IRVING, Texas – The comparisons will follow Jimmy Garoppolo everywhere he goes.
They started at Eastern Illinois and will undeniably continue when he gets selected in the 2014 NFL Draft out of his specific college and at his specific position. But he's not bothered when people link or associate him with Tony Romo.
"He set the standard," Garoppolo said. "It's up to us and the Eastern quarterbacks and all of the guys who go through there to live to that standard, really. That's what I tried to do when I was there. There's a benchmark set."
Garoppolo doesn't shy away from that challenge. He accepts, embraces and basks in it. He wants those expectations placed upon him and doesn't find them unfair.
"I want to live up to that. I want to surpass that, really," Garoppolo said. "Every quarterback should have that mindset. You want to be the best. You want to go win Super Bowls."
He's got to get drafted before he can do any of that, and he's putting himself in the best position to do so by being as visible as he can to as many eyes as possible. Garoppolo played in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 18, where he was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player, going 9-for-14 with 100 yards and a touchdown in limited action before heading over to Mobile, Ala., for Senior Bowl practices the following week.
The most important part of that Senior Bowl week might have been the practice time, where he worked with NFL coaches and fielded questions from most teams, scouts and media members. Inevitably, some involved Romo.
Garoppolo won the Walter Payton Award in 2013 after throwing for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns and left college with 13,156 passing yards and 118 passing touchdowns in his career. The only other player to win the esteemed award from Eastern Illinois? That would be Romo, who finished his career as the school and conference all-time leader with 85 touchdown passes.
But most of the previous school passing records, once held mostly by Romo and current Saints head coach Sean Payton, now belong to Garoppolo, who set a school record with seven touchdown passes in a win against Illinois State in 2013.
"The surprising thing is Coach Payton actually had more records than Tony Romo, so a lot of people don't know that, but yeah, a little fun fact for you," said Garoppolo, who still respects Romo and what the Cowboys' quarterback's done for the school tremendously.
He said he's been asked about a million questions about Romo throughout his career, particularly toward the end when the NFL became more and more of a likelihood, and he continues to answer those questions similarly.
"At first it was pretty cool, now I just kind of expect it," Garoppolo said. "It's fun. It's a great comparison. He's a very successful NFL quarterback, and that's what I'm trying to be, so it's nice to have that kind of comparison.
"The quarterback tradition at Eastern is very well known. I'm just trying to keep it going really and take it to the next level."
Garoppolo's all for putting Eastern Illinois on the map, which his famous quarterback predecessors did before and he's doing now.
"All the publicity Eastern can get – we're in the middle of Illinois, not too much people live there – it's nice to get that little extra publicity," Garoppolo said. "Every little bit counts. It's a good stepping stone for Eastern, really."
Before Garoppolo can get anywhere near the level of a Payton or a Romo, though, he's got a long road ahead to prove himself as an NFL quarterback. He said he's got to get used to the NFL footwork – the three, five and seven step drops – considering his offense in college didn't ask much of that from him. He said Eastern Illinois ran the Baylor offense with a focus on fast tempo. [embedded_ad]
Garoppolo's open to starting immediately or waiting and getting tutored, depending on when he gets picked. Regardless of when he starts, he knows what he can provide for his future team.
"They're getting a very passionate, hard-working quarterback – some guy who's going to be the CEO of the company and lead by example," Garoppolo said. "The quarterback's always asked to set the example on and off the field, and I think I do a good job of that."
He's been all over the place since his record senior season ended, but he said it was an easy decision to go to the Senior Bowl and not pass that opportunity up. He wants to face the best players and get compared to the best players around him, just as he has with the star quarterbacks who previously attended his school.
Don't expect a breather for Garoppolo any time soon as he prepares for the biggest year of his life.
"I don't think I'm going to get one," Garoppolo said. "After this, I'm going to go back to LA and start training again for the Combine and then the Combine comes and Pro Day comes. It's a process, but I knew what I was getting into and I'm having fun with it."