Kody Groves keeps receiving the same call every year, and the reporter on the other end of the line asks the same question to the former head coach of Mesquite Poteet.
This year it was my turn. So, how does it feel to be the guy who coached the team that knocked Patrick Mahomes out of the state playoffs in the Kansas City Great’s final high school football game?
“We count our blessings,” Groves jokes, “because he probably could’ve scored 80 on us. He only managed 60, though. Luckily, we scored 65.”
Telling Mahomes’ story can be easy. A super-talented, multi-sport son of a former professional baseball player chooses to concentrate on football, attends Texas Tech to be coached by a quarterback whisperer, becomes a first round NFL draft pick, and winds up a Hall of Fame player before the age of 30. But that’s not really the story.
Mahomes wasn’t a five-star recruit. He’s not 6-foot-6 and doesn’t run a 4.4. He didn’t boast major offers and he didn’t play Texas high school football in Dallas or Houston in front of media who could shout his exploits from the rooftops. He was ranked as a three-star prospect out of Whitehouse High School in East Texas. He held three offers – Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Rice. 247Sports ranked him as the 29th-best pro-style quarterback and the 82nd-best player in Texas in the 2014 class.
Groves didn’t know about Mahomes until the playoffs started in 2013. He began looking at the stats of teams his Mesquite team could face in the later rounds. His eye’s popped when he saw Mahomes’ numbers as a senior at Whitehouse when he threw for 4,597 yards and 50 touchdowns, while adding 943 yards and 15 scores on the ground. Groves and the defensive staff didn’t turn on the tape until the Sunday before game week against Mahomes in the third round of the Class 4A Division II playoffs.
“We knew we had our hands full as soon as we turned on the tape, but the film couldn’t tell the whole story,” Groves remembered. “We knew within two possessions that we were in trouble. He made a couple of throws that didn’t seem possible.”
The one that sticks out the most was on the first drive of the game. Whitehouse lined up in doubles and Poteet blitzed off the edge to Mahomes’ right. Mahomes took the snap, looked towards one of his receivers on the left, and then, without looking to the right, found his hot receiver behind the blitz with a no-look pass. The play only went for four or five yards, but Groves says he’ll never forget it.
“I remember looking at my defensive coordinator and going, ‘oh shoot, we can’t blitz him,” Groves said. “Our defense was only giving up 12 or 14 points per game. We were good. He made our best player look like an average player. Looking back, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play against him and coach against him. The legend grows every year.”
Back when colleges were allowed to host traveling camps in the summer, Texas Tech held one in Longview – a 41-mile trip for Mahomes from Whitehouse. North Texas head coach Eric Morris was an assistant for the Red Raiders and remembers a deep pass that Mahomes threw to KD Cannon at the camp that dropped his jaw. Mahomes hit Cannon, a speedster who ended up starring at Baylor in college, on a 70-yard pass.
“It was the first time I really saw him crow-hop and let one go,” Morris recalls. “It was incredible.”
Recruiting generational quarterbacks is rarely easy. But Mahomes wasn’t considered that in high school. Some of it was where he played. Some of it was what he played. Mahomes’ dad was a star baseball player and so was Mahomes. Many scouts and college coaches assumed he’d make his living on the baseball diamond and didn’t want to waste resources in Whitehouse, Texas. Mahomes was also unassuming in stature. And he didn’t do everything right. His feet weren’t great. He made throws in high school that nobody thought would work in college. He threw like a baseball player playing football, not like one of the future GOATs.
Morris and Texas Tech didn’t fall for the bait. The Red Raiders offered in January of 2013 before anyone else. After a meeting with Kliff Kingsbury in Lubbock after the spring game later that year, Mahomes committed. They bet on the production, and the competitiveness.
“Coaches put too much stock in it looking a certain way,” Morris said. “He threw off balance and in ways that were unorthodox. There was a thought that he couldn’t do that in college, and we thought that, too, but he keeps proving everyone wrong. The NFL thought that, as well.”
Any doubts were erased in Mahomes first-ever scrimmage at Texas Tech. He was a freshman in a backup role behind Davis Webb. But on his first play in the scrimmage, Mahomes alluded four defenders and threw a 60-strike to a wide receiver on a post play. Morris and Kingsbury looked at each other, shook their heads, and smirked. They knew. The rest of the Big 12 would soon enough. Eventually, so would the world.
Mahomes became the starter at Texas Tech by the end of his freshman season, which included a Big 12 freshman record 598 yards and six touchdowns against Baylor. He tossed for 4,653 yards and 36 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015. He topped 5,000 yards passing and threw for 41 touchdowns as a junior in 2016. Current Texas Tech offensive coordinator Zach Kittley was a graduate assistant for the Red Raiders during those two seasons and saw Mahomes’ magic every day in practice. He and Morris say there is a lost cut-up highlight tape of Mahomes’ best throws in practice that would break the internet more than showing Taylor Swift on a television broadcast for three seconds.
“He made all the throws you see now on tv, and we’d just shake our heads and look at each other like, ‘did he really do that?” Kittley said. “Eventually, you got used to it somehow. He was always that guy.”
Mahomes is still very much "The Guy" in Lubbock, with apologies to Joey McGuire. The Red Raiders are moving to Adidas in 2024 because of the connection with the brand’s biggest football ambassador. He was inducted into the program’s Ring of Honor at a home game against Baylor in 2022. That day, he hung out in the locker room before the game and was seen chatting up with recruits on the sideline, including five-star wide receiver Micah Hudson.
“It is always good if the best player on the planet played at your school,” Kittley said. “He’s loved here. The ratings for Kansas City games can’t be higher anywhere in Texas outside of Lubbock and Whitehouse.”
The Hub City gets another chance to watch its star pupil in a Super Bowl when Mahomes starts for the fourth time when the Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Las Vegas. He’s chasing his third Super Bowl championship and the title of best quarterback to ever do it. Morris and Kittley agree that their former star is still chasing Brady for the mantle, but he’s closing in quicker than anyone could’ve guessed. Even for the coaches who learned early to never doubt Mahomes.
“No one has ever done this much in this short of time frame,” Morris said. “He’s still chasing Tom (Brady) because of the longevity and overall championships, but Patrick has the best resumé of any player six or seven years into their professional career. He might just catch him.”
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