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A surreal day


Smiling, confident, he settled into a black leather chair – his family behind him and his future ahead.

Blaine Gabbert, wearing a blue suit, light blue shirt and greenish tie, buckled into the seat aboard Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver's plane. His hair, swooped to a side, hung just above the collar. This was late Friday morning, and the destination was clear:

Not just Jacksonville, but the rest of his football life.

"It's been amazing – it's been a whirlwind," Gabbert said, smiling.

Gabbert, a quarterback from the University of Missouri, in a few frenzied minutes Thursday went from a college kid in New York waiting to hear his name called to the Jaguars quarterback of the future, whenever that future may come.

Gabbert, the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft, spent Thursday night in New York, then flew to Jacksonville Friday with his father, Chuck Gabbert, his mother, Bev, and his 10-year-old brother, Brett.

"It's surreal," Chuck said.

Gabbert was scheduled to spend the afternoon in Jacksonville meeting with coaches, personnel officials and media, then return to New York for a draft event Friday evening.

His return date to Jacksonville, because of the ongoing labor dispute, is unknown. But sometime, he will begin the process of developing into the Jaguars' next starting quarterback. When he will become that is uncertain. Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith and coach Jack Del Rio each have said they expect David Garrard to remain the starter next season, and each said Gabbert will go through a process of learning the position, the offense and the league.

Gabbert on Friday said he has no expectations for a timetable.

"I'm just going into play football, and have fun," he said. "I'm coming into a great situation. David Garrard is a great quarterback and I know I'll learn a lot from him."

Flying to Jacksonville Friday, Gabbert spoke of his future. He was excited about Jacksonville, Chuck said, for many reasons. One is he is an avid hunter and fisherman, but mostly it's about the chance to develop into a franchise quarterback.

Gabbert also considered his past and his road to Jacksonville and the NFL. He dreamed of the NFL as a high school quarterback, and after originally committing to Nebraska, chose Missouri after Bill Callahan was fired as Nebraska coach.

It was at Missouri, after his sophomore season, that he said the NFL goal first seemed a real possibility.

He knows, he said, that when a quarterback is selected No. 10 overall in the NFL Draft there is an expectation he eventually be "the guy."

That's a challenge to which he said he looks forward.

"You go to college to be the guy," he said. "You play football to start, to win games for them. When I was in high school, I always wanted to play college football. I always thought it would be a pretty cool thing to do. Back then, you don't really realize how much hard work it takes. All of the guys who got drafted (Thursday) night were there for a reason.

"They put themselves in the best position to be successful. They worked to get where they are."

There is a responsibility with being a Top 10 quarterback, and a potential future of the franchise. It's a responsibility Gabbert said he takes seriously.

"It's a huge responsibility," he said. "You have to come in and work hard and everything will work out. There are going to be ups and downs, but you take it day by day. At the end of the day, you do everything you can do to help the team."

Gabbert, asked the most adversity he has faced, cited a sophomore season ankle injury. The injury lingered, and was nagging. Gabbert said he didn't miss a practice or a game.

"I pushed through it, but it definitely made me a stronger player," he said.

He also spoke of the process leading to the draft, something Chuck called "a whirlwind" and something Blaine called "a year-long job."

"Any college football player wants an opportunity to play at the next level, and that's what motivates us," he said. "We all want to push ourselves to see how far we can make it. This is really a dream come true and I feel really fortunate. . . .

"I've always written down my goals. I always had goals, 'I want to be drafted. I want to be a first-round draft pick. I want to be a Top 10 draft pick.'"

That that would be an attainable goal grew more likely in his sophomore and junior seasons. He threw 24 touchdown passes and nine interceptions as a sophomore and 16 and nine as a junior. He finished his Missouri career with 40 touchdowns and eight interceptions, leading the Tigers to a 10-3 record this past season.

During the pre-draft process, he was listed anywhere from a possible No. 1 overall selection to the middle of the first round.

"The process is such that there's so much activity and focus on the here and now that the draft is really the culmination of that process," Chuck Gabbert said.

Yet, by the time he entered the Madison Square Garden green room Thursday with his family to await his NFL status, the time for writing goals and for draft preparation was over, he said. He and his family took the approach that wherever he went, wherever he was selected, it would be a team that wanted him.

The Jaguars wanted him enough to trade their second-round selection and the No. 16 overall selection in this year's draft to the Redskins in exchange for the No. 10 selection. The trade came with the Redskins on the clock, and Chuck said when he heard, he knew.

"I told him, 'This is it,''' he said. "It was one of those things. The thought went through my mind, and then I thought, 'Absolutely great fit, wonderful organization, great coaching staff' – all of those things you look for. We were absolutely ecstatic.''

The phone call confirming came moments later.

When it did, Gabbert's destination was clear:

Not Just Jacksonville, but the rest of his football life.

"It was a good feeling, to know they traded up," Gabbert said. "That's the best situation. I know they actually had a desire to get me. . . . It's unbelievable. It's everything that you worked for, coming true, and you've got to work even harder to get where you want to go."

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