MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Gardner Minshew carved his own meandering path from walk-on to NFL prospect.
He began as a walk-on at Troy, took a sharp left to junior college, bounced over to East Carolina, made a beeline toward Alabama and finally ended with one terrific final season at Washington State.
“I kind of took the long way around,” Minshew said Tuesday.
Whatever the route, the nomadic Minshew has landed in the Senior Bowl, along with quarterbacks like Duke’s Daniel Jones, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Missouri’s Drew Lock.
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His goal remains the same: A chance to be a starting quarterback.
He got another shot after enrolling as a graduate transfer at Washington State in June, some six months after graduating from East Carolina.
Minshew made the most of his time in the Northwest. He won the 2018 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the nation’s top senior or fourth-year junior quarterback. Minshew led the nation in passing yards per game (367.6) while also finishing in the top 5 with 38 touchdowns and a 70.7 percent completion rate.
His 4,779 yards set a Pac-12 Conference record. Minshew managed to fit in well with his new teammates at Washington State despite that late arrival, left tackle Andre Dillard said.
“There’s something special about that guy, for sure,” said Dillard, who’s also playing in the Senior Bowl. “He just has this energy and vibe about him that make others around him want to be better people in general and football players.”
Minshew is sporting a full beard at the Senior Bowl but previously his facial hair earned him the nickname the Mississippi Mustache. Cougars fans started posting selfies sporting fake mustaches.
Minshew enrolled at Troy in January 2015 as a walk on, saying a scholarship offer had been withdrawn after a coaching change. He left for Northwest Mississippi Community College after spring practices, with Brandon Silvers holding down the starting job.
He then spent two seasons at East Carolina , where he started two games as a sophomore and passed for 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior.
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy puts a positive spin on Minshew’s moves.
“This guy is constantly betting on himself,” said Nagy, a former NFL scout.
Nagy said Minshew approached him at breakfast Monday morning looking for phone numbers of the South centers and quarterbacks. He rounded up some footballs and got them together for some extra work on snaps.
“Obviously the background is incredible because it shows the resilience and the mental toughness,” Nagy said.
Minshew didn’t head directly toward his final college desintation, Washington State. He planned to enroll at Alabama, if Jalen Hurts decided to transfer. Hurts stayed put despite ultimately losing the starting job to Tua Tagovailoa, who was Heisman Trophy runner-up, a few spots ahead of Minshew in the voting.
“At the time it looked like one of those guys two was leaving and I was walking in as No. 2 and splitting reps 50-50,” Minshew said. “I’ll take my shot with anybody when I get into a competition setting. Then it looked like both of them were staying and it was time for me to look elsewhere.”
Now, Minshew is auditioning for NFL teams and figures they’ll all ask about his circuitous journey. The explanation, he says, takes five or 10 minutes.
“It was different, that’s for sure,” Minshew said. “Definitely not how most people do it. You just learn so much as you go through all these different experiences, all the different guys you meet.
“I feel like it’s really prepared for me now.”
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