Mitchell Trubisky's Mentor Cardinals trailed the St. Ignatius Wildcats 56-55 in triple overtime of the 2012 regional final of the Ohio High School Athletic Association playoffs. With his team exhausted, Cardinals coach Steve Trivisonno told his senior quarterback before the drive that if they were to score a touchdown, they were going to follow that up with a two-point conversion try for the win. After the quarterback found the end zone on a 2-yard run, Trubisky knew exactly what play to call.
"It was our bread-and-butter play," Mentor receiver Brandon Fritts recalled to ChicagoBears.com. "A classic play, nobody could stop us. We ran it earlier in the game, scored a two-point conversion, same play. So we ran it again in the third overtime."
With Fritts lined up wide to the left, Trubisky took the snap out of the shotgun. As the quarterback rolled quickly to his left, Fritts faked as he was running a slant towards the middle of the field, only to stop his route and cut to the pylon at the goal line. Trubisky lofted a pass directly into Frits's waiting hands. Two points scored, game over. Mentor 57, St. Ignatius 56.
Bears rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky played high school football at Mentor High School in Ohio.
During his three years as Mentor's quarterback, Trubisky had a lot of impressive moments. His first career start came as a sophomore, playing in front of thousands of fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium. By his junior year, he was among the most highly recruited quarterbacks in the country, committing to North Carolina over a host of blue chip programs, including Alabama and Ohio State. And just the week before the win against the Wildcats, in the regional semifinal, Trubisky threw for 478 yards in helping his team rally from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Ohio powerhouse St. Edward. As a senior, Trubisky was named Mr. Ohio, throwing for 2,470 yards and 28 touchdowns in the regular season. He finished his prep career with a 30-8 record.
As he drove west on Highway 76 from Philadelphia to Mentor, a day after the Bears had traded up to the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft in order to select Trubisky, Trivisonno couldn't help but bring up the St. Ignatius game. Four-and-a-half years after the dramatic playoff victory, the performance still sticks out in the coach's mind. It showcased everything Trubisky is, both as a person and a player.
"When he got to his senior year, he was incredible. We had a really young team at nearly every other spot, but he just put us on his back," Trivisonno said. "St. Ignatius, who has won like 11 state titles and is a phenomenal football program, and they blanked us in the first quarter. They were leading by 24 and then we took it to 'em. We came back, and they couldn't stop us. Mitch's will was great. He had that ability to put us on his back and takes us for a ride."
Trubisky and Fritts became close friends in elementary school, when they spent the year playing various sports together. Summer was for travel baseball, winters were in the gym on the basketball team. Fall, however, was for football. The two were both raised in Mentor, a town of just under 50,000 people located just 25 miles from Cleveland. In Mentor, football is everything. Former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel was born there, as were several NFL players, including former Giants receiver Joe Jurevicius.
When he was in sixth grade, Trubisky became the ball boy for Trivisonno's team at Mentor High. That helped his love of football grow even more. Young Mitch saw first-hand how players interacted with one another and what it took to be a leader. These skills evolved as he grew and became a player of his own. By the time he was of high school age and able to play for the Cardinals, Trubisky had a good idea of what it took to be a successful all-around player.
"He was just a little guy who absolutely loved to be around," Trivisonno said. "He was diligent at being a ball boy, you never had to worry about anything. He would learn from example, just seeing how the older kids handled things and how to act and how to behave, that was a great experience."
"Mitch is just a genuine dude," said Fritts. "Very unselfish, cares about other people, he goes out of his way to introduce himself. That's just the kind of guy he is, great overall dude. Great people person, very outgoing."
Combining those characteristics with his love for football make a well-rounded quarterback. Though he played other sports at Mentor, his mind was never far from the gridiron. Trivisonno recalled hearing from the high school's basketball coach that prior to games, Trubisky, Fritts and some other multi-sport athletes would ask to get into the locker room early to "stretch." It turned out they were grabbing a football and running passing routes in the empty gym, trying to perfect their timing.
"The basketball coach was not happy, but that's the kind of kid Mitch is," Trivisonno said with a chuckle. "Even during basketball season, it was about football."
The passion for the game and the constant striving to improve also has an infectious quality. Fritts, who is two years younger than Trubisky, followed the quarterback to Chapel Hill and saw the same effect on the Tar Heels. It also shows in how Trubisky handles himself on the field. He doesn't get too up after a great play or too down after a mistake, but he always makes sure he's on the same page with his teammates.
"Mitch is one of those guys who is cool, calm, he keeps it together," Fritts said. He doesn't panic, never gets frustrated. Always just in the zone. He makes a mistake, he's not going to show it. And if he makes a big play, he'll get hyped but he's not going crazy. Cool, calm, just a great demeanor on the field."
That calmness will help Trubisky handle any pressure that comes his way. The pressure could be from being in the spotlight of playing in Chicago, or the pressure of a Clay Matthews blitz. His ability to stay focused on the prize, combined with his love for the game, gives the young quarterback the proper state of mind to take on any challenge in front of him. His high school coach has seen first-hand how Trubisky deals with stressful situations, and the result is often exceptional play. The stakes are a little higher with the Bears than they were in triple-OT against St. Ignatius, but it's going to be the same Mitch, the same kid from Mentor, no matter what.
"I think he's going to thrive under that pressure," Trivisonno said. "He'll go to work, work very hard. He's going to represent the city of Chicago very well. He's not the kind of kid who's going to thump his chest and run around and this and that. It's never been about him.
"He's the kind of kid who will handle the pressure extremely well. Seeing him (on draft night), he had a light in his eye. He can't wait to get to work. I think you're going to find a great young man who is going to be the face of that franchise. I think the city of Chicago is going to love him. He understands what that type of town is. He's going to get that, because he grew up in a similar place."
Photos of Bears first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky arriving at Halas Hall on Friday.