The legend of Gardner Minshew began not in a galaxy far, far away but on a mud-drizzled field in the middle of Mississippi. The young gunslinger used his moxie to win a mucky game he had no business winning.
Well, it didn’t hurt that Minshew had the strongest hands and cleanest release in the state. He threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 completions on November 7, 2015 as Northwest Mississippi beat Gulf Coast, 34-24. It wasn’t Minshew’s best performance, but it’s the one that stands out the most to his junior college coach Jack Wright. He remembered a quiet kid wary of showing too much personality who turned mud into magic that day.
“It was like walking in chocolate milk and hot fudge, it was horrible,” Wright told Heavy of the conditions. “The ball was soaking wet after half a quarter but Gardner has such strong hands and just such a sure release, clean release, no wasted motion. We could throw the ball at a high level in the worst conditions possible.”
Add this to the myth: it had rained for five days straight prior to kickoff in Senatobia, Mississippi. And Gulf Coast boasted the top rushing attack in the state.
“They were highly favored and we won,” said Wright, who ironically is now the head coach at Gulf Coast. “And we won kind of going away because we didn’t have to change anything with him in the game. We just ran our stuff.”
The victory delivered Northwest the MACJC championship – widely regarded as the best junior college conference in the nation – for the first time in 16 years. It earned them a spot in the NJCAA national championship where Minshew threw for 421 yards and five scores. Northwest won that one going away, too: 66-13 over Rochester.
“If I had him for a second year he would have been the de facto offensive coordinator,” Wright told Heavy. “I would give him a formation and then he would have the ability to call whatever. He was a true freshman and we didn’t have time to earn that level of full trust but knowing what I know now, he should have been given a lot more responsibility.”
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‘Coach, Tell Me Who My Receivers Are’
Minshew has had to deal with competition at every step of his football journey. He fought off Nick Foles in Jacksonville, then the Jaguars drafted Trevor Lawrence. Now the 25-year-old is second on the Philadelphia Eagles‘ depth chart behind Jalen Hurts, although the cries for him to start are slowly seeping through the Schuylkill fog after one dominant game at The Meadowlands.
But that’s the way it’s always been. Wright, who “lightly” recruited Minshew coming out of high school, recalled the time he offered him a scholarship at Northwest. Minshew had accepted an academic ride at Troy University but they wouldn’t commit to him being the starter. Frustrated and bewildered, he took Wright’s call and made the decision to switch schools even after Wright explained that he had another quarterback in camp. Minshew didn’t care.
“I said, ‘Gardner, you know things have changed since I recruited you in high school. There’s another quarterback here,'” Wright told Heavy. “So I talked a little bit about this other quarterback so he’d have all the information to make a decision. Right after I got done telling him the information about this quarterback he said, ‘Coach I got you, man. Tell me who my receivers are.'”
His willingness to overcome the odds and prove people wrong goes back to a bitter recruiting process. Minshew believed he was a Division 1 talent in 2015, yet no offers came rolling in. Later, they would, including one in 2018 from Alabama where he almost shared a room with Hurts. But that initial slight from the country’s top programs – particularly the Southeastern Conference, his backyard – didn’t sit well.
“True competitors don’t take that well,” Wright said. “Anybody who doubts him, that’s going to be fuel for the future.”
It Starts in the Film Room, Early Mornings
Don’t be fooled by the mustache or the funny interviews, Minshew is all business. And a student of the game, according to Wright. The coach apologized for sounding like the kid’s hype man but it’s all true. He was the first one in the building and the last one out, always searching for a competitive advantage. That included intense film study and meticulous attention to detail.
“Gardner’s a grinder. What you’re seeing is glimpses of him out in public but he is a grinder,” Wright told Heavy. “He is going to watch more film than anybody and take pride in being the first quarterback in the meeting room. I know the hard work he put in to become a nationally-recognized name and none of it has changed.”
Minshew never let his real personality out of the holster at Northwest. The first time Wright noticed any trace of it was during his time at Washington State. He didn’t want people to view him as a “distraction or prima donna” – Wright’s words – until he had stats to back it up. He threw for 4,779 yards and 38 touchdowns with a 70.7 completion percentage in 2018.
Still, there were moments behind closed doors in 2015 when he made his presence known. Wright wanted to keep the more personal ones private, preferring to share general examples like Minshew calling out diva receivers who complained about not getting enough looks.
“There are stories where some guys would get frustrated about not getting the ball,” Wright said. “And then he would throw a ball that hit them in the facemask and they would drop it and he would get right in their face about it. Competitive fire, man, just unmatched competitive fire.”
Or reading a defense at the line of scrimmage and making the right check. And coming back to the huddle with a joke, just as several Eagles players noted. It was just to a lesser degree in junior college.
“He was a great teammate, always joking around,” Wright said. “But any kind of public perception of what you see now was not there.”
Minshew Mania Works in Every City
Wright said he’s “tickled to death” to see the reaction to Minshew Mania, first in Jacksonville and now in Philadelphia. He keeps in touch with his former quarterback from a respectful distance so as not to inundate him with too much outside noise. The coach jokes that he “got him on the rebound” early in his career, although it could be argued there is no Minshew Mania without Wright. My words, not his.
“He’s getting what he deserves,” Wright told Heavy. “They don’t know the work this kid has put in. They don’t know the competitor that he is. Maybe he’s got some other skills that give him an edge, which I know to be true.”
When asked if Philly was a perfect fit for Minshew, Wright laughed and turned the question around.
“The kid’s a fit anywhere,” Wright told Heavy. “[Jacksonville] took to him after he won a few games in a row and now the same thing’s happening in Philadelphia so that leads me to ask you, is it Philadelphia or is it him? That stuff follows him.”