- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo walked up the steps and arrived on the field for the first practice of New England Patriots training camp earlier this week, it caught him a bit off guard.
The Patriots had 7,822 fans in attendance for the opening practice. The next day, the number spiked to 11,012. And on Saturday, it was 13,819.
At Eastern Illinois last season, Garoppolo played seven games in which there weren’t crowds that large. And yet now he’s practicing in front of them, another reminder of his transition to the NFL.
“I didn’t expect that. That was unbelievable, the first day, coming out and seeing that,” Garoppolo said Saturday. “It’s awesome to see how the fans interact with the team so much and how they’re really connected with their sports teams.”
Garoppolo did play in front of some big crowds last year, such as the 42,978 in a season-opening win at San Diego State. The smallest crowd was 3,119 in a win at Murray State.
Eastern Illinois’ seven home games drew an average of 8,012 fans.
“Coming from Eastern, we didn’t have the biggest crowd by any means, and at practice, we didn’t have crowds,” Garoppolo relayed. “It’s awesome to come out here, and the fans are unbelievable – they know when to cheer, when not to cheer. It’s exciting.”
At the same time, Garoppolo touched on the importance of blocking out any potential distraction.
“You approach it the same way, whether they’re there or not,” he said. “It’s one of those things [on] game-day there are going to be a lot more people than that. [Organized team activities] there was no one here. So you just have to come out here every day and do your best [regardless].”
Garoppolo, who is roommates with rookie center Bryan Stork during training camp, has thrown a few interceptions the last two practices. With that, he’s received some helpful advice from fellow quarterback Tom Brady.
“Kind of the next-play mentality -- you can’t worry about the past, you have to move on,” he said. “Every play is just as important as the last play.”