Monday, April 27, 2009

Latino quarterback goes to the Jets

Jets give Mark Sanchez quite a ride Mark Sanchez and mom
By Gary Klein, LA Times, April 26, 2009

About an hour before the start of Saturday's NFL draft, a jet-lagged Mark Sanchez skipped down a flight of stairs at his agent's offices in Irvine.

"Big day!" he exclaimed.

After spending the previous 72 hours sightseeing and fulfilling endorsement obligations in New York, the former USC quarterback had just returned to Southern California to watch the draft with his family.

It turned out to be a bigger day than even Sanchez imagined.

The New York Jets traded up and selected Sanchez with the fifth pick, sending the 22-year-old to the NFL's largest and most intense media market.

"Los Angeles to New York? That's sick!" Sanchez said. "I would have been happy anywhere, but this is a dream come true."

Sanchez's selection ended a three-month whirlwind of draft preparation and even more intense pre-draft speculation.

It began with Sanchez's January news conference announcing his intent to turn pro and Coach Pete Carroll's now-legendary conniption. It continued with the NFL scouting combine, USC's pro day and individual team workouts and interviews.

It culminated with Sanchez's watching NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announce his selection by the Jets.

"I'm overjoyed because I know he's achieved something he really wanted," said Sanchez's father, Nick. "In a couple of weeks, we'll be just as excited about him attending commencement exercises and graduating from USC.

"Those two things, in tandem for our family, couldn't be more exciting."

For Sanchez, Saturday began with a 6 a.m. flight from New York, where he had been introduced as a cover subject for a video game and, among other activities, visited Central Park and hung out with Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick by the Detroit Lions.

The morning was full of media reports that the St. Louis Rams, picking second, or the Seattle Seahawks, picking fourth, might take a quarterback who started only 16 games at USC.

With his grandmother and other family members gathered around him in a TV viewing room, Sanchez text-messaged Stafford after the former Georgia quarterback was introduced as the No. 1 pick. He then watched as the Rams selected Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith and the Seahawks chose Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry two picks later.

"I was thinking, 'OK, who knows what's going to happen?' " Sanchez said. "We might have to wait till [pick No.] 8 or 10."

Sanchez left the room and huddled with his father and older brothers in agent David Dunn's office. As they chatted about his trip to New York, the quarterback's phone rang.

Sanchez glanced down and saw area code 973.

"I didn't know the number but I knew it was a New York area code," he said.

Mike Tannenbaum, the Jets' general manager, was on the line.

"I was like, 'Oh my God. He's either going to say, 'Hey, we're not going to be able to make a play, or this is it,' " Sanchez said.

Tannenbaum told Sanchez the team had made a trade with the Cleveland Browns and asked if he was ready to be a Jet.

"I was like, 'Yes!' " said Sanchez, who then returned to his family with the phone still at his ear and his right fist pumping toward the ceiling.

Sanchez propped a Jets cap upon his head moments before Goodell announced his selection, the room -- and Jets fans at Radio City Music Hall -- erupting in cheers.

Cheers for Sanchez also were heard at the Coliseum, where USC was completing spring practice with its annual Trojan Huddle scrimmage.

After Sanchez was selected, Carroll stopped play as the announcement was replayed on the video board.

"It's turned out beautifully for him," Carroll said. "He surged so much here in the last month or so with his workouts and everybody saw him. It worked out great and I couldn't be more happy for him."

Sanchez reiterated that he holds no hard feelings toward Carroll, who had criticized the quarterback's decision not to complete his eligibility.

"It shocked him, I think it really did," Sanchez said. "But he's been really supportive. . . . He told [NFL] teams everything you could ask your coach to tell them."

The Jets apparently became enamored of Sanchez after a private workout in Mission Viejo in March.

Coach Rex Ryan said the team was impressed by Sanchez's footwork and confidence and that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer "put him through every workout known to man and he passed every one of them with flying colors. We knew, I think, right then that this was the guy we really wanted."

Sanchez looked tired late Saturday afternoon but he was on his way to an extended family celebration and another gathering at a restaurant near Disneyland. Later, he was scheduled to board a red-eye flight back to New York.

Last year's fifth pick, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, signed a five-year, $51-million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, more than $22 million of it guaranteed.

But Sanchez was not immediately concerned with how his contract might work out.

He will attend a minicamp this week with hopes of battling Kellen Clemens for the starting job come training camp.

"It's up to the coaches and about me giving them a reason to keep me on the field," he said. "I just need to learn the playbook as fast as I can."

Times staff writer David Wharton contributed to this story.

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