Talking with: Mark Sanchez
Saturday afternoon, I had a chance to stop by the Coliseum for the annual NFL Players Rookie Premiere, an event in which many of the top newbies from the most recent draft get to do all the fun stuff (put on the full uniform, get bubble gum card photos taken, get scanned to appear in video games -- Did I mention the event is sponsored by EA Sports? -- among other things. All that, plus some less-fun duties, like signing endless amounts of gear.
It's a busy day for all the rookies involved, but I managed to get a few minutes with former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, drafted fifth overall by the New York Jets.
Q: I know you did a mini-camp in New York, but this is the first time you've put on the full uniform, right?
Sanchez: Yeah. I've looked forward to playing in the NFL, and now I'm finally here. It's cool. Coming out of the locker room -- and not just any locker room, because this is where I played, and walking down the tunnel in my Jets uniform, it's a special feeling. I'm excited to be part of the event, and what NFL Players is doing is great.
Q: Were you checking yourself out in the mirror just a little bit longer? Just to take it in?
Sanchez: Yeah. It's the first time in the uniform, and we're rookies so we don't even know what's going on. We have no idea what we're doing and are trying to fake it. You definitely give yourself that last glance to make sure your uniform is on the right way.
Q: Is it fun? To get the photos taken for cards, to have your name in the video games? New stuff keeps piling on at this stage.
Sanchez: It's just so different than playing before. There are so many little things that have to happen before you actually step foot on the field. A lot of them are great, like today. It's a fun event, you're getting cool pictures -- I'm giving these photographers my e-mail and telling them, "Hey, my mom would really appreciate if you could send us some of the pictures" -- and then at the same time being a fan about it, too. Taking pictures of the other guys, throwing the ball around with the cameraman's kids, just having fun with the whole process. But there's a lot that goes into making it to the first day, and I'm excited to be part of all of it.
Q: Is it strange to look at guys out of the context you're used to? To see (former USC wide receiver) Patrick Turner in a Miami uniform, or Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno (former teammates at Georgia) in Lions and Broncos gear?
Sanchez: It was different. We're just so used to seeing us in our college jerseys, but we'll get used to these.
Q: What's the adjustment like? I've read that you took a leadership role in your rookie camp earlier in the month, talking with and meeting with the other rookies.
Sanchez: Sure, and a lot of that was just before the first day. We wanted to look sharp. The offense is very complex, and we wanted to look good, not like a bunch of guys running around, not knowing anything. It was important just to talk through things. Little stuff, like how am I going to say my cadence? I don't want it to be my first time on my first day, so let's practice this a little bit. Just to get our feet wet, and I think it really helped the transition, and it was a lot smoother.
I guess with this whole process, there are just so many little things off the field that you never even think about. A day like this, (getting shot and entered into) the video game. Things that don't even enter your mind until they actually happen. And a lot of them are pretty exciting.
Q: Have you developed a more "NFL"-style cadence? Something less collegiate? A deeper growl? More Johnny U?
Sanchez: (Laughs) I don't know. There's so much going on. We'll see, I guess.
Q: How much has playing in L.A. at USC, easily the city's football focus, prepared you for the media crush of New York?
Sanchez: There are similarities, sure, but I think it's -- I don't even know how to put it. The attention just magnifies and multiplies tremendously. Instead of a few cameras after a game, maybe 10, there were 40 at my first day of practice. That's different. But it was fun, and I'm soaking it up and loving every part of it. To go from L.A. to New York, I'm very fortunate and you couldn't script it any better. It's just great.
Q: Right now, it's not too bad because you're not playing yet, but are you already mentally preparing for the abuse that comes with bad games in New York? It's inevitable.
Sanchez: Oh yeah. Those days, they happen to any quarterback. To Hall of Fame quarterbacks. You throw multiple picks. You get picked off and return it for a touchdown. Things happen. It's about having that inner confidence and having the right mentality. Knowing that something good is just about to happen, no matter what. Whether you just threw a touchdown or an interception, that's how you have to be.
Q: Have you taken sports radio off the presets in your car? Just in case?
Sanchez: I didn't listen to too much sports radio (anyway), but I got a taste of it listening out there, in a cab ride or somewhere. They were talking about the Yankees and the Mets. These guys are playing their butts off every day, and you lose one game or a pitcher gives up a home run or something, and they get after them pretty good on the airwaves.
Q: Going into the season, it's been described as an open competition. There's a chance you might play, there's a chance you might not. (Note: Some wonder just how open the competition really is.) Different rookies come into different situations. Have you talked to other players around the league or that you know, just to get a feel for how best to approach things? Would you prefer to walk in and start? Do you understand the value of sitting? How does that all play out for you?
Sanchez: There's obviously tremendous value in sitting and learning, and watching somebody else, but at the same time you learn from experience, too, and there's no substitute for that experience. For game reps, for making all the throws and just saying the calls in the huddle. You gain so much experience by playing, it's hard to say. For me, I'm very competitive. I want to be on the field, I want to be the team leader. I'm that kind of guy, an outgoing guy who is ready for a leadership role. But you have got to take it in the right time frame and be respectful through the whole process, and it'll be good.
Q: So what does the rest of your summer look like?
Sanchez: I'm leaving on Sunday (Note: the one that just passed) for six weeks, it looks like. We have camps, and practices, and OTAs (organized team activities). So after that, I'll probably take a short vacation and then come back here to work out for a couple weeks, and get ready for fall camp.
Q: You just graduated. Walked and everything.
Sanchez: Yeah. It was pretty special. My family was really excited. To see their excitement, it was a tremendous accomplishment, especially going through what I've been through these past couple months, with the draft and everything. To do well in school and finish strong like I did and earn my degree, it was an important goal for me, and I'm glad I accomplished it.
Q: Were your parents happier about that or on draft day?
Sanchez: The degree. Because whatever happens in football, (graduating) is special, and no matter what happens there's always something to fall back on in a great education.
-- Brian Kamenetzky
Photo: Collin Erie for NFL Players