LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- It’s all about embracing the moment, whether it’s an NFL regular-season debut on Monday Night Football or being thrown into a varsity game in Cleveland Browns Stadium as a sophomore in high school.
Mitchell Trubisky rose to the moment on that 2010 afternoon when Mentor (Ohio) High School coach Steve Trivisonno needed a spark, down 21 to the eventual champion in the football-crazed state. Trubisky rallied with a 46-yard touchdown pass, but it wasn’t enough, as St. Edward won 35-21.
“You knew he was going to be a special kind of kid,” Mentor quarterbacks coach Nes Janiak told ESPN while recalling that game.
Fast-forward to Monday. Trubisky’s coach again needs a spark. The Chicago Bears are 1-3, a record at least partially due to the struggles of turnover-prone quarterback Mike Glennon, so John Fox is turning to Trubisky.
The stage doesn’t get much bigger, as the rookie will lead the Bears against a very good Minnesota Vikings defense under the bright lights and national glare of MNF.
Is he ready?
“I’ve never seen him in a moment that has been too big -- whether that’s all the times he [started] here at Mentor High School to North Carolina and to his preseason with the Bears,” Trivisonno told ESPN.
Is he ready?
“He’s as close to ready as any rookie I’ve been around,” said Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains.
Is he ready?
“[He] is going to do great on Monday night,” former Tar Heels quarterback Bryn Renner told ESPN. “He’s prepared.”
'Here you go, Mitch. Have at it'
There are times when a special athlete does something at a young age and people make a mental note, thinking that performance will be one to look back on when the athlete "makes it."
For Brandon Fritts, who was Trubisky’s teammate at Mentor and at North Carolina, the game against St. Edward was that moment.
“That was the game that jump-started Mitch’s career,” Fritts told ESPN. “He did some great things and made some big throws. Ever since that point, he was kind of our guy.”
To this day, Trivisonno swells up with pride over Trubisky’s performance.
“It’s hard for young people to have that type of composure in big moments,” Trivisonno said. “Some kids are really good at it; some kids aren’t. He’s always been good at those moments. He’s always been levelheaded. He understands his priorities in life. That’s why kids who can manage that [pressure] get where they get.
“He’s been in a lot of big situations. This one on Monday night is obviously even bigger.”
Trivisonno remembers the feeling when he gave Trubisky the keys, perhaps a feeling with which Fox is familiar.
“We’re like, ‘Here you go, Mitch. Have at it,'” Trivisonno said with a chuckle.
'He was different’
The keys to the North Carolina offense were not as easy for Trubisky to acquire. He didn’t start until his junior year.
“I went through probably the same process he went through,” Renner said. “He might’ve had it a little tougher than I did. My first two years at Carolina, I sat behind [T.J.] Yates.
“Mitch redshirted his first year , and it was tough for him. You’re Mr. Football in Ohio. You’re away from home. At the time he still had a girlfriend in Ohio -- you start feeling a little homesick. But I tried to help work him through that process of how to handle it. T.J. did the same thing for me."
Renner, who is now the director of recruiting at Florida International University, hosted Trubisky on his official visit to Chapel Hill.
“You could tell in his eyes that he was different than everybody else,” Renner said. “Football meant something to Mitch. He was passionate. He wanted to help change the culture at North Carolina, which is what we were trying to do. So he just fell right in line.”
The key to Trubisky’s success was a quality that is likely to be his most valuable asset on Monday night: preparedness.
“There was never a question that Mitch wasn’t going to get the answer right in the quarterback meeting room -- even when he wasn’t playing,” Renner said. “He always knew what he was doing.
“I think that’s what’s propelled him in his career and allowed him to battle through the adversity of sitting as long as he did, starting just 13 games, and then getting to the point he’s at now. This isn’t a shock to me that he could make that jump or be ready for that moment.”
Dealing with adversity
While Trubisky’s first high school moment was one to remember, his final collegiate game got off to a rocky start.
Taking on Stanford in the Sun Bowl, Trubisky committed three turnovers -- two interceptions and one fumble -- and the Tar Heels trailed by eight points with 1:34 to play.
“I do know that. But I also know that he didn’t tank it. He wasn’t happy about how the game started off, but it certainly changed during the end of the game. He started clicking, and we started clicking as an offense. So I remember how disappointed he was in the locker room at how the first half went but how focused he was when he came out in the second half.”
Taking over on offense with 1:34 left on the clock, Trubisky directed a 97-yard touchdown drive to pull within two points, but North Carolina failed on the 2-point conversion and lost 25-23.
“He made a couple bad decisions early on, but he didn’t let that rattle him,” Fritts said. “He really rallied us. With Mitch at quarterback, you never really feel like you’re out of the game.”
The Sun Bowl loss wasn’t the ideal way to end his college career. But Trubisky’s resiliency impressed at least one NFL scout in attendance: Bears general manager Ryan Pace.
“Adversity is going to happen,” Trubisky said. “And just from what I’ve studied and other players I’ve looked at, a lot of the great ones are able to just put bad plays behind them very quickly. It’s about how are you going to make the next play for your team.”
The fact that he’ll face some adversity as a starting NFL quarterback is one of the few guarantees as he embarks on this phase of his journey.
Is he ready to handle it?
It’s time to find out.