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How Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew became the NFL’s most fascinating rookie

The Jags’ starting QB for the foreseeable future is a lot more than just a man with a mustache.

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Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew displays his mustache with his helmet half on
Gardner Minshew II the NFL’s newest cult hero.

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ new quarterback has taken the NFL by storm, and no, I’m not talking about Nick Foles. Gardner Minshew II was forced into the Jags’ starting quarterback role early in Week 1 after Foles suffered a broken clavicle against the Kansas City Chiefs.

In came Minshew, a sixth-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and the rookie did more than just play the role of a sub. Although the Jags lost 40-26 to Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ high-powered offense, Minshew set records in his debut. He went 22-of-25 passing, threw a modern-day NFL-record 13 straight completions in a player’s debut, and his 88 completion percentage was the highest Jacksonville franchise history.

Foles, who signed a four-year, $88 million deal with the Jags in March, is now on injured reserve and won’t be eligible to return until Week 11 at the earliest. So for now, Minshew is Jacksonville’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.

While Minshew wasn’t projected to be a rookie starter in 2019, the guy who was almost named Beowulf made a name for himself during his college career. His journey to become a starting NFL quarterback has been unconventional — just like Minshew himself.

He started his collegiate career as a JUCO quarterback.

Minshew was three-star prospect from the class of 2015. The Brandon, Miss., native didn’t receive in-state offers from Ole Miss or Mississippi State, and his 2014 commitment to UAB fizzled when the school discontinued the football program that year. He decided to try to walk-on at Troy, where he had an academic scholarship, in the spring of 2015, but he played at Northwest Mississippi C.C. for his freshman fall instead.

That year, he threw for 3,288 yards and 28 touchdowns while leading the Rangers to a NJCAA National Championship. Even at the JUCO level, his mechanics were pretty well-developed:

From there, he transferred to East Carolina in 2016 and played in just seven games for the Pirates, starting a couple of them. Apparently to try and get a medical redshirt during his first year at ECU, Minshew tried uh, breaking his own hand with a hammer? No, seriously:

The next year he split time with fellow QB Thomas Sirk, and opted to go to Washington State as a graduate transfer after the season. Although Minshew was offered the chance to play at Alabama, Cougs head coach Mike Leach’s pitch was too good to pass up. Via ESPN:

In Tuscaloosa, the recruiters reminded Minshew, he might never get a chance to play.

A few days later, Washington State coach Mike Leach called Minshew with the most appealing proposal of all. “Do you want to be a backup at Alabama or lead the nation in passing?” Leach asked. “We’re going to lead the nation in passing one way or another.”

For Minshew, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

So in March of 2018, Minshew took his talents to the Pacific Northwest.

Minshew’s arrival in Pullman was difficult, though.

He had to navigate a tough, painfully sad situation coming in. The Cougs’ projected starter for 2018, redshirt sophomore Tyler Hilinski, tragically committed suicide in January 2018. As Coug Center pointed out, Minshew helped some Coug fans heal the season after Hilinski’s death:

It doesn’t make any sense, it will never make sense, and the pain will never go away.

Somehow, though, Minshew helped us get from there to here, to a point where most of us could smile and have something ranging from a little to a lot of joy in the midst of our sorrow. And it wasn’t just because he was really, really good at throwing a football. It was his approach, the way he simultaneously walked alongside his teammates and led them forward. The way he just said “screw it” and decided that if there was going to be a season, we might as well win all the games. (They came close.)

“It was time for that community, going through a lot of healing with the passing of Tyler Hilinski,” Minshew said at his first Jags presser of how he helped the Wazzu community heal. “Just really trying to honor that legacy and bring hope to a community that was pretty down.”

Under Leach’s air raid offense, Minshew flourished and broke multiple Wazzu and conference records.

He led the Cougs to an 11-2 run in 2018, the best-ever season in WSU history. Not to mention he finished leading the country in passing completions, accounted for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns, which were both Wazzu single-season records. He set a slew of Pac-12 records, too.

Although Minshew seemingly came out of nowhere in 2018, his success wasn’t too much of a surprise. As Ian Boyd wrote last November, Minshew’s skill set was seemingly perfect for Leach’s offensive system:

The Cougars are operating the air raid at a much higher level than expected in what has turned out to be a down year for the league.

Minshew is also fantastic at getting the ball out quickly in Leach’s classic, fast-hitting schemes like mesh ...

...and shallow cross

He was mentioned as a potential Heisman candidate during the season, and while he didn’t make it to New York City as a finalist, he finished fifth in the final voting.

Although a loss to Washington in the Apple Cup kept the Cougs out of the Pac-12 championship game, WSU capped off 2018 with an Alamo Bowl victory over Iowa State.

As Minshew’s legend grew throughout the season, so did the fame of his mustache. He uh, also works out naked!

The QB’s facial hair growing had been a thing since his East Carolina days, but his mustache hit its peak notoriety in Pullman. So much so, that fans started wearing fake ones to games: Which brings us to one of the ‘stache’s most unforgettable moments: when Minshew successfully placed one on Leach after Wazzu’s November win over Colorado:

“The mustache started in camp,” Minshew told ESPN’s College GameDay. “I think it’s just kind of symbolic of how we are as a team. Just free, loose — we’re gonna play as hard as we can, and we’re gonna have fun doing it.”

As for the stache’s future, Minshew has assured Jags Nation that it’s here to stay. Gardner and his fans have embraced his look. His signature headband-mustache combo has even inspired t-shirts!

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports and Via Bonanza

While Minshew brought the stache with him to the NFL, he’s also continuing another one of his traditions: working out naked.

From his year at Wazzu:

And before his first NFL start:

He’s only been in Jacksonville since April, but Minshew was already extremely Florida Man before he got there. Exhibit A:

Exhibit B: He also catches and wrestles huge-ass fish:

It makes sense. His personality seems to mesh with the fun and out-there Duval culture perfectly — he’s competitive yet chill, and gives off a blue-collar vibe:

Minshew obviously isn’t the quarterback that Jags’ fans hoped to see this season. But he’s not a bad alternative!

A sixth-round draft pick was right around where Minshew was projected to go, and he’s handled winning the backup job then being thrust into the starting role likely better than anyone could’ve hoped.

As SB Nation’s resident Jaguars fan Adam Stites mentions, sticking with Minshew might not be all that bad of an idea:

His 122.5 passer rating is better than any Bortles performance in 2018.

While he mostly threw short passes underneath, he kept the Kansas City offense honest early by connecting with Chark on a nice 69-yard bomb.


Given the hot start to Minshew’s career, the Jaguars don’t need to change things up too dramatically right now. They should be aware of the probability that Minshew won’t play like that again, though.

Minshew’s book smarts just might help him run the Jags’ offense, too — he scored the second-highest Wonderlic score (42) in his draft class, and is known for his study habits:

You may have already heard of Minshew’s reputation of being a “film rat” and quite frankly, it’s one trait that caused front office lead Tom Coughlin to gravitate towards him. Minshew was a 4.0 student who scored a possible 30 of 36 points on the ACT exam. He would attend defensive meetings at his collegiate stops to learn more about how the other side of the ball functioned.

His former head coach may be a bit biased, but Leach also had this to say about his former QB’s debut:

“I think he’ll be more ready down the road, but I also think he’s a great player, Leach told Locked On Jaguars shortly after Minshew’s rookie debut. “[There are] guys elsewhere in the league that aren’t as ready to play as him – and several won’t ever be. I do think he will be very productive, and I think he’ll do a good job. He’s an incredibly smart guy so he can pick things up quickly.”

It helps that Jacksonville wants to lean on a powerful rushing attack on offense. During their highly successful 2017 season that ended with a trip to the AFC Championship, no team ran the ball more than the Jaguars.

While they’ve struggled to get Leonard Fournette going, Minshew is also capable of gaining yards on the ground. In his first start, Minshew ran the ball six times for 56 yards against the Texans. He almost pulled off a miracle last-minute win, too, leading the Jaguars on a 14-play, 68-yard drive that ended with Minshew throwing a 4-yard pass to D.J Chark. With 30 seconds left, Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone decided to go for two — and the win. Rather than keep the ball in Minshew’s hands, though, he gave the carry to Fournette, who didn’t cross the goal line.

Minshew led the Jaguars to their first win of the season the following week, throwing two touchdowns in a 20-7 win over the Titans. He followed that up with a huge road win over the Denver Broncos, including a crucial drive to set up a game-winning field goal to defeat the Broncos 26-24.

The AFC South is pretty wide open this season, and riding the Minshew train just might be a lot of fun. If there’s one thing Minshew has shown, it’s never count him out. I, for one, can’t want to see what he can do.