TAMPA — Every budding athletic career has its seminal moment, that place in time when an event so significant occurs that it greatly influences the player’s future and alters his life forever.
For Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon, that moment came while he was attending a University of Virginia football camp near the end of his sophomore year at Westfield High School in Chantily, Va.
Coming off a season in which he’d taken only about a third of the snaps while playing behind a fellow sophomore, Glennon wasn’t even in position at that point to be thinking about a college football career, much less a pro career.
But that all changed when then-Cavaliers coach Al Groh, the one-time New York Jets head coach, approached Glennon and his father at camp’s end and offered Glennon a scholarship on the spot.
“Al asked us why we thought he was (offering the scholarship), and Mike said he thought it was because of his (throwing) mechanics or the way he spins the ball,’’ John Glennon said. “But then Al says, ‘No, it’s because of your footwork.’
“He said to Mike, ‘You’re 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds,’ which is what Mike weighed at the time, ‘and you’ve got excellent footwork.’ After what had happened his sophomore year at school, that really boosted Mike’s confidence.
“That was the point where he really knew he had what it took to play at the next level. And it was interesting what happened the next year because I think the person who was most shocked by it all was his high school coach.’’
Shocked but not stubborn. When Glennon’s junior season at Westfield High started the following fall, the quarterback who played ahead of him the year before was playing wide receiver and Glennon was under center.
Westfield excelled as a result. During Glennon’s senior season, in which he completed 171 of 265 passes (64.5 percent) for 2,557 yards and 32 touchdowns, the Bulldogs went 15-0 and won the Virginia AAA Division VI championship.
Glennon didn’t fare too badly either. He was named a Parade All-American and went on to become one of the five best collegiate passers in North Carolina State history.
And now he can call himself a starting NFL quarterback.
Glennon, whom the Bucs selected in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft, will make his first NFL start today when the Bucs take on the Arizona Cardinals at Raymond James Stadium. The start is just the latest leap along a consistently ascending career path that got its start largely because of Glennon’s burning desire to literally follow in the footsteps of his big brother, Sean.
Born four years after Sean and in a neighborhood where most of the kids were Sean’s age, Glennon quickly developed a tendency to tag along with his older brother, no matter the destination.
“He was always kind of hanging around with us older guys and I really didn’t mind because for all of our football games, our basketball games and our roller hockey games, I’d just use him as an extra body,’’ Sean said.
“That all kind of changed once I got to high school, but we always kind of meshed together even after that because when I first quit soccer to play football (at age 10), he quit soccer to play flag football.
“It was like that in a lot of things. When I finally gave up baseball to concentrate on football and basketball, he gave up baseball to concentrate on football and basketball. And we both always played quarterback, so we did take very similar paths.’’
They did until just recently.
Though Glennon also followed Sean to the ACC, playing for the Wolfpack after Sean played quarterback for the Virginia Tech Hokies, the two are no longer on parallel paths.
“No, I can’t say that I was ever a starting quarterback in the NFL,’’ Sean said. “So he’s finally surpassed me now. But that’s great. I can’t tell you how excited our whole family is for him.
“And I know Mike is excited. I was just getting into my car the other day when he texted me with the news and the text read, ‘I’m starting’ with 10 exclamation points. If you know Mike, he’s not really an exclamation-point kind of guy.’’
His coaches would disagree. From former Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien to Bucs coach Greg Schiano, they all say Glennon has the physical tools and mental makeup to make an emphatic statement as an NFL signal caller.
“He’s always had a strong arm, and he has the size to go with it,’’ O’Brien said. “He’s a prototypical NFL quarterback in that regard and he’s a guy who does everything off the field to study and anticipate the game.’’
Studying, no matter the subject, is something Glennon has always done not just well, but fast. He needed only three years to earn a bachelor’s degree in finance from N.C. State and one year to earn a master’s degree in liberal studies.
“With all the summer school you have to take nowadays, I just tried to make the most of my opportunity while I was there,’’ Glennon said. “They were paying for it, so why not get as much as I can out of it?
“The thing is, I know that football is going to end one day. So I was thinking, ‘Why not get the degrees while I can?’ I just worked hard, didn’t drop any classes and I got my master’s out of it, so it worked out well.’’
Glennon has spent the past five months attempting to master the Bucs offense. The scheme is one quarterbacks coach John McNulty says usually takes a quarterback three years to grasp, but Glennon seems to have made quick work of it in a fraction of that time.
“Obviously he hasn’t been getting a lot of (practice) reps prior to now and he hasn’t had any opportunities during the games yet,” offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. “But as far as far as understanding the concepts and from the perspective of knowing what we’re trying to accomplish and seeing the big picture and having a good feel for the protections and what the line needs to do and what routes the receivers are running and what we’re doing in the run game, I’ve been very pleased with his level of preparedness.’’
Prepared and performing are two different things, though. Even Schiano, who made the call on Wednesday to bench five-year veteran Josh Freeman and replace him with Glennon, has acknowledged that.
“You definitely have to go out and do it, that’s what it’s all about,’’ Schiano said. “But I’m confident he will. Mike is a smart, tough football player who works extremely hard and will go out there and try to do what we’re coaching him to do.
“He’s not going to be perfect, no one is. But I think he’s going to try to do it to his ability, which is what we’re asking him to do in the game plan. So, I think he’ll be accurate and go out there and do it.’’
He has certainly done it before, albeit at the college level. When O’Brien allowed Russell Wilson — now with the Seattle Seahawks — to leave N.C. State for Wisconsin after the 2010 season because he thought Glennon was a better fit for the offense, Glennon didn’t disappoint.
In a matter of two years, he compiled more than 7,000 passing yards and 62 touchdowns to finish his N.C. State career ranked fourth and third in school history, respectively.
“It was a good experience for him,’’ said O’Brien, who thinks Glennon’s skill set and work ethic will make him a solid, if not spectacular, NFL quarterback.
“Nobody’s going to outwork him, nobody’s going to out-study him and nobody’s going to compete harder than he does. You put that together with the God-given ability he has and I think he can be just as successful as Russell Wilson has been.’’
Wilson, who was drafted in the third round by Seattle in 2012, led the Seahawks to the playoffs as a rookie last year and has them 3-0 this year.
Glennon enters a completely different situation with the Bucs. He’s taking over an 0-3 team that is struggling offensively, just hoping he can do something to resurrect the season before it’s too late.
He relishes the challenge, though.
“You know, this is what I’ve prepared my whole life for,’’ he said. “Growing up, this is what I always dreamed of doing. This is what I worked for and I’m really excited about it. I really can’t wait to get going. I’m ready.”