Seven years ago, he was one of the young players attempting to win a starting job; establish a career in the NFL. Then, expectations were purely personal.
There will be a lot of such young players in the Jaguars' training camp this summer, but Mark Brunell is no longer one of them. In September, he will turn 32. He is one of the stars of the league. He has achieved almost every level of quarterbacking possible, except, of course, one; the championship level.
Brunell wants the opportunity, at least one more time, to do what he barely missed doing in 1996 and '99. He desperately wants to do it in Jacksonville, but he knows he'll have to add time onto his current contract if he is to become that championship quarterback with the Jaguars.
That, in itself, is the single-most important pursuit of Brunell's football career. He wants to finish his career with the Jaguars. He wants to stay in Jacksonville. He is almost obsessed by that need.
"I'd love five more years. I'm assuming after this year they'd like to do it over," he said of his current contract, a clean and even piece of financial numbering that has two years of life remaining.
It's a good contract, for Brunell and the team. Most experts would say it's a team deal, but that doesn't upset Brunell because he got exactly what he wanted; the chance to stay in Jacksonville.
"They've got a lot invested in me, but I've got a lot invested in this community," said Brunell, a family man extraordinaire whose life passions include dedication to faith and charity.
Seven summers ago, there was no talk of "five more years." Then, Brunell was focused only on wresting the starting job away from Steve Beuerlein, which Brunell did by the sixth game of the season.
Football was a much simpler endeavor for Brunell in 1995. Almost everything he did exceeded expectations. His heart and his legs were light with youth. Energy overwhelmed his lack of expertise. He was a quarterback on the rise. Nothing is prettier.
"In '95 and '96, just come to work, get ready for a game and then go play hard," Brunell said of the expectations he faced. "In '95, you didn't have (teammates) looking at you. Look who was here," he said, referring to veterans such as Jeff Lageman, Dave Widell, Kelvin Pritchett and Mickey Washington. "It was their team."
But this is Brunell's team. This rebuilding version of the Jaguars belongs to Brunell and his favorite receiver, Jimmy Smith, the only two remnants of the '95 squad.
"You realize the way you approach the game definitely does affect those around you," Brunell said.
"Jimmy said to me on the treadmill this morning that for the first time in his career he feels like the old guy. With that comes a lot of responsibility. Taking on more of a leadership role has never been more critical," Brunell said.
These are the kinds of seasons that usually make 32-year-old quarterbacks cringe. Want a Super Bowl ring to cap your career? Well, not this season.
That's the logic that accompanies the Jaguars' rebuilding efforts this year. This is a team that'll be loaded with young players attempting to establish their pro careers. Growth and development should be expected to be incremental. Logic would also dictate that expectations should be nothing more than for a team on the rise.
But owner Wayne Weaver and coach Tom Coughlin aren't the kind of men who settle for such mediocrity. They are not patient people. They know their fans aren't, either.
So Weaver and Coughlin have boldly announced they intend for the Jaguars, these "rebuilding" Jaguars, to contend for the AFC South Division title this season, and Brunell is responding in kind.
"In '95, we had a good year because we won four games. That's not acceptable. I'm shooting for 10 wins. That'll get you into the playoffs. I'll tell my teammates that, too," Brunell said.
He knew he was being illogical, but he wanted to establish goals that could feed this team's growth. After all, his future is tied to this team's growth. If he wants to stay in Jacksonville, and he clearly does, then the best way to do that is to prove he's the leader of a young team on the rise.
He established as much in '95. Through the Jaguars' first seven seasons, Brunell has been at the heart of the team's identity. He has been to the Jaguars what Eddie George has been to the Titans, Ray Lewis has been to the Ravens, and Jerome Bettis has been to the Steelers.
In the past, that has always been enough to give a player a strong sense of job security, but this is the salary cap era, and there are just as many players who've found themselves having to find a new team. Identity is a yearly thing, now. You gotta keep producing.
"I don't know how far that goes anymore," Brunell said of the identity factor. "How much of their identity did they invest in Boselli? I want to stay around here. This is where I need to be."
His obsession for staying in Jacksonville is born of his emphasis on family and community. He's dug in; the house, the schools, the church, the foundation. Brunell isn't your typical pro sports carpetbagger.
"Contracts are fun because, when you get a new one, it's a new commitment; we want you around here. In two years, I'm looking forward to a new one. I want to do another one," he said.
Agents would suggest Brunell's comments would compromise his contract leverage, but Brunell isn't looking to break the bank. Contrary to what many fans believe, he didn't break the bank with his last contract. It was the unfortunate timing of it and the severity of the Jaguars' salary cap problems that made Brunell appear as the villain when several veteran players had to be released.
Will his desire to remain in Jacksonville cause him to be reasonable in new contract negotiations?
"I proved that last time," he said.
It is his motivation. There's no reason to doubt Brunell's dedication to winning. Don't even consider the possibility the release of Tony Boselli -- Brunell's best friend -- this past winter has embittered the Jaguars quarterback to the point of merely going through the motions this season. If anything, the release of Boselli has only served to underscore the possibility Brunell could face the same fate. It's just business; don't take it personally.
Nothing succeeds like winning. Quarterbacks who win get paid; quarterbacks who lose get cut. Brunell wants to win because he wants to get paid in Jacksonville.
"There's no reason to think if we stay healthy and get on a roll, we can't win 10," Brunell said.
"I know," he added when the reporter shot him a squinty-eyed look. "But I want those guys to see I'm lofty. Let's shoot high. It brings them up."
And that would sure help the quarterback stay where he wants to be.