Why Mitch Trubisky didn’t start until junior year at UNC

The one question that Mitch Trubisky has heard most often in recent weeks and months is the obvious question – the question he likely knew was coming when he decided leave North Carolina and enter the NFL draft. It goes something like this:

Why did it take you so long to become a starter in college?

Trubisky, arguably the top quarterback prospect in the draft, spent four years at UNC. He sat out his freshman season and redshirted. The next two years, he served as the backup to Marquise Williams, who led UNC to an 11-win season in 2015. And then came last season, Trubisky’s lone as a starter.

He played well enough to become a coveted NFL prospect, and Trubisky might well be selected among the first 10 picks in the NFL draft on April 27. Even so, that question has hounded him, followed him: If he’s so good, how come he couldn’t beat out Williams?

The 6-3, 220-pound Trubisky answered the question again on Tuesday, at UNC’s pro day, the way he answered it at the NFL Combine and during meetings with curious NFL personnel types – general managers and coaches. The short version of that answer: Trubisky believes the starting job should have been his, all along.

“Obviously me and Marquise competed here,” Trubisky said. “I felt like I won the job and I should’ve been the quarterback. But coach Fedora, it was his decision, he did what he thought was best for the team. Even though I hated being a backup as a competitor, I embraced my role and I found ways to get better on my own.

“... We won a lot of games with (Williams). But I thought if I was in there I could’ve done the same thing and maybe even better, just having that confidence in myself.”

Larry Fedora, the UNC coach, said he would have been “disappointed” had Trubisky answered that familiar question with anything other than what Trubisky repeated on Tuesday. For the first time, meanwhile, Fedora described why it took so long for Trubisky to start.

Years ago, when Williams beat out Trubisky for the starting quarterback job, Fedora said simply that Williams, who was not drafted last year, had earned it. Now, after the passage of some time, Fedora acknowledged that the decision was more about about preserving team chemistry than it was anything else.

Trubisky and Williams competed for the starting quarterback job before both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. They rotated, without much success, early in the 2014 season, when the Tar Heels finished 6-7 with one of the worst defenses in school history.

Then Williams led UNC to an 11-3 record in 2015, when UNC played in the ACC championship game. Williams is remembered for his leadership and his physical, punishing playing style. Fedora and the coaching staff called for more quarterback runs with Williams leading the offense, and Williams embraced the contact.

“For me to answer the question, it’s we had pretty good chemistry with (Williams),” Fedora said, looking back on why Williams won the job. “He did a great job of leading the team. Things were going well. I didn’t want to shake that up. And so I thought I did what was best for the football team.”

Fedora also thought that he’d have more time with Trubisky. No one – not Fedora, not anyone on his staff, and perhaps not even Trubisky – thought that Trubisky would have an opportunity to leave school early and become a top NFL draft pick after one season.

Fedora, though, began to realize that was a possibility five games into last season. That was right after Trubisky dazzled in memorable performances against Pittsburgh and Florida State, two victories in which he threw for a combined 858 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

Trubisky finished the season with 3,748 yards passing, and threw for 30 touchdowns and six interceptions. He completed 68 percent of his attempts, and his accuracy is one of his most-coveted attributes.

Still, his inexperience is another popular concern. Trubisky started only 13 college games.

“I don’t have all the starts, but we did split time,” Trubisky said. “I’ve had a lot of passing attempts. Yeah, everyone’s journey is different. Mine’s a little bit different. But I think I’m prepared in different ways that these other quarterback aren’t. I’m ready to go.”

Trubisky on Tuesday went through a normal pro day throwing routine before an abnormally large pro day crowd at UNC. Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were there. Seventy-five NFL personnel people – including general managers and scouts – attended.

Trubisky said he has workouts scheduled with the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, among others. Trubisky on Tuesday threw for about 25 minutes, with about two dozen cameras – including ones from ESPN and NFL Network – following his every move.

Afterward he stepped behind a podium and answered more questions. He’s done that often lately, both during media sessions and in smaller interviews with NFL coaches and general managers. The strangest question he’d received, Trubisky said, concerned his ability to dance the “nae nae.”

“I grade myself as a 2,” he said. “... That was the funniest question.”

Plenty of others have emerged – about his experience, about why he didn’t beat out Williams. Even about his name.

During the NFL Combine, Trubisky made headlines and created some social media buzz when reports surfaced that he preferred to be called “Mitchell” instead of Mitch. He offered some clarity about that, too, on Tuesday.

“Someone asked what my mom preferred and that was the answer,” he said of Mitchell. “Mitch, Mitchell – you guys are welcome to use either one. If you’re close to me and you’re my mother, she prefers Mitchell. … I think they both sound good.”

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter