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Tru to his roots: Bears QB Mitch Trubisky will never forget where he’s from

Video by Adam Jahns

MENTOR, Ohio — Before quarterback Mitch Trubisky had his famous Toyota Camry, the one he drove from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to Halas Hall at the request of general manager Ryan Pace, there was “FAVRE 10.”

That was one truly special automobile.

It was a 1997 Buick LeSabre with a bench seat in the front and three seats in the back. Trubisky bought it himself for $1,800. Its nicknames included Green Machine, the Hulk and the Boat, but “FAVRE 10” was special. His nickname and jersey number were on his license plate.

“My parents just took the nickname I got from my coaches to a whole new level,” Trubisky said.

Why was Trubisky nicknamed after Packers legend Brett Favre? It’s a story that begins with Jeff Grubich, who was Trubisky’s offensive coordinator his sophomore and junior seasons at Mentor High.

“We were in a game and he’s rolling to the right and he plants and tries to throw the football all the way back to the left,” said Grubich, who is now the head coach of nearby Kenston. “It gets picked off and taken to the house. He comes back to the sideline, and he’s all just fired up at himself and I go, ‘Who the hell do you think you are? Brett Favre?’”

Trubisky remembered it as a bubble screen, but he did force it.

“It was just that belief that I could make any throw on the field at any time,” Trubisky said. “Just a gunslinger mentality.”

The nickname stuck. For Grubich, it turned into “Favre notes” for games. Some notes were scouting reports and reminders. Others were inside jokes that were meant to make Trubisky relax. Some were press clippings. Others were specific messages meant to help Trubisky lead and inspire. But all “Favre notes”ended the same way.

“If you’re going to push the tempo, lead and have a positive attitude, this team is going to go as far as you want to take them,” Grubich said. “I would always say, ‘We’re going to go as you go, Favre.’ ”

Trubisky saved all of the “Favre notes.” They still have importance and purpose.

“I definitely took that stuff to heart, and I truly believe that stuff,” Trubisky told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Those notes, along with everything else my coaches just instilled in me growing up, I carry with me to this day.”

Trubisky is the ultimate product of his environment. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it was Mentor that helped Trubisky become the quarterback he is today, the one whom Pace drafted to forever change the Bears for the better.

• • •

Mentor, Ohio, has all the chains you need — from Starbucks to Chipotle to Wendy’s to Applebee’s. There’s a Target, Sam’s Club and Home Depot, too.

And yet, there’s a small town beneath all of that American commercialism.

It’s the white water tower that proudly declares its establishment in 1797. It’s the American flags that line Mentor Avenue. And it’s a stop at Yours Truly diner, a local Ohio chain where “Notso” omelets and “Notso” fries are popular and everyone seemingly knows each other by name and some things about Ohio State football.

“Yours Truly was our breakfast/lunch spot,” said Trubisky, who tries to eat healthy there but recommends the burgers and omelets. (The “Notso” involves melted cheese, chopped bacon and sour cream.)

After games, Trubisky and his friends were off to Applebee’s for half-priced appetizers. Much like all the residents, Yours Truly and those late-night appetizers are part of Trubisky’s home, and his heart never left it.

“It really is just a big, big family,” Trubisky said. “When you’re proud of where you’re from, you just carry yourself in higher regards, and you continue to do the right thing, no matter where you are.”

• • •

Every year, Carole Elwell asked her students what they wanted to be when they grew up, and every year during her 24 years in the Mentor school district, she heard from boys who wanted to play in the NFL.

“I heard that 100,000 times,” Elwell said.

She was always prepared. She had her stock answer ready. She would tell them that she wanted that to happen but they should prepare for injuries and other unforeseen issues.

“So you better open yourself to a good education so you have yourself covered,” Elwell said.

Trubisky was different. It wasn’t his words, but his eyes. There was too much determination in them for a fifth-grader at Hopkins Elementary.

“It almost knocked me back,” Elwell said. “And I just said, ‘OK, I’ll come watch.’ And so that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

Bears QB Mitch Trubisky in fifth grade. | Courtesy of Bernadette Elam.
Bears QB Mitch Trubisky in fifth grade. | Courtesy of Bernadette Elam.

That same year was Trubisky’s first as a ball boy for Mentor. It was apparent that he was different then, too. At the time, he was a star running back and a touchdown-scoring machine in the Mentor Youth Football Association.

“The kid could just run, so our offense was pretty much Mitchell left and Mitchell right,” said Brian McClure, a former youth coach. But a switch to quarterback was coming.

To Trubisky, being a ball boy was more than inflating balls and making sure there were towels handy. He approached it as a full-time job during games and in practices. Instructions never had to be repeated.

“He did it all the way through his eighth-grade year, which doesn’t always happen,” Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno said. “A lot of guys want to go sit in the stands and hang out with the girls as they get into junior high.”

Not Trubisky. He latched himself to Mentor quarterback Bart Tanski, who was named Mr. Ohio Football in 2007. They’d go through balls together before games, but Trubisky knew when to approach him for it. He understood that Tanski, as the quarterback, had plenty to focus on.

“Half the time, he knew which balls I’d pick before I’d even pick them out,” Tanski said. “He understood that this ball is old or we’re going to go away from the new ones or get one that was more worn in.”

Trubisky wanted to be “the next Bart,” Trivisonno said. He had questions and Tanski had answers in games and during youth camps, but Trubisky was insatiable. He asked specific questions about drills, footwork, progressions and more.

“The attention span of fifth- and sixth-graders is sometimes lacking,” said Tanski, who is an assistant coach at Robert Morris University. “He was locked in.”

By fifth grade, Elwell said Mentor’s high school coaches already were abuzz about Trubisky. Everyone knew a special kid was coming, and everyone wanted to help.

“When did I know that he was special?” Mentor quarterbacks coach Nes Janiak said. “When he was the ball boy.”

• • •

The exact details of the joke are blurry now. But Kade McClure, Brandon Fritts and Conner Krizancic know their long-standing prank on Trubisky occurred when Mentor’s basketball team was on the road in Tennessee as it always was around Christmas. The time stamp on Twitter proves it: “11:17 PM – 27 Dec 2011.”

“We sent that tweet,” Krizancic said.

Yes, that tweet.

The one with the “I love to kiss … ” message on Trubisky’s account that, according to some archived screen shots, received 20,962 “retweets” and 17,781 “likes” after the Bears drafted him. Yes, that tweet about breasts that turned into “Sundays are for kissin’ … ”

T-shirts from Barstool Sports that come in Bears colors.

“I want my cut from Barstool for making the shirts,” Fritts said.

Bears QB Mitch Trubisky with his best friends, from left to right: Brandon Fritts, Conner Krizancic and Kade McClure. | Courtesy of Conner Krizancic
Bears QB Mitch Trubisky with his best friends, from left to right: Brandon Fritts, Conner Krizancic and Kade McClure. | Courtesy of Conner Krizancic

It was tweeted in good fun. They were best friends and roommates on trips in high school. Leaving your phone unattended was asking for trouble or hilarity, depending which side you were on.

“We would always take each other’s phones and text girls, do something stupid, tweet something or put it on Facebook,” McClure said.

It was a common prank, so no one remembers exactly who sent the tweet.

“We’re still trying to solve who it was,” Fritts said.

But there are signs that point to McClure, and he knows it.

“Yeah, that might have been me, I’m not sure,” McClure said.

He was the one who got the call from Trubisky’s mother after the draft.

“She was like, ‘If you ever do something like that again, I’ll kick your [butt],’ ” McClure said. “She was joking around. I was like, ‘I don’t know if it was for sure me. But knowing me, there’s a good chance that it was me. But I’m not positive.’ It was pretty funny.”

It still is funny, too. Trubisky remains close with McClure, Fritts and Krizancic. It’s a bond their parents say formed through wins and losses. Trubisky was a year older in school than all three, but they were all special athletes. McClure was a standout pitcher at Louisville who was drafted by the White Sox in the sixth round last year. Fritts followed Trubisky to North Carolina as a tight end. Krizancic went to Minnesota as a receiver before transferring to Ohio University to play quarterback. (McClure and Fritts are rehabbing knee injuries; Krizancic stopped playing because of concussions.)

“What a group,” Grubich said.

If you needed them, Fritts said, they could be found on either the football field or a basketball court together. Sometimes they were at both on the same day. Trubisky would throw passes to his friends outside in the winter before basketball games. It was a secret kept from Krizancic’s father, Bob, the basketball coach.

“That battle was all throughout high school all the time,” Conner Krizancic said.

There were hundreds of sleepovers, including ones at Trubisky’s house, where his mother, Jeanne, would make biscuits and gravy and over-easy eggs.

“She made some of the best breakfasts you’ll ever have,” Fritts said.

And there were sleepovers at Krizancic’s house, where Trubisky would wake up and make pancakes for everyone or leave early to take his siblings, Mariah, Manning and Mason, to church at St. Mary’s.

“His parents worked jobs Sunday morning all the time,” Krizancic said. “It didn’t matter if we had a late night Saturday night after a basketball or football playoff game. No matter what, Mitch was getting in the car the next morning and going to church. It was unheard of.”

It’s stories like that only Trubisky’s friends can tell. There were intense video-game battles, including the time Trubisky cheated in Madden in fourth grade at a team party.

“Mitchell claimed he was the best Madden player ever,” McClure said. “I had a breakaway touchdown with like no time left on the clock, and Mitchell refused to lose. So he hit my controller, and I ran out bounds. I lost the game.”

Trubisky also was the first to get his driver’s license. It made him a quasi-chauffeur, whether it was rides to practice or cruising around Mentor with Fritts while they dated twin sisters in high school. Krizancic called Trubisky “a father figure” who drove him to see his own girlfriends, too. Either way, the LeSabre always was clean.

“We just came to love that car,” Trubisky said.

“FAVRE 10” finally broke down in Trubisky’s senior year going over train tracks. It was a fitting end, too. Their goal seemingly was to fly over train tracks, particularly the ones by Mentor High on the way to practice.

“That car had no regard for normal car rules,” McClure said. “We would kind of race over train tracks going like 40 miles an hour, going airborne in that thing.”

Even in those wilder moments, McClure, Krizancic and Fritts saw unique traits in their friend. Trubisky was a superstar and a local hero, but you would never know it. He not only could be counted on for rides, but he would help clean up kitchens after sleepovers and get on your case if you littered.

“Mitch is a really, really good dude,” McClure said. “When you hang out with him, it kind of rubs off on you. I don’t want to say I’m a bad person. But there’s definitely times I’m like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ And if I’m with Mitchell, maybe I don’t do it or maybe he convinces me not to do it.”

Except during that one basketball trip when they got Trubisky’s phone. But that’s what makes that memory even better. Caleb Pressley, a North Carolina teammate of Trubisky’s who now works at Barstool, sent them their own T-shirts.

“We definitely messed with him a little bit and told him he’s going to win the Heisman and stuff like that,” Krizancic said. “But it really doesn’t even make sense to me how he was so humble. You would never know it.”

• • •

It was the third round of the Ohio Region 1 state playoffs, and Mentor was on the road against state power St. Ignatius. It was a wild game that required triple overtime and a two-point conversation to settle it.

“Everybody is hopped up,” said Janiak, Mentor’s QB coach.

Everybody but Trubisky. His coaches came to believe that he was made for such heart-pounding moments. Janiak would tell him “Let Mitch be Mitch” before every game.

“I’m probably at one end of the huddle, and he’s at the other end as we’re waiting at the timeout,” Janiak said. “We make eye contact. He gives me a wink. I said, ‘OK, we’re all good. We won.’ And that’s what happened.”

Trubisky completed a pass to Fritts for a 57-56 victory to advance to the state semifinals. Trubisky threw for 411 yards, ran for 138 yards and scored six total touchdowns. It was a signature game during a memorable season.

Bears QB Mitch Trubisky in high school with former Mentor QB Bart Tanski (left) and Mentor QB coach Nes Janiak. | Courtesy of Bart Tanski
Bears QB Mitch Trubisky in high school with former Mentor QB Bart Tanski (left) and Mentor QB coach Nes Janiak. | Courtesy of Bart Tanski

“We always told him that he needs to put this town on his back and take it for a ride, and that’s what he did,” Trivisonno said. “We were really young around him, but he just carried us.”

Trivisonno and Janiak’s expectations for Trubisky never changed. Their messages remained consistent. That wink was a sign of Trubisky’s “inner arrogance.” It’s what Janiak implored Trubisky to have as a quarterback and face of the team.

“That’s where that confidence comes in,” said Janiak, who has coached at Mentor since 1978. “It was how you carry yourself on the field, how you never downgrade an opponent. You just play hard and let the chips falls where they may, and always play the next play because bad things will happen out there.”

As Trivisonno said, that’s life.

“You just don’t get the good stuff,” he said. “You’ve got to handle the bad stuff, too.”

Those messages were ingrained in Trubisky. Mentor’s run in 2012 ended a week later in the semifinals against Toledo Whitmer in a 62-34 loss. The Cardinals’ young defense faltered, and they lost Fritts early to an injury. Trubisky accounted for 351 passing yards, 102 rushing yards and five touchdowns, but he had three turnovers.

“I hope people enjoyed watching because I enjoyed playing for this community,” Trubisky told the Cleveland Plain Dealer afterward. “It’s kind of upsetting after a loss like this, but that’s life. You’ve got to bounce back.”

That’s the “inner arrogance” again. Trubisky enrolled early at North Carolina weeks after that loss, but he departed with his coaches’ messages forever with him.

“Inner arrogance is just having the confidence that you’re the best player on the field but not saying it and showing it at all,” Trubisky said. “Always deflect and always give the credit to your teammates, but continue to have that inner arrogance and confidence that you can get the job done no matter what.”

• • •

With four children in the Mentor community, everyone seemingly knows Dave and Jeanne Trubisky. And everyone seemingly has a Mrs. Trubisky story to share.

For McClure, it’s vividly recalling the stern words “Mitchell David” that reverberated throughout the Trubisky home. For Elwell, who taught all of the Trubisky children, it was using Mrs. Trubisky to scare her daughter.

“I used to say to my own daughter, who is 20 now, if she was getting on my nerves and not doing what I want, I’m going to send her to Mrs. Trubisky for a few days,” Elwell said.

Bears QB Mitch Trubisky with former teacher, Carole Elwell. | Courtesy of Carole Elwell
Bears QB Mitch Trubisky with former teacher, Carole Elwell. | Courtesy of Carole Elwell

Talk to those from Mentor, and it’s vividly apparent that Mrs. Trubisky is as popular and as adored as her NFL-playing son. If she’s around, you better call him Mitchell. She’s the living, breathing, sometimes seething embodiment of tough love. And everyone loves her. That comes through in the stories those from Mentor share.

For Bob McClure and Jake Cowdrick, who coached Mentor youth football, it’s remembering hearing Mrs. Trubisky scream from the stands at her ailing son on the field to pick himself up. Dave Trubisky even coached with them.

“A lot of people were like, ‘Holy crap! Who is this lady?’ ” said a laughing McClure, who is Kade’s father and a former NFL quarterback.

“You know where she’s at in the stands,” Cowdrick said. “That’s for sure.”

For Bob Krizancic, Mentor’s basketball coach, it was watching a phone and text-message exchange between Mrs. Trubisky and her son unfold from his family-room couch.

“His mom said, ‘Mitch, you played a great game,’ and he didn’t play that great of a game,” Krizancic said. “He texted her back, ‘Are you serious?’

“She goes, ‘Heck, no, you weren’t tough enough, you weren’t skilled enough. You better get your butt in the gym.’

“Mitch says, ‘That’s my mom.’ It was just hilarious.”

Trubisky’s coaches and teachers didn’t worry about him. It’s why they all laugh at the rare occasions where they had to yell at him. A foundation already was set at home; they just built on it.

“I remember hearing Mitchell sitting in the stands and yelling to Manning, ‘Love you, buddy. Love you, buddy. You’re doing so good, buddy,’ ” said Bernadette Elam, who taught Trubisky in fifth grade with Elwell and later two of his siblings.

“For a teenage boy to have enough confidence to say to his little brother, ‘I love you,’ that’s a big deal. That says a lot about their family and how they were raised.”

Trubisky has “genuineness,” Janiak said. It helps him lead. He cares, and it shows, whether it was privately driving to nearby Hudson, Ohio, to visit a young fan who was fighting cancer on the same day Trubisky was awarded Mr. Ohio Football in 2012 or calling his best friends after they won a state basketball championship without him.

“I don’t know if many people know this,” Krizancic said. “He called me right after we won state. He was actually like bawling his eyes out. He was crying. He wasn’t sad about not being a part of it. He was just so happy for us.”

While Trubisky started his life at North Carolina after enrolling early, his best friends defeated Toledo Rogers 76-67 to win state. Krizancic scored 16 points, and Fritts grabbed 15 rebounds.

Trubisky was supposed to be there. Coach Krizancic said Trubisky was a do-everything player with Division-I potential. He started as a junior on a 22-3 team. But football was his dream.

“I always thought the intangibles, the toughness, the focus, is what he was head and shoulders above everybody else,” Krizancic said.

Bears QB Mitch Trubisky was a star at Mentor High. From left to right: WR Conner Krizancic, Trubisky, coach Steve Trivisonno and WR Brandon Fritts. | Courtesy of Conner Krizancic
Bears QB Mitch Trubisky was a star at Mentor High. From left to right: WR Conner Krizancic, Trubisky, coach Steve Trivisonno and WR Brandon Fritts. | Courtesy of Conner Krizancic

That started at home and only was reinforced through sports. It’s why he called Conner Krizancic and traveled with the team when he could during regionals.

“That stuff sticks with him, and that drives him,” Fritts said.

It’s why no one close to Trubisky was surprised that he stayed committed to North Carolina despite having to wait years to start. He was never the type to give up and transfer.

“I knew he loved the school, the place he was at and the people we were surrounded with,” Fritts said. “And then he put in so much work. He was just ready to show the world. I don’t think he wanted to go somewhere else and prove it.”

• • •

Hundreds of eyes were on Trubisky when he spoke. He was concluding his first four-day summer camp in June at Mentor High, which had a record turnout. His messages were simple, Elam said, but they came from his own upbringing, his own life lived playing football for Mentor.

“Work hard.”

“Try your best.”

“Be nice.”

“Do well in school.”

“Make your parents proud.”

“He looks at these kids, who are looking at him with stars in their eyes,” said Elam, whose son participated in the camp. “The words that he spoke to them, I just sat there in complete awe and said, ‘That’s the kind of kid we want representing this town.’ ”

It’s what Trivisonno told the Browns when they called before the draft.

“You’re getting a local boy, a face of the franchise,” he said.

The Browns passed, and Mentor fumed. It’s a Bears town now. The people there know what Chicago has.

“What I can tell you is this: He’s never going to embarrass your city and team,” Elwell said. “You’re going to be proud to have him as your quarterback, as your franchise player, as the face of your franchise.”

Before Trubisky made his first start in Week 5 against the Vikings last season, Grubich turned to his “Favre notes” and sent Trubisky a message.

“They’re going to go as far as you want to take them,” Grubich said. “So push them, man.”

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