(Long Island, N.Y.) Being in the limelight and the focus of attention is nothing new to Mark Sanchez. As the quarterback at the University of Southern California, a first round NFL draft pick and now the face of the New York Jets franchise, the youngster seems to take it in stride, even when he explored uncharted waters.
“I knew (it) would come,” he said of the hazing. Surely when he was on the beach wearing Hugo Boss designer clothes during the photo shoot that accompanied his GQ magazine cover feature, the thought crossed Sanchez’s mind; knowing that his teammates were going to have some fun at his expense.
“It’s fun for the guys,” Sanchez said while flashing a big smile. “They know I can take it.”
And that is simply one of the characteristics that make someone a good team leader, something that Sanchez is becoming comfortable with entering just his third professional season. Rex Ryan, who felt it was the right time to give him that distinction, named him one of the team captains.
“He’s doing all of the extra things, and he’s leading guys, so that’s impressive,” the head coach said.
Ryan touched on an observation he made during practice one morning when Sanchez was in the middle of a group of offensive players and doing what a veteran of many more years would be doing.
“He’s making his own calls up, making the formations,” he said. “He’s going through everything. This is his offense.”
Quite a difference from Sanchez’s rookie campaign, when he had to wear a color-coded wristband to help cut down on foolish turnovers. Now with two consecutive AFC Championship games under his belt, Sanchez is expected to take the next step and lead the Jets to the Super Bowl, a goal that Ryan has predicted will even be surpassed with a championship this year, an annual practice of the brash and confident field boss.
“The guy (Sanchez) has won four playoff games in two years, all on the road,” he said. “That’s when I think we have, when you talk about elite quarterbacks, I think he’s an elite quarterback, because he wins the big games and he’s a winner.”
Those playoff wins have been Sanchez’s biggest accomplishment so far, but he and Ryan both know that will run its course unless the Jets can get passed that hump. All of the magazine covers in the world mean nothing without the ring, as does being considered one of the game’s ‘elite’ at his position, something that Sanchez doesn’t want to worry about with the bigger picture still in front of him.
“I think that’s for other people to debate,” he humbly said. “I know my skill set and I know I’m getting better. Once we win a Super Bowl, then maybe I’ll have an opinion on that. But until then, we’re just trying to win games.”
At least one or two more when it counts the most.