ricky: “It just took a long time, a long process. He understood what was going on. He knew what he was walking into.”
“Just remember,” Trubisky calls from across the field. “They have no filter.”
“What’s he yelling about?” Jake asks.
“Us,” Ricky says, and then bellows: “Dude, you’ve got no filter right now.”
“Your life can change in one year,” Trubisky says. “That’s where I am. That tells me: Why can’t I win a Super Bowl a year from now?” Jeremy M. Lange for ESPN
THE STORY OF Trubisky’s time in Chapel Hill, which ended with a 3,700-yard, 30-touchdown season, has gone from largely unknown to forensically dissected in the months since he decided to forgo his senior year and declare for the draft.
“‘Why didn’t you play sooner?’ That’s the No. 1 question for him right now,” says former NFL and current CFL quarterback Ryan Lindley, Trubisky’s predraft quarterbacks coach. “That’s a testament to him too. There’s not a whole lot else you can pick apart in his game except that he only had 13 starts.”
All 13 came this past season, and he threw just 572 passes in his college career, fewer than the Eagles’ Carson Wentz did. (Clemson’s Deshaun Watson threw 1,207.) But everyone from Trubisky to his parents to UNC coach Larry Fedora to agent Bruce Tollner finishes any sentence that begins “He only started 13 games” with “… yeah, but