He knew he wouldn’t. As a redshirt, the North Carolina quarterback was fortunate to even make the short trip to Raleigh in 2013. But with only a few players at his position, Trubisky became a last-resort backup.
This was unfamiliar territory for the first-year quarterback. He came to campus as the top dual-threat commit in the country, and he had never ridden the bench in his life — not when healthy. But eight games into his first collegiate season, he hadn’t played a snap.
This wasn’t the plan. He was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Tar Heels’ offense, not a spectator to it.
He knew his time would come; he just didn’t know when.
In the third quarter, senior starter Bryn Renner collided with two Wolfpack defenders. Fractured left shoulder — his career was finished.
“Everything was starting to move fast, because I didn’t know if I was gonna go in or if I was gonna continue to watch,” Trubisky said.
“A part of me was like, ‘Oh, I think I need to keep my redshirt.’ But the other part of me was like, ‘I hope they put me in the game, so I can really get my shot right now.’”
The Tar Heels turned to Marquise Williams — then a redshirt sophomore — to close out the game. But then there was Trubisky, redshirt in hand and the starting quarterback job within his grasp.
So shortly after the game, the coaches came calling. Not for Trubisky, but for his parents.
“We said basically, ‘It’s up to you,” said Jeanne, Trubisky’s mother. “‘If you think he’s ready, then pull it. If not, then don’t pull it.’”
He wasn’t ready.
The next week, Williams started against Virginia — posting a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown against the overmatched Cavaliers. Three years later, Trubisky is yet to start a game.
“Looking back on it, you never know what would have been different if I went in there,” said the redshirt junior, who enters this season as UNC’s starting quarterback. “But everything works out for a reason.”
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In Mentor, Ohio, everyone knows his name.
To his family, he’s Mitchell. To the tens of thousands that packed the stadiums of Northeast Ohio every Friday night, he’s Mr. Football.
To Steve Trivisonno — the head coach of Mentor High School — he’s someone else entirely.
“They used to call him Brett Favre,” he said. “He was that kind of kid.”
Trubisky made his name from a young age — winning five straight Punt, Pass, and Kick titles and commanding a spread offense in the state championship game when he was 10-years-old.
After a broken ankle shortened his junior varsity season, Trubisky entered his sophomore season with something to prove on the varsity stage. Senior do-it-all quarterback Colton Wallace manned the Mentor offense, yet Trubisky was clearly the more gifted passer.
But he wasn’t ready — not in his coaches’ minds. So he sat on the bench, waiting to hear his name.
Week after week, Trubisky rotated into the game — usually on third-and-long — and delivered strikes to his teammates. But the next play, Trivisonno would give the nod to the athletic veteran.
“You’re always frustrated when you think you’re better,” Jeanne said. “But when there’s a senior ahead of you, you just be patient and work hard.”
Finally, Trubisky earned the starting nod after outdueling Willoughby South star Ray Russ in a 48-47 win. Six wins later, Trubisky had piloted a 1-3 team to the playoffs.
It wasn’t until junior year that Trubisky’s name climbed up national recruiting boards. The top programs in the country started calling the Trubiskys, who visited seven different states looking for the quarterback’s new home.
But Trubisky wasn’t the only hot name at quarterback.
“We went to two or three visits to Ohio State, and the recruiting coordinator finally came up and said, ‘It becomes a waiting game right now,’” his father Dave said. “And as soon as Mitchell heard that he’s like, ‘Okay, that’s it, I’m not waiting around for these guys anymore.’”
When then-UNC quarterbacks coach Blake Anderson came to Mentor after the 2011 season, Trubisky had to act fast.
So he and Trivisonno packed up and headed to Chapel Hill for a day trip. It didn’t take long before the quarterback knew where he wanted to be.
Before the trip back to Ohio, Trubisky called his parents to tell them the news: He wanted to be a Tar Heel.
“It was a whirlwind, and we were kind of stunned,” Dave said. “Because that was the only school we didn’t go visit with him.”
Dave pressed his son on the pros and cons of the school: the weather, the distance, the offensive fit. But Trubisky had no doubts about his decision.
He was ready.
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Trubisky couldn’t wait any longer.
After redshirting the 2013 season, the second-year quarterback entered the spring with a starting role in his sights. But after leading UNC to a bowl win in 2013, Williams still had the edge in a fierce positional battle.
“Some days we didn’t like each other, some days we loved each other ...” Trubisky said. “You’re both fighting for a job; you’re both fighting for your dreams.”
Trubisky traded offseason reps with his older teammate, both in the spring game and throughout practice. And when training camp rolled around, he felt confident that this would be the year.
But Coach Larry Fedora had different plans, naming Williams the starter after the Tar Heels’ first game of the 2014 season.
Throughout the year, Fedora brought in Trubisky at random intervals — something all too familiar to the former Mentor star. A touchdown here, an interception there — It made no difference.
Trubisky’s dreams of starting for the Tar Heels were slipping away. Week after week, he watched from the sidelines as Williams led the way. What was he doing this for?
“I was always thinking, ‘Well, if I’m not gonna get my opportunity here, maybe I need to go somewhere else.”
He thought of his NFL aspirations and playing time and the distance to home. But his teammates knew what he was capable of. And they made sure to remind him.
“I told him I loved him,” said senior Ryan Switzer, his roommate for four years. “I told him that God has a different plan for all of us. I knew that I wanted the best for him, whether it was leaving or staying.
“But I told him if he would stay, his time was going to come.”
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When Trubisky roamed the streets of Chapel Hill to celebrate his birthday on Aug. 20, nobody stared or yelled when he entered the room.
He prefers it this way — a quiet night in the place he’s grown to love with the friends that kept him there.
“You can’t leave those people behind, because it’s all about love, man,” Trubisky said. “I love these boys.”
On Saturday, Trubisky will finally assume his rightful role at the helm of the UNC offense, as the No. 22 Tar Heels take on No. 18 Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.
“He’s been preparing this for three years. He’s about as ready as a first-year starter could be,” Dave said.
And Trubisky knows it’s worth the wait.
“God’s got a plan,” he said. “So I’ve been waiting my turn."
Stand up, Mitch. They’re calling your name.
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