JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer. The player is projected to land in Jacksonville, the coach has been hired to lead the Jaguars.
Season ticket sales are up, sports fans are engaged, there is a real buzz in Jacksonville about a team that finished the 2020 season 1-15.
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The Action Sports Jax team has been making road trips for over a decade to cover the Jags, local products and the big stories. This road trip was ambitious, taken in the middle of a pandemic and covered more than 2,000 miles, seven states and ten cities. It turned out to be quite the trip for Stuart Webber and Brent Martineau.
MONDAY, JANUARY 25, 2021
The trip begins with an audible before the key hits the ignition. Initially, our first stop was going to be the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, to cover the Jags’ first moves with the new regime of Urban Meyer and Trent Baalke. We knew Meyer wouldn’t be going as he put together his staff, but late on Monday, we learned that Baalke would be staying back as well. Don’t worry Jags fans, there were plenty of team scouts at the Senior Bowl. The pandemic limited access of this year’s Senior Bowl and while “trying” to get an interview with Jacksonville’s Mac Jones or Gators players like Kadarious Toney and Trevon Grimes would be a worthy attempt, we didn’t see enough upside to starting our trip in Alabama.
7:30 p.m. on Monday: The journey to Cartersville, Georgia -- the hometown of Trevor Lawrence -- begins. The most important thing to tell you about this leg of the trip is we got to stop at Buc-cee’s. If you haven’t heard of Buc-cee’s, well, you’re missing out. (The first Florida location opened in St. Augustine in February.) After a few snacks, some coffee and some gas, we decided to finish the six-hour trek to Cartersville and arrive a bit after 2 a.m.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 26, 2021
Welcome to Cartersville, Georgia, a town of 20,000 people, 45 minutes northwest of Atlanta. There were three major stops on our trip and Cartersville was one of them. Trevor Lawrence is an amazing football player and Cartersville is where it all began. Cartersville is a very nice town with an expected small-town village feel in the downtown area. A train track comes right through downtown and we counted a handful of times on Tuesday between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. when a train split the streets of Cartersville. At lunch time, the train stopped for 45 minutes and created an obvious logjam in the area.
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This is what I love about these kind of stories -- the unexpected. We had a meeting with the mayor scheduled for 1:30 p.m. so we got a little lunch at a place called “Ate Tracks” across from City Hall. The nachos and tacos were fantastic. While sitting outside, we saw a gentleman with a Clemson shirt on get into a truck with a Clemson Alumni front license plate. He sat in his truck for a moment and I decided to approach him. It was a good move. His name was Jeff and he told me he had just finished eating lunch with Trevor Lawrence’s father -- we had just missed him. Jeff gave me some good background about the town, about the Lawrence family and about Trevor’s time at Clemson. I knew after that encounter, we likely wouldn’t get an interview with Trevor’s family during this trip. They don’t seek the attention and they get plenty of requests. Meanwhile, we knew Trevor was working out in California so that wasn’t happening on this trip. It’s people like Jeff -- even off camera -- that help you shape the story along the way.
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Next up, our scheduled interview with the Mayor of Cartersville, Matt Santinni. This will tell you about small-town Cartersville more than anything I can describe. Santinni also runs a local radio station in town and operates a local theatre. The mayor role in Cartersville is a part-time job. Santinni has been the play-by-play man on Friday nights for Cartersville football for a while, so he witnessed every Trevor Lawrence throw in high school. Santinni was fantastic with us and helped lead us down the right road to connect with other folks in town.
On Tuesday afternoon, we did our ESPN690 radio show and our live sportscasts on CBS47/FOX30 from the downtown village area. It was a good day in Cartersville.
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 27, 2021
Day two in Cartersville, Georgia for the Action Sports Jax team. We make a few stops on this day before hitting the road and this day is about Trevor Lawrence the football player and high school star. Cartersville loves their high school football. It means a lot to this town, and you can tell at the Capri Restaurant across the street from the school. Former star players and championship teams from yesteryear hang on the wall. There is a big picture of Trevor Lawrence in a restaurant that has a maximum capacity of about 20 people. The Capri Restaurant closes at 2 p.m., but when Trevor Lawrence played high school football, they would re-open on Friday nights because of the size of the crowds that came to watch Lawrence play.
This might be the most incredible story and there’s a Jacksonville tie. The owner, Darryl, told us that every Friday night for four years, a gentleman and most of the time his son, would come to Cartersville to watch Lawrence play and they always had a bite to eat the Capri Restaurant. Amazingly, the dad and son, according to Darryl, were from Jacksonville! He didn’t know their names but now our search is on to find out who would drive from Jacksonville to Cartersville to watch Lawrence play weekly. The owner said the reason they came to watch him play is because they knew he was going to be a star someday. I asked someone in the restaurant the last time Lawrence was at the diner, and they said it had been months at least. Another customer jumped in the conversation and said, “someone told me they saw him at El Charro a couple of weeks ago.” El Charro is another local restaurant that Lawrence likes. One more note about the Capri Restaurant -- club sandwich and onion rings are fantastic!
The best places to find local stories are in local establishments. We were told that a place called Scott’s Walk-Up BBQ had some pictures of Lawrence on the wall. We stopped in and had a fantastic conversation with the owner as he showed us a picture of the team from 2016. Trevor Lawrence looked like a giant compared to the rest of the team and so did Alabama tight end Miller Forristall. The owner raved about Lawrence as a player and like everyone else in town, raved about Lawrence as a person. It was during this conversation, I was told “barring injury, Trevor Lawrence will be a no doubt Hall of Famer.”
We spent much of our Wednesday at Cartersville High School. The trophy case is filled with the successes of many sports the Purple Canes play, but there is plenty of hardware with Trevor Lawrence’s name on it. Cartersville’s stadium seats a bit more than 5,000 fans but they filled it up with standing room only crowds when Trevor played. There is a brand-new weight room and training facility that cost millions and Cartersville will be adding more facilities in the future. Lawrence is still very tied into the community and the school. He will come back and put on clinics or last summer he would throw with Cartersville receivers in preparation for his final season at Clemson. Joey King was the head coach when Trevor played, and he is now the head coach down the road at Carrolton High School after a couple of college coaching stints. Conor Foster was the defensive coordinator for Cartersville when Lawrence played, and he is now the head coach of the Purple Canes. Foster led Cartersville to the state championship game this season. Ironically, their QB last fall is Florida Gators commit Carlos Del Rio Wilson. Cartersville is a town that has known big time athletes. At one time in the eighth grade, Cartersville was the home of Trevor Lawrence, Alabama tight end Miller Forristall, Minnesota Timberwolves and former Kentucky guard Ashton Hagans, and New York Yankees minor league player Anthony Seigler. Cartersville also produced Ronnie Brown and Andre Fluellen.
Despite all that success, Trevor Lawrence is the small town’s biggest star. The high school stories are legendary, and Lawrence was a star from day one in high school. Lawrence took over for an injured QB a couple of games into his high school career. That quarterback was a junior and a three-star quarterback. Lawrence was so good that he forced the three-star QB to play tight end. It worked out for both players. That three star QB was Alabama tight end Miller Forristall, who should get drafted this year.
After a little TV and radio, our visit to Cartersville was over.
We drove a couple of hours to Knoxville, Tennessee. While it was a stopping point for us to do our late sportscasts on CBS47/FOX30, it also is home of Peyton Manning. Trevor Lawrence idolized Manning and was a Vols fan growing up and that’s the reason he wears number 16. Rocky Top happened to be in the news that day because new Athletic Director Danny White had just hired former UCF head coach Josh Heupel to be the new head coach of the Vols. An interesting note from our quick stay in Knoxville is this is where you could tell COVID-19 was being treated differently in various parts of the country. The mayor of Knox County is Glenn Thomas Jacobs. You may know him by the name Kane -- the former WWE star. In Knox County, there was a 10 p.m. curfew. Even in a college town, it was a ghost town at night.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 28, 2021
The goal on Thursday -- make it to Ohio. We stopped through Lexington, Kentucky as the temperatures dipped and the snow started to fall. We would end up in Cincinnati in time for Action Sports Jax on ESPN690 show. Side note, from Knoxville to Lexington we followed an ambulance with its lights on for about 90 miles. I hope that person in the back didn’t have life-threatening injuries because that’s a long ride to Lexington and we could have got them there faster in the pickup truck. In Cincinnati, we did a zoom interview with Brian Billick while in the car right outside of Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds. Gotta love technology!
Billick was great and called Urban Meyer a “brilliant” coach in that interview. We did our show at the Holy Grail -- thanks to an old college buddy Kevin Strehle who knew the owner. One reason to stop in Cincy was to research the Joe Burrow fever from a year ago that Cincy experienced. The buzz has worn off a bit because of the injury to Burrow but mostly because there’s not a lot of confidence in ownership for the Bengals. They are known around the league as being cheap.
We did get to stop for dinner at Montgomery Inn -- very good ribs but better BBQ sauce! We finished off our drive to Columbus Thursday night and did our TV sportscasts from outside a frigid Ohio Stadium. Another college campus that was a ghost town because of the pandemic. It was chilly, but Thursday nights in college are still party nights, right?
FRIDAY, JANUARY 29, 2021
The next couple of days spread out for us a bit because we didn’t make that initial trek to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. It was a good chance to catch up on the email and business stuff -- I had four hours of zoom meetings on Friday. The folks at Urban Meyer’s Pint House in Dublin, Ohio, were kind enough to allow us to do our radio show from there and we did. While most of the establishments had seen scarce patrons, Urban’s place got rocking on a Friday night.
I’m not just saying this to get in the good graces of the new Jaguars head coach because let’s be honest Urban isn’t cooking the food, but the food and beverages were good. If you’re in Dublin, Ohio, you should check it out. That’s a good area of Columbus and don’t be surprised if Urban brings the restaurant down here to the Jacksonville area. Toward the end of our Action Sports Jax on ESPN690 radio show, Meyer’s wife Shelley showed up. She walked in fully decked out in Jaguars gear. We did a quick interview with Shelley about the impact the Meyer’s hope to make in Jacksonville.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 30, 2021
A pretty low-key day on our journey. Travel day. We make our way from Columbus to Ashtabula, Urban’s hometown. On the way, we stop at Ashland University -- had to show Stuart Webber where I went to college. We also stop by Mansfield, Ohio -- home of the Ohio State Reformatory -- which is where Shawshank Redemption was filmed. We had researched our next stop and able to connect on this day with Meyer’s hometown buddies. We would meet up with them on Sunday. We end up in chilly Ashtabula Saturday evening and got to meet up with Urban’s hometown friends that night for an hour because they were having dinner right next to our hotel.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 31, 2021
Urban Meyer’s hometown friends are Rick Pugliese and Tom Penna. They are going to drive us around small-town Ashtabula and show us spots where Urban grew up, played ball and the legendary career was formed. Initially, I thought this would be about an hour adventure, but it turned into a couple of hours and lunch. Rick and Tom were terrific and really made the trip worth it.
I think we all had buddies or friends in high school like Rick and Tom and the cool thing is Urban Meyer still values that friendship and values the people in his hometown despite his rise to fame. The spot that Urban ends up with when he goes home is the Crow’s Nest. It’s a locally owned sports bar and we have lunch with Rick and Tom and continue to hear and share stories. After Ashtabula, we drive through some snow and end up in Canton, Ohio.
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 1ST, 2021
We are in Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s Super Bowl week and that means it’s Pro Football Hall of Fame announcement week. I think a lot of folks thought we were at the museum because we had heard former Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli was going to make it to Canton, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, the day prior we had heard that it was unlikely Boselli was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Still, we know he will be here some day and there’s a bit of Jacksonville in the HOF with players like Brian Dawkins, Bullet Bob Hayes and more.
The Hall of Fame folks were very accommodating, so we did some radio/TV shows from Canton and learned more about the process thanks to our guests we had on the shows. There is a lot of confidence that Boselli will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Rich Desrosiers was a terrific guest and he’s part of the staff at the Hall of Fame. Rich also shared with us some good data about former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor and his case for the HOF. The Hall of Fame has grown a lot since my last visit in the late 90′s when I was in college. Side note for me, I was able to connect with a couple of old college friends -- always nice to do. After our shows, we begin the longest leg of the journey -- a trip to Clemson, SC.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2021
A snowy and windy drive through West Virginia, North Carolina and we arrive in South Carolina just in time for the radio show on ESPN690. A quick little lunch at Mac’s Drive In, then a visit and some video of Death Valley and we do the radio show from a restaurant across from campus called TD’s.
Thanks to our buddy Kevin Sullivan for connecting us with the owner at TD’s. Clemson is more of a backdrop than anything for us because we know we are not going to get interviews with Trevor or Dabo Swinney (we did interview him in April). Still, it was -- kind of -- on the way back to Jacksonville and gave us a chance to get a feel for campus and how the folks in Clemson feel about Trevor Lawrence. Dinner at the Esso Club and a tired drive home to Jacksonville late on Tuesday night would wrap up our nine-day journey!
YOUR OFFICIAL JAGUARS STATIONS: Find out what having the first overall pick in the NFL Draft means for Jacksonville off the gridiron on the Action Sports Jax Jags Nation Draft Night in Duval special on Thursday, April 29 at 7 p.m. on CBS47 and FOX30