Kim Minshew settled into the driver’s seat of her car and focused. There was a crying seven year old in the backseat, heartbroken and upset that his world was being so cruel. Just the night before he’d been on top of the world, having reached the pinnacle of childhood dreams with his first home run. The very next night, that came crashing down as he saw teammates placed on All-Star teams while he was left off the rosters.
Kim knew, before even opening her mouth, knew this would be a parenting moment that resonated through her son’s lifetime.
“Gardner,” she began, “this is what I think. I think that All-Stars don't just practice at practice. All-Stars work extra and so every time your dad says ‘hey do you want to go throw' and you say ‘well I'm going to go play with my Legos or I want to go outside and play with my trucks,’ that’s not gonna make you an All-Star in baseball. But extra work, working outside of practice, that’s what’ll make you better, what’ll make you different.”
Her son began to process what she said on the way home. Not long after home itself shifted as the family moved to a new town, a new team and a new chance for the young ball player who was starting to recognize his dreams.
That’s really where our story begins.
Brandon, Mississippi; home of Gardner Minshew II, quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars…in the driveway with his mom just a few months after missing the All-Star cut. Kim, a former basketball player for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, was teaching Gardner how to shoot a left-handed layup.
“But why? I’m right-handed,” he logically asked.
So Kim explained the importance of keeping the ball away from the defense, and how to adjust yourself within a play to help. Then, she went inside.
“It was hot,” she laughs.
Two hours later, Gardner came to find her. He’d taken everything she’d taught him and figured out the mechanics of a left-handed layup. The lesson she’d imparted in the car months before made more sense now as well.
“That next spring baseball season, he was a completely different kid,” Kim recalled to Jaguar Report.
“So it was like somewhere in that age group something changed for him and he hasn’t quit working since, literally. He’s still working, all the time.”
For better or worse, our hometowns shape us. They make us who we are, either by giving us a foundation and tether or a launching point to which we never look back. Whether through inspiration or retribution, support or scorn, home determines who we become.
So everything Gardner is now, it began in Brandon. Whether it was the ninth grader who earned the starting job in much the same fashion he did in Jacksonville and never let it go; or the All-Star who those in his town thought would chase baseball instead of football, because he was that good of a little league catcher. The big brother, the caring son, the spark that can light a city and an entire NFL franchise…it all began here. And the results are being seen in Jacksonville.
WHO IS THIS KID?
When Minshew jogged onto the field during the 2019 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, the question rippled through the stands and around the Jaguars fanbase, “who is this kid?” As Mike DiRocco of ESPN highlighted last year, most Jags fans were already in bed when Minshew’s college #Pac12AfterDark Washington State Cougar games would air.
Instead, Nick Foles was supposed to be the savior; the former Super Bowl MVP whom the Jaguars were paying $88 million to bring some life to the Duval offense. Minshew was a young back-up, there to be learn from Foles for a possible future opportunity. But a broken collarbone in the opening minutes meant Foles was out and the coaching staff was instead prepping the 6th round rookie, Minshew.
Back in Brandon, Kim Minshew sat with friends watching the game—thinking Gardner wouldn’t even play that day—when her phone received a text from her husband, Flint, who was in the stands.
“G’s warming up.”
Her stomach dropped and she couldn’t help but think of an eerily similar situation just a few years ago.
Minshew was in ninth grade, a stater for the junior varsity team during the week and at the varsity games for Brandon High School on Friday night for, well, moral support. This particular Friday night under the lights, the Brandon Bulldogs were at Petal High School. Around halftime, the Bulldogs starting quarterback broke his arm.
Up in the press box, the Bulldogs offensive coordinator Wyatt Rogers was on the headset with Bulldogs Head Coach Brad Peterson.
“Do we wanna go with Minshew,” asked Peterson?
“I was like, ‘yea, we got to,’” recalls Rogers.
Although Rogers—and Minshew—might have been the only two people in the stadium at the time that felt comfortable with that decision.
“There never was any doubt in my mind and I don't think, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any doubt in Gardner’s mind either…the maturity and how he prepares, you know the same way he is today, just really does a great job preparing for every scenario.”
But the 10,000 plus fans that pack the Brandon stands on Friday nights still needed convincing. Brian Marshall, the principal at Brandon High School, heard the question start to trickle through the crowd.
“This scrawny little ninth grade kid comes in at quarterback and everybody's like, what's his name. Garner? Gardner, what?”
Flint looked over at Kim and mouthed, “Gardner’s warming-up.”
“I think my stomach just dropped to my feet, you know I just, I couldn't really believe it. And so, and then he went in on there my heart was just beating out of my chest.”
Even over at the church, Minshew’s youth pastor—Mike Howington—was setting up for a post game party when he heard Minshew’s name on the local television broadcast.
All of a sudden, every eye in Brandon, Mississippi seemed to be on Gardner Minshew, the lanky young gun who jogged into the huddle with all the confidence in the world.
It’s one of those moments that those in Brandon still remember vividly. Everyone seems to have taken a mental snapshot of where they were the first time Gardner Minshew came into the game.
“He proceeds to throw for 257 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman against one of our big, big division rivals and we lost the game but still, for a freshmen to come in and play like that, and at the level of competition we play, is pretty amazing,” reflects Marshall.
Minshew was never unseated as the starter from that moment forward. For a town that thrives on high school football—as small Mississippi towns are apt to do—this was a turning point. Much like it was in Jacksonville eight years later.
When Minshew came in to replace the injured Foles, few knew it at the time—probably just Gardner Minshew—but it was a turning point for the Jaguars. Why? Because just like that night in Brandon all those years ago, the town had found their guy.
It’s impossible to drive around Jacksonville nowadays and not see mustaches on bumper stickers, fans in aviators, mascot’s with a bandana around the head…and of course, the jorts. The Jaguars have found “their guy” and it starts in the locker room, as defensive end Josh Allen told reporters recently.
“He has the look, he has the swag, he has the arm and he has the plays to make—to be who I consider a great quarterback in the NFL. That’s my guy…that’s my dawg.”
It’s nothing new for Minshew, who went to the West Coast in 2018 and recaptured the attention of his entire town in Mississippi.
“There's a whole lot of people that are tied into the SEC here and a lot of us had to figure out how to get, you know, Pac 12 games,” laughs Marshall.
Adds Kim, “Washington State is so far away. But so many people here were flying Washington State flags, there were banners around town, there were lots of T-shirts, you know everywhere you looked, so that was kind of a catalyst like it started going.
“And then last year when the Dick’s [Sporting Goods] in Flowood got the Minshew jerseys and hung them in the front window, my phone started blowing up. And that’s, I think like that day that I was like, 'Wow. Wow.' That's his jersey hanging in the front window, in the front display and when you walked into Dick’s, there were mannequins and the mannequins had on shorts and headbands and sunglasses, and then [jersey’s]. That was, that was the moment that I was like, ‘Oh wow, this is way bigger.’”
If you ask those back in Brandon, the mustache, the jorts, and well, the entire Gardner Minshew look, is one of the few things that is different about the kid they sent off into the world a few years ago.
But don’t let it be said about Gardner Minshew II that he missed an opportunity after it was presented to him. Those mustache’s are plastered around Jacksonville, the mannequin was dressed in Flowood, all because Minshew—the epitome of a business man—was shrewd enough to sense an opening in the marketplace.
Rogers kept up with every press clipping that came out of Pullman, Washington to know how his quarterback was doing. Most of the time he left Gardner alone, not wanting to distract him while he was leading the country in passing. But when Minshew began showing up to media with the mustache, Wyatt Rogers had to pick up the phone.
“I called him and I was like, ‘man, you've got to shave. That’s horrible.' And he says, ‘I can’t. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own' and I was like well now I mean, makes sense. He's doing really well. It's kind of created this persona that I'm sure is helping merchandise.”
So while the hair and the jorts may seem like a new development, Gardner honing in on business idea isn’t. After all, this is a co-founder of the Panini Club we’re talking about.
Teachers wouldn’t let Gardner or his friends eat in class. But since teenagers eat like a Roomba vacuum—at all times—they asked what it would take to get food into the classroom. They had to tie it to a standard, they were told. So began the Panini Club, which still makes Principal Marshall crack up when remembering.
“Somehow they tie Panini’s, making Panini’s in the morning to an English Standard, and she let him make panini’s every morning. And they would serve breakfast in the hallway.”
“I’ve probably turned down a lot more than I’ve taken, as far as that stuff goes,” Minshew told reporters in late August.
“Obviously, I want to make sure that it’s not too time restrictive. I want to make sure that obviously first thing comes first, and I don’t want anything that’s going to interrupt or even slightly get in the way, even if it’s taking away just rest time. I make sure that it fits in my schedule, it fits in something that I want to do, something typically that’s kind of fun and enjoyable.”
No matter what sponsorship or business idea comes next though—or new mustache style and headband/bandana line—one thing remains the same for those in Brandon.
“When you talk to him, it’s the same guy,” says Rogers.
“We always knew it was there,” explains Kim.
“We always knew he had that that sense of humor, that slapstick kind of comedy sense of humor that he just loves and we always knew he was that way. But he kind of kept that in, and I think through the mustache and through all this stuff you know people are seeing that side of him.
“So I think that probably a lot of people that grew up around him, he kind of hid that side. And that's coming out. Those of us close to him, always knew it was there…even now, people who don't know him, they just see that; they see the funny, the silly, the mustache, the drawers, or whatever, and you don't look at that and see behind the scenes and see the work ethic, the strict diet, the hours of study. You don't you don't see that.”
Kim is right; a lot of people don’t see that. But those that need to, do.
While the rest of the world was fawning over Minshew’s scene stealing Celine Dion lip-synching in ESPN’s NFL commercial, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone knew nothing of it (for at least the first couple of days; he isn’t living under a rock and that video is everywhere).
“I see him as a guy who comes in here every day and prepares like he’s an accountant,” said Marrone instead.
"Which is probably the exact opposite of what you feel because you see him in a different light. And that’s a light that I keep turned off, the light that goes outside…so, really, I just laugh. It’s not only you guys, I get—obviously, I have children at home, and they see the same things you guys do and I’m just like, ‘Ugh.’ They ask me the same questions, I tell them the same answer I give to you, I give to them. I don’t know that person, I know the accountant that comes in and works his butt off.”
That accountant has long been crunching numbers to get exactly where he wanted to be. In second grade, Gardner figured out he’d need at least an 18 on his ACT to become a football player. Every Saturday morning, Kim and Flint would find Gardner sitting on the couch with an iPad watching film from the night before.
And once he was in high school, Coach Rogers could expect Minshew to walk through the door every morning at 7am, “whether it was in season or out of season,” according to Rogers. He’d pull up a chair and the two would start watching cut-ups. After practice, the day was far from over because there were still numbers to improve, recalls Kim.
“When coaches had told him he wasn’t fast enough—couldn’t do anything about not being tall enough, but when they told him he wasn't fast enough—he would go to practice and then he would drive an hour to work with a trainer, almost every day, you know, to try to get faster. He was just so driven to do whatever whatever he needed to do.”
On Wednesday nights, Howington always knew Minshew would be walking through church doors at 6pm, usually with friends in tow.
“People don't always know that that this wild crazy guy is a really disciplined focused guy too. You know that persona that he has—which is so crazy and that is so him. He is so he is so wild and out there, but also disciplined, focused and attentive and that has always been his faith.”
Gardner was so “disciplined, focused and attentive” that his accountant like precision became legendary. His sophomore year of high school, now the entrenched starter in his second year (sound familiar?), Minshew’s game was predictable in the best way. Principal Marshall would go to his head coach Brad Peterson—now the director of high school relations for the Mississippi State Bulldogs—and ask him each week, what’s the score going to be on Friday?
Peterson was within seven each week. The Wednesday before a huge playoff game against Ocean Springs, Marshall asked Peterson, like always, what’s the score going to be on Friday?
“He said 'we're gonna kill ‘em.’ I was like, ‘No,’
“[But], I walked away I didn't say anything…Gardner’s in the lunchroom, I was like, ‘what's your prediction?’ He said 'they don't stand a chance.’”
Brandon won 35-14 and went to the State Championship game.
“[That’s] my favorite Gardner story, the fact that he was so consistent and so predictable on the field that our coaches could pick out and score within seven points every week.”
THE TENSION BREAKER
Perhaps the best example of this balance that Minshew is able to strike—the disciplined and precision like accountant with the “Jaguars King,” come in the moments he breaks the tension. In the midst of answering questions from reporters about the pressure added to his shoulders as the starter, he’ll bark at a dog on a video call.
No matter the question coming from one local Jacksonville reporter, Minshew will keep up his Parks and Recreation nod by calling him different names. While acting as the leaders on a team that had just traded away some of their best players, Minshew will enlist teammates like DJ Chark to keep up a running gag against another local reporter.
And back in Brandon, Howington could always count on Gardner to ease any strained moment, while leading those around him through it.
"We had a time when we were on a ski trip and there's these all these guys are in a, in a room,” Howington recalls.
10 teenage guys in a room together is usually a recipe for problems, and sure enough, Howington received a call from the front desk asking why those in the room had thrown a chair from the balcony into the river below.
“I walk in and I'm not really mad I'm just like, ‘someone tell me,’ and it's dead silent. [T]hen Gardner said, ‘what don't blame me. I know you think I'm the only one that could throw it in the river from here.”
Howington let go of any semblance of anger because he couldn’t help but laugh. And then he continued to laugh as Gardner gathered the group of guys, organized them and helped fish a chair out of the water in 20 degree weather. Because in thick or thin, focused or joking, Gardner uses the same dedication that made him a starter in the NFL to be a friend.
Pro-Bowl receiver DJ Chark was asked recently why he thinks his quarterback’s confidence has risen so quickly.
“You know that the guys in the locker room support you and they want you to succeed. [As] opposed to wishing that somebody else was quarterback and things like that. So, I think that’s the biggest thing that transfers on the field—translates to the field because when you’re dropping back, everybody on the team wants you to succeed. So, I think that’s the biggest thing and the confidence that he has.”
Teammates showed that support by electing Minshew a captain for the 2020 season. Gardner calls it one of the greatest honors he can receive.
“It means everything,” admitted Minshew.
“That’s one of the highest honors you can have is being voted on by your peers to represent them and to be their captain. Of all of the awards you can win, that’s one that really, to me, means a lot. It means the most because that’s really how you are with the guys around you and their opinion of you and I think that’s the best judge of somebody.”
Being elected a captain isn’t always about stats and being the best player—although it certainly helps—but it’s more about someone looking across the locker room and knowing ‘that guy has my back, so I’m going to have his.’ Even while past teammates were publicly asking for different quarterbacks or pundits scoffed at the idea Minshew could be the Jaguars future, those in the locker room knew, he had their back so they’d have his.
That’s always been Minshew’s attitude though. Like when he was 15-years old, on another ski-trip with his church’s youth group.
His friend Michael took a fall on a slope and was bound to a bed while recovering. While adults, chaperones and every other kid went back to the slopes after satisfied that Michael was settled in his room, Gardner wouldn’t leave his side…which turned out to be a life-saving move.
Gardner spent the day monitoring his friend’s state.
“He wouldn't leave [him], he was like that trusted dog that wouldn't leave,” remembers Howington.
"I mean, the kids are going off having fun.”
But something didn’t seem right, so Gardner kept going back to the chaperones and asking for a doctor. Howington admits at the time, they thought Minshew was exaggerating. Michael just had some bumps and bruises from his fall. His friend was just worried. Nevertheless, Gardner persisted.
“And he literally kept coming to us and we were like ‘you're fine’…he was insistent like ‘you've got to check on him, he is not doing good.’”
Michale had a ruptured spleen and internal bleeding and needed medical attention.
“I remember the compassion in Gardner in that moment going, ‘I don't care what all the other kids are doing, right now at 15 years old, like, this is the most important thing,’ so his priorities were, I mean better than anyone else's any adults in that moment.”
THE "IT" FACTOR
At the end of the day, Minshew is a football player. As admirable as many of these traits are in any individual, we aren’t talking about them in relation to Gardner Minshew unless he had captured the attention of so many with his play on the field. And captured he has, thanks to the ambiguous “it” factor that coaches, teachers, youth pastors, parents and fans have always been enamored with.
It’s Minshew Mania, Minshew Magic; Joe Buck even teased an upcoming Thursday night game between the Jaguars and the Miami Dolphins as an opportunity to see Minshew Magic…and it’s been there since day one.
Or at least since the first drive of the second quarter in the 2012 Mississippi 6A State Championship game between Brandon and South Panola.
Before kickoff, announcers for the packed game described the sophomore Minshew using his head coach’s own words: “a once in a lifetime type player.”
As the clock rolled over to the 2nd quarter, Brandon was trailing South Panola 10-6. Minshew had already made a gutsy throw to the sideline that moved the Bulldogs 30-yards down field and into the redzone. Now on the 9-yard line, Minshew took the snap, dropped back to the 21-yard line and threaded one into a window only he could see to a receiver even the coaches had forgotten about. Coach Rogers still can’t believe it when he talks about the play.
“I mean really probably one of the best throws I've seen high school kid make and this is his sophomore year…I was just like sitting there with my mouth open. But that’s him, just kinda made something out of nothing. We sure didn’t call the play to go to that kid. Through a week of practice, installing and preparing for that week, I don’t think that kid had caught a ball the whole time.”
As Brandon and Minshew celebrated the score, the announcer stated in a sense of awe, “this Minshew kid has a little magic in his right arm.”
A PRODUCT OF BRANDON
Minshew’s family are Mississippi State Bulldogs, but that magic carried him all the way to Washington State where he led the country in passing, back to the East Coast where he’s taken Jacksonville by storm and into the limelight of one of the NFL’s favorite quarterbacks.
He’s found pockets of peace in Jacksonville. Like the few minutes he takes after practice to work on the guitar (he’s teaching himself) or when he surprises his family late at night at their rented Jacksonville Beach house on Christmas Eve, wanting to be with them as long as possible.
Brandon, Mississippi looks a little different today because of Minshew. There are a lot more Jaguars fans and t-shirts. Minshew jersey’s dot the stores. And Kim, who is a middle school math teacher, still gets a shock when she walks around her classroom and see’s Gardner’s picture on her student’s tablet background.
For as much as it might have changed though, it’s still home and when Minshew really wants to get away, he goes to Brandon but more so to the people there. When the world went into quarantine, Minshew went to Brandon. He studied to become the Jaguars starting quarterback in his parents home, just like he did in high school. He would text Principal Marshall in the morning and ask if he could sneak onto the football field to work out. And he’d call up his youth pastor, Howington, in the evenings, wanting to play basketball in the gym with his life-long friends.
“Brandon is awesome, man,” says Minshew.
“It’s my hometown, it’s a really tight-knit community, tight feel, everybody rallies around. You know, Friday night football, church on Sundays, it’s an awesome place.”
For better or worse, our hometown's make us who we are. Brandon, Mississippi made Gardner Minshew II, shaped him into a NFL quarterback and gave the rest of the world a little bit of their magic.