MENTOR, Ohio — The 22-year-old should at least raise an eyebrow. Raise his upper lip. Twitch. Blink. Give us an emotion, man, any emotion for crying out loud.
As he sits at a Yours Truly restaurant on Center Street, with locals all around him ordering eggs, pancakes, sausage and coffee, Mitchell Trubisky doesn't show any sign of flinching, though. He just stares blankly ahead as the potential destinations are detailed aloud in dramatic succession.
Cleveland. Trubisky grew up 23.6 miles from the Factory of Sadness. A lifelong Browns fan, he's fully aware of that iconic jersey—the one with names on top of names on top of more names of starting quarterbacks who've failed since Cleveland returned to the NFL in 1999. He lived Couch to Wynn to Garcia to Quinn to McCoy to Weeden to—go ahead and puke if you must, Clevelanders—Manziel to Griffin III to whatever poor soul is next. For quarterbacks of all shapes and sizes, Lake Erie is a black hole.
New York. Trubisky graced the back page of a tabloid there before his college season was even finished. The market has devoured quarterbacks.
Buffalo. Two-and-a-half hours east, the Bills' 17-year playoff drought is the longest in professional sports.
San Francisco. Chicago. Both organizations are mired in rebuilds.
Trubisky pictures each scenario in his mind and, miraculously, does not spit up his Barcelona omelet.
Instead, he quite literally does not blink.
"They say to be careful what you wish for," Trubisky says. "But this is what I wished for. This is what I prayed for. This is what I worked for. I'm ready for whatever's next. It doesn't matter where I'm at—the history behind it—I'm going to try to win every time I'm out on the field.
"There's an inner desire, something inside of me, that's always wanted to be great and leave a mark."
To Trubisky, it's simple. The player hailed as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in this draft has an indomitable desire to be the face of a franchise. Who'd say "No" to that? To others, here sits the 2017 NFL draft's greatest mystery—because of one number.
Thirteen. The number has hounded Trubisky for four months, clinging to him like a vile odor impossible to eliminate.
Whoever anoints Trubisky its savior is taking a calculated gamble.
A franchise-saving or franchise-nuking decision will be based entirely on 13 collegiate starts.
His arm strength? Unmatched. The dude can whistle fastballs from any angle. His physical stature? He is an octagon-ready 6'2", 217 pounds with a 10-inch vein popping out of his forearm.
His brain? He has blown pro teams away on the whiteboard and possesses a downright freaky memory. Right here, he recalls the first touchdown pass he ever threw at Mentor High School without a millisecond of hesitation.
"Trips Right. H-Mo. Bucket Alley."
Trubisky was a sophomore, facing powerhouse St. Edward, in front of 18,025 fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium when he sent a player in motion, play-faked to a running back and knifed a bullet up the seam to Colton Wallace for a 46-yard score.
"I couldn't tell you what I ate last week or what day of the week it is today," Trubisky says, "but I could talk about what plays I ran and when."
Yet there's that blemish. In back-to-back years, he couldn't beat out a player who's not even on an NFL roster, Marquise Williams. Seated next to his little brother, Manning, Trubisky tilts his head back and laughs that he should wear No. 13 in the pros. It's a joke to him at this point. So what if he only started 13 games? In time, he learned he never needed 20, 30, 40 starts to fuel his confidence.
Maybe Trubisky is a mystery to everyone else—GMs, coaches, scouts, fans—but what's most important is what this kid across the table thinks. And make no mistake: Mitchell Trubisky is no mystery to Mitchell Trubisky.
He craves the challenge of resurrecting your moribund franchise.
He knows he can turn it around.
"I want to be that guy because I know my teammates can depend on me," he says. "I know I can deliver. I want to be the guy calling the shots."
The rookie card is on display, back home, in the corner of a family portrait. No, Mitchell Trubisky and LeBron James are not related. But, yes, there is a 2003 James card right there in a framed photo next to Mom, Dad, Mitchell, Manning, Mason and Mariah. Nobody ever dared to remove this four-time NBA MVP, the King, from the frame.
Probably because LeBron James felt like family after a while.
"It's Northeast Ohio," Trubisky says. "It's that sense of pride you have being from here. We love the area. We love the sports teams. It's like no other place in the world.
Trubisky was (and is) a witness. He watched a homegrown prodigy deliver on a promise—deliver a championship—in the face of unprecedented pressure.
"Nobody's had that pressure on him," Trubisky says. "The pressure of the city, the pressure of the hometown. Jordan and Kobe didn't play in their hometowns. Being from here, and having the spotlight on him since he was 14, 15, 16 years old, he's just done it the right way. The Decision was tough because he made a business decision, but he came back because you could see his love for the city.
"It's inspiring. No matter where I go, I'll carry that sense of pride and loyalty with me everywhere."
Who is Mitchell Trubisky? Who is this mystery of a quarterback who coaches and teammates insist is a tireless, family-oriented, uber-humble born leader? Someone who says that reviving that other team in Cleveland would be "special." Someone who won't label himself the Browns' own LeBron, instead assuring he's "just going to be me."
Trubisky is the competitor yelling "No, no! Everybody back in line!" to 15 family members over Easter weekend, when Manning won the first two games of knockout at the basketball hoop. (Mitchell took the next two. Manning took the fifth.)
He's someone with eclectic music taste. On his way to a workout, he'll blare Meek Mill's Dreams Worth More Than Money alongside Drake and J. Cole. If he's chilling at the beach, it's all country. Right now, Trubisky is into Billy Currington, Jon Pardi and Dustin Lynch. Lynch's "Small Town Boy" is the go-to.
Friends call him "Mitch." His parents call him "Mitchell." He's honestly cool with both. Dave and Jeanne named their first son after a bar they used to frequent in Akron.
If he could meet anyone, dead or alive, it'd be Jesus Christ. He was raised Catholic.
He loves golf. And really loves playing board games. The Trubiskys are known to break into rounds of Pictionary and "crazy" games of Monopoly that can last up to five hours. In the back yard, the boys often played "punt return," which consists of one catching a punt and then getting clobbered. "Basically," Manning says, "it's crush the carrier."
They all kept on crushing when Mitch was a college QB, too. It's especially fun in the winter, when lake-effect snow pummels Mentor.
For years, his favorite TV show was How I Met Your Mother. But now, Trubisky is deep into Entourage.
All through college, he was extremely…clean. Trubisky constantly scrubbed his bathroom and dusted his bedroom. He calls himself "OCD" and says he'd vacuum his crib two or three times a week and snipe at fellow quarterback Manny Miles for being such a pig when he visited.
"You want to have the nicest spot!" Trubisky says. "You don't want to be a bunch of bums with food and couches not organized and all that."
Tar Heels receiver Bug Howard calls him a "corny trash-talker," a "smart aleck," when he's around friends. Trubisky says he's only dropping facts. With women, he's picky. "Very picky," assures Howard. "Sometimes I'm like, 'Mitch, you really need to relax!'"
He's not into glitz and glamour. At the Rep1 Sports agency headquarters, personal QB coach Ryan Lindley remembers one shoe company presenting Trubisky a closet full of sneakers with the message, "Have whatever you want." Trubisky shrugged and grabbed a couple of pairs for family members.
He's a quick learner. To decompress between training sessions, he and Lindley played Pingpong and, at first, Trubisky was a novice. Lindley owned him. Before he knew it, the student became the teacher. A ruthless power player, Trubisky beat Lindley four times in a row one day, and Lindley smashed a paddle over his knee in anger.
"He had a good laugh over that one," Lindley says. "He won more than he lost."
If he weren't in football, Trubisky would be pursuing a career as a doctor because, once, a doctor did so much for him.
In seventh grade, Trubisky injured his knee playing basketball, and nobody had a clue what was wrong. From one doctor to two…to three…to four…to a fifth…the Trubisky family finally discovered that Mitch suffered osteochondritis dissecans, a joint condition in which cartilage in his knee broke loose. Surgery fixed the issue, but Trubisky was unable to play sports his entire eighth-grade year.
No football. No basketball. No baseball.
"That put into perspective for me," Trubisky says, "how much I love sports, how bad I needed it and not to ever take it for granted. Not being able to play is the worst thing."
He's never forgotten those 365 days without sports. The withdrawal permanently changed his outlook on every snap, every calisthenic, every lift, every single time he had a ball in his hands.
Years later at UNC, Trubisky would have a similar experience. Twice he had a chance to beat out Marquise Williams for the starting job, and twice he was told he wasn't good enough.
This time, he was healthy.
So he did something about it.
Inside that squeaky-clean bedroom, no doubt, Trubisky suffered through moments of extreme frustration. Waiting for his shot to start at Chapel Hill, he admits, brought him to tears.
"I had a couple bad nights where the only ones I could talk to were my roommates."
Year 1, he redshirted. Years 2 and 3, he competed with Williams for the job and lost. So Trubisky was in his coaches' offices daily, asking the same questions repeatedly: How can I get better? What do I need to show you to get onto the field? UNC head coach Larry Fedora's answer wasn't helpful. He stressed the importance of "game management" and "situational football," even though such improvements would, you know, require a quarterback to play in a game or situation.
"How am I going to get better at that if I'm not put into the games and given an opportunity?" Trubisky says. "It was kind of a two-sided thing. I tried to get good at that without being on the field."
So when frustration would mount, when thoughts of transferring crept into his mind, Trubisky remembered that year without sports.
Arms crossed, eyes wide, Trubisky leans forward and repeats now what he told himself then.
"I can't control whether I'm on the field or not," he says. "But every other thing in my life, I'm going to make sure I go absolutely nuts."
Relationships with Fedora, Williams and anyone else standing in his way never became toxic. They strengthened. He memorized the game plan every week. He stayed after practice for 30 minutes or an hour, throwing to any receivers willing to stick around. Some nights, he stayed until the lights at the practice field literally went out. In the weight room, he was a maniac. If a trainer told players to do 10 reps, he did 12. Or 13. Or 14.
Not that Trubisky always aimed for high reps. Howard vividly remembers Trubisky maxing out like a lineman. And at the hang clean, he's still the stuff of legend. Trubisky would snatch the barbell from his knees, to his chest, to the squat position with such demonic force that Howard would yell, "Bro! Calm down! You're a quarterback."
On the field, he manufactured competition, be it treating mundane quarterback drills as if they were "Super Bowl game-winning plays" or trying to hit a goal post from afar. Once, it took him 40 throws. Quickly, any crying at night gave way to Trubisky lying awake with an iPad on his lap. He studied opponents he'd never face, dissecting all coverages to build "a library" in his mind.
Trubisky tortured himself and created a monster.
"It got to a point where I truly believed that every little thing was going to be the difference," he says. "So even if I didn't get those game reps, all the film I was watching as a backup was going to make the difference when I was a starter, and would make a difference five years from now in the league.
"Every little thing you do is going to add up and be the difference and contribute to your success. If you believe in that, it's going to make you want to get 1 percent better every day. Do that extra one rep in the weight room. Do that extra mental rep at practice. Stay a little longer because it's going to add up and be the difference."
Behind the scenes, receivers realized Trubisky should be starting.
OK, so coaches felt they couldn't bench Williams when he was posting solid numbers. Howard gets it. But at some point, it became obvious Trubisky was special. As a freshman, Trubisky was teaching Howard how to bend his routes against Cover 1 and Cover 2. And whenever he did get a shot—like when Williams' helmet popped off vs. N.C. State and Trubisky fired a 3rd-and-goal touchdown across his body to Quinshad Davis—the kid earned more believers.
Says Howard, "He did this time after time after time."
If Trubisky gets drafted in the Top 10, as B/R's Matt Miller projects, it won't be a good look for Fedora.
"I'd definitely say it's kind of a knock on the coach," Howard says. "But hey man, he got his shot and did what he had to do."
But here's the thing: The ordeal defines Trubisky as a quarterback. It molded him. Without the wait, without the self-torture to be perfect on a day-to-day basis, who knows if Trubisky is a potential top-10 pick? This is his edge over every other quarterback in the country.
The lifting, the hours of film. None of it feels like extra work now.
"It wasn't something I was forcing myself to do," Trubisky says. "I was hungry. I wanted to do it over and over again."
Hence, his 2016 coronation. The film work helped him decode coverages in the back-to-back comeback wins over Pitt (37-36) and Florida State (37-35). He completed 78.6 percent of his passes for 858 yards, eight touchdowns and no picks in those two games, which put him on the NFL radar. The lifting fed a gusto to throw from any angle in a muddy pocket. No way is he shrugging off an unblockable Solomon Thomas in the Sun Bowl if he's not lifting with the linebackers.
If everyone else wants to talk about that dreaded number—13—so be it.
The wait is the reason teams should draft him.
For two hours at brunch, he's cool, calm and cordial. But, at one point, Trubisky sets his fork down and turns stern.
"It's the only thing people are talking about," Trubisky says. "It's the only knock people have said. If they said I didn't have a good release or couldn't make all the throws, I'd be like, 'That guy may have a valid point.' But that's the only thing they have to say. It's like, OK, bring up something else. What else do you have? They don't have anything.
"I know who I am. I'm proud of my journey."
Of course, Trubisky's journey did not include this climax:
Fourth quarter. Nine seconds left. Nine yards to go. Down 31-28. A national title on the line against Nick Saban and Alabama's foam-at-the-mouth defense.
That'd be the night Clemson's Deshaun Watson showed the world he has NFL guts. All of the goal-post target practice in the world can't simulate the pressure moments Watson (and even Patrick Mahomes) encountered through more starts. Derek Carr's 11 fourth-quarter comebacks the last two years should surprise no one—such theatrics were routine at Fresno State. Same for Russell Wilson before him. The tape suggests Watson has a similar killer instinct.
So one question remains, and it cannot be answered at a family establishment like Yours Truly.
Does Smalltown Mitch—err, Mitchell, per Mom's request—possess the requisite mettle when the pressure rises?
"One thing about Mitch," Howard says, "is he definitely has the balls. He isn't afraid."
The man who's seen more Trubisky games than anyone agrees.
Inside his office, at Mentor High's football stadium, head coach Steve Trivisonno moves his hands high, low and high again to show just how sniper-accurate Trubisky was at 15 and 16 years old. That young, he could place the ball anywhere. Accuracy, he's positive, is "by far" what separates Trubisky from the others.
But that's not why criticism over the 13 starts drives Trivisonno mad. He wishes everyone could've seen when Trubisky willed his team, one with a sieve of a defense, to the state semifinals. One round, against St. Edward, Trubisky pulled Mentor out of a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win. The next, with everything on the line in triple overtime, Mentor went for two and Trubisky pulled through with a completion.
He relished all hero-or-goat moments.
"He's going to win it in the end," Trivisonno says. "He likes being down with the ball in his hands and a chance to win the game. That's always been something he's good at.
"He's going to be that face of a franchise. He's the kind of kid who will put the team on his back."
Trubisky doesn't burn red in the face, nor scream at the top of his lungs.
Whether it's a wild 21-point comeback or getting stiffed by Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State all in the same week of recruiting, he doesn't flinch. The Buckeyes offered a scholarship but told Trubisky to wait. He did, and they inked their preferred choice, J.T. Barrett.
The look Trivisonno saw in Trubisky's eyes then is the one Howard saw in the Pitt comeback. On UNC's game-winning drive, Trubisky converted three fourth downs, including one thread-of-the-needle to Ryan Switzer. And with 4, 3, 2 seconds left, he lofted a game-winning fade to Howard.
Don't let the GQ hair, genuine smile and innocent patches of facial hair fool you.
In the NFL, Howard is positive everyone will see Trubisky's inner-assassin.
"He'll be the face of a program," Howard says. "He's going to be mentioned in that Brady-Rodgers-Brees conversation five years from now. He'll be on that level. Just the competitor he is. I believe he'll be at the top of the charts of quarterbacks in the league."
Mention Rodgers, Brady and Brees, and he doesn't cushion a response with an Only if… modifier.
"There's no doubt," he says. "He's got the arm. He's got the movement. He's got the head. He's got the ability to be one of the elite guys."
It's in that movement where Trubisky's intestinal fortitude is evident.
Lindley, an NFL QB himself from 2012 to '15, has seen Rodgers operate multiple times in person. The way Trubisky blends 4.6 speed with 4WD strength and marksmanship at any throwing angle screams Rodgers. And that's the dichotomy, Lindley explains. Off the field, Trubisky is quiet. On it, he's a bad man.
That quiet demeanor, Lindley says, "is unleashed."
Initially hesitant to compare Trubisky to Rodgers, he doubles down.
"That's the one that keeps jumping out at me," Lindley says. "For me, when I played, I'd watch Aaron Rodgers and have to watch twice. You'd watch him the first time and then you'd have to watch the defense to scout the second time. There are things Mitch does on film that are the same way. Your jaw drops. For me as an ex-player, I'm saying, 'There's a reason I'm not playing anymore. I can't physically do that.' There aren't a whole lot of people on this earth who can.
"It's tough to search through a thesaurus for a definition to describe it. You just know when you see the ball jump out of a guy's hand like that. The different arm angles. The different, contorted positions you put your body in when you can still generate power like a guy like Aaron Rodgers does or like Mitch does, it's unique. You probably see one every five, six years. It's not a once-a-year thing."
Trivisonno walks out onto the Mentor football field and points up to the 12 jerseys hanging from the press box. Trubisky's No. 10 is farthest right. All of the comebacks led to Mr. Football honors in Ohio. Now, he's set to become the first Mentor player drafted since Bob Hallen 19 years ago. Whether it's New York, Buffalo, San Francisco or, yes, exorcising those Cleveland Browns, Trivisonno knows his former quarterback is mentally ready. Mentally tough.
He never blinked when this stadium was packed with 10,000 spectators.
So what's another 60,000 or 70,000?
"I don't think it'll be blinding for him," Trivisonno says. "I really don't."
Trubisky is welcoming potential career suicide. He wants to be a Brown, wants to be a name on that sad jersey.
He wants to go where no quarterback has succeeded since Bernie Kosar.
Someone really needs to tell the poor fella a grim reaper lurks behind his shoulder.
"You want to be The Guy for a team," Trubisky says. "You want to be The Franchise. I want to be the next guy on that jersey, no matter what team it is. So I don't see it as more weight on the shoulders. I see it as a great opportunity. So there's no extra pressure. There's no anything. If you believe in yourself, you have to believe that you're the guy who'd turn it around."
Kosar was a hometown kid. From Youngstown to Cleveland, he came one Earnest Byner fumble and one John Elway miracle away from restoring glory to the Browns. Maybe Trubisky finishes what he started. Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett is heralded as the undisputed, get-fired-if-you-pass-on-him No. 1 talent in the 2017 draft, but teams can win a Super Bowl without an elite pass-rusher. You're going nowhere without a quarterback. The Browns—and all QB-starved teams—understand this reality.
So they've all been investigating this Russian Roulette quarterback class for months.
Trubisky thanks anyone who'd make the Brady-Rodgers-Brees prediction in a polished, politically correct manner. When pressed if it's realistic, he's not shy.
"Anything is possible at this point," he says. "I believe that. That's why I work so hard every day. I can achieve whatever I work for."
Moments later, he resembles that magician breaking free from a blitzing linebacker, scrambling left and resetting his feet to sling a missile across his body right. Trubisky knows he possesses qualities Watson, Mahomes and Kizer do not.
"I have different instincts," he says. "I have a different desire. I have a different heart deep inside of me that's going to allow me to do whatever it takes to be successful."
Trubisky stands up and snakes past tables toward the exit of Yours Truly, hands tucked in the pockets of a North Face jacket. Nobody speaks up. Nobody even stares. An elderly couple at one booth mind their business. An oblivious teenager looks up, then away.
He's no LeBron, yet. The only person to stop Trubisky is an old high school teammate near the front door. The two embrace and chat for five minutes.
The G.O.A.T. was picked 199th overall, Trubisky says, so he doesn't care where he's picked.
Soon, he'll leave Mentor for the biggest challenge of his life, and it'll feel like destiny.
Then maybe, just maybe, a kid somewhere will place a Mitchell Trubisky rookie card right there on his family mantle and leave it there for the next 14 years.
Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.